by Ron Inglis
1971 ‘Chalkie’ at Moem and Igam Barracks, Ron Inglis, attended the opening of the Pacific Islands Regiment (PIR) Exhibition held at the Australian Army Infantry Museum, Singleton, on October 1, 2013. It was an opportunity to gather information on the establishment of Igam Barracks and to recall the role played by the ‘Chalkies’ in the various activities based at Igam.
The plan for the development of the Pacific Islands Regiment, set out in the early 1960s, was to have three battalions and three new barracks:
- 1 PIR at Taurama Barracks in Port Moresby,
- 2 PIR at Moem Barracks in Wewak
- and 3 PIR at Igam Barracks in Lae.
As it turned out, three new barracks were constructed but only two battalions were raised.
Work commenced on the construction of Igam Barracks in 1966. The barracks was duly built, with all modern facilities including a squash court and swimming pool, at a total cost of nine million dollars. It was officially opened on 30 September 1968 by the then Minister for the Army, Mr Phillip Lynch. (See excerpts of the official programme by clicking here.)
3 PIR was never raised due to constraints on the Australian defence budget at a time when Australia was heavily involved in the war in Vietnam.
At the time of the official opening, Igam Barracks provided accommodation for a number of Army units including:
- Headquarters Lae Area Command,
- Headquarters Papua and New Guinea Volunteer Rifles,
- a Company of the Ist Battalion, Pacific Islands Regiment,
- the PNG Military Cadet School
- and Headquarters 35 Cadet Battalion.
Also on parade for the Official Opening was the 3rd Squadron Special Air Service Regiment, which was undertaking tropical training in Papua New Guinea.
During the years that the ‘Nasho Chalkies’ were sent to Igam, 1968 to 1972, the Barracks was home to seven military units:
* Headquarters, Lae Area Command including a regimental pipe and drum band.
* A company of 1 PIR from Taurama Barracks, was based at Igam on a 12-month rotation. The posting to Lae was keenly anticipated by companies of 1 PIR for soldiers’ families also moved to Igam for the year and Lae was considered to be a much more pleasant environment than Port Moresby.
The Pacific Islands Regiment had been formed in 1944, as the headquarters for the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB) and the 1st and 2nd New Guinea Infantry Battalions (NGIB). By the time it was disbanded in 1946, some 3,500 Papuans and New Guineans had served in ranks of the PIR.
In March 1951 the PIR was reformed as an Australian regiment and it remained under direct Australian command until Papua New Guinea independence in 1975.
During the period of National Service in Australia, a number of platoon commanders in both 1 PIR and 2 PIR were National Servicemen, commissioned as officers after training at Scheyville in New South Wales.
* 183 Recce Flight operated both helicopters and Pilatus Porter fixed wing aircraft. Their main task was to support exercises and civic action patrols of the PIR. They also supported survey operations being undertaken by the Australian Survey Corps.
* Headquarters of the Papua New Guinea Volunteer Rifles (PNGVR). This reservist unit, was established in 1952 as an Australian Citizens Military Force (CMF) unit. Unlike PIR, PNGVR was always English speaking and, in the early years, was entirely European. In 1964 it became a multi-racial unit allowing Chinese, mixed race and indigenous members to join. By about 1966 PNGVR was around 70% indigenous.
Once Igam Barracks became available, the PNGVR camp was held there each year with RAAF Hercules and Caribou bringing reservist soldiers from all parts of PNG. PNGVR was disbanded in 1973 at the time of the granting of Self Government, ahead of the granting of Independence in 1975.
* Headquarters of the Cadet Units found in many schools across PNG. These cadet units mirrored the school cadet units found in many Australian high schools at the time. The Cadets also had an annual camp at Igam. On 28 August 1972, a Caribou returning to Port Moresby with 24 cadets and two Army officers, crashed in the vicinity of Wau. Only four cadets survived the crash and they were only located after they walked out to a riverbed where they could be seen from the air.
* The Military Cadet School (MCS) prepared indigenous soldiers for officership in the PIR. In 1971 MCS was under the command of Lt Colonel Harry Bell. Some four or five ‘Chalkies’ were appointed to MCS each year and they had military as well as educational duties. A bonus for the 1971 ‘MCS Chalkies’ was to accompany the cadets on an orientation excursion to Sydney.
* Lae Area Education provided courses in English, Maths, Social Sciences and Civics for indigenous soldiers, and Australian Army Certificate of Education Courses for Igam-based Australian soldiers who wished to upgrade their education qualifications. Around four or five ‘Chalkies’ were appointed to Lae Area Education each year. The OIC of Lae Area Education in 1971 was Captain (later Major) Trevor McQuinn who interviewed many PNG Second World War soldiers about their war and post-war service. His research and documentation produced highly valuable historical material
- www.nashospng.com (this website)
- Major General Brian Howard was a Company Commander, 1 PIR, stationed at Igam Barracks, Lae in 1969. Brian Howard played a key role in the documenting and display of PIR history at the Singleton Museum.
- Lt Colonel Laurie Kelly, was a Markham Valley farmer and later an employee of the Commonwealth Department of Works when Igam Barracks was under construction. Laurie Kelly served in the PNGVR for 17 years. He was Officer Commanding, A Coy PNGVR. Laurie Kelly lived in the Lae area from 1953 to 1983.
- Australian Army Infantry Museum, Singleton, Upper Hunter, New South Wales.
Igam Military Cadet School cadets with Chalkie Sergeant Andrew Dalziel (1971/72)