Victoria was the first colony to raise a corps of volunteer engineers. Its formation was proposed at a meeting held at the Duke of Rothsesay Hotel, Elizabeth Street, Melbourne on 7th November 1860. It was attended by seven members, Mr John George Knight, a civilian engineer and architect from Melbourne acted as the honorary secretary.
Also in attendance was Capt. Peter Scratchley, RE (later Maj-Gen Sir), the government adviser on defence works. The result of the meeting was the government approval for the formation of the “Corps of Volunteer Engineers” in the colony of Victoria in March 1861.
By 1876, five of the six colonies had raised their own engineer units. All based their organisation and training on Royal Engineer practices.
On 1st July 1902, all former colonial engineer corps were merged to form the “Corps of Australian Engineers”. The Corps Birthday is therefore celebrated on 1July each year.
On 19th March 1907, Royal Assent was given for the granting of the title “Royal” to the regular sappers. The militia engineers retained the title “Australian Engineers” until 31st January 1936, when the Corps was constituted as the Corps of the Royal Australian Engineers embracing both Regular and Citizen Forces.
Engineers have served in the following areas of operations:
Sudan Campaign 1885, Boer War 1899 – 1902, WWI and WWII, Korea, the Malaya Emergency, the Indonesian Confrontation (Borneo), Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many UN peace keeping operations.
Engineer units were not deployed to Korea but many Sappers saw service with the 1st Commonwealth Division as Infantry assault pioneers. Some engineer officers served as RAE officers attached to the Commonwealth Brigades.
The following trades can be found in the Corps:
Bricklayers, Carpenters & Joiners, Plumbers & Gas Fitters, Mechanical Services Supervisors, Engineer Surveyors, Architectural Draughtsmen, Field Engineers, Fire Fighters, Electricians, Painters & Decorators, Plant Operators, Explosive Ordnance Demolition Technicians, Dog Handlers, Well Drillers, Clerks, Store men and Drivers.
In the past, the Corps has been involved in trade/operational areas, some of which have been taken over by other Corps or Services. In some instances new Corps were raised to accommodate the trades.
At the end of the Vietnam War, there was a major revamp of the Army organisation and structure. As a result RAE lost many of their tradesmen and Corps functions.
In 1973 the Corps lost – metal trades, welders and plant fitters – to RAEME, Postal Services, Movement Control, Railways and Small Ships – to RACT, and Engineer Stores – to RAAOC. The Corps had previously lost Submarine Mining – to Navy in 1922, Signals – to RA Sigs when Corps raises in 1925 and Survey – to RA Svy when Corps raised in 1915, only for them to return to RAE in 1995.
Role of Engineers During Conflict
RAE are primarily responsible for combat and logistic support engineering and also have an input into certain aspects of counter- surveillance and NBCD operations. Engineer responsibilities include:
Roads, airfield and LZ’s construction and bridging, obstacles construction and demolition, mine and booby trap clearance and breaching, field defences construction, demolition, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) and water supply.
RAE s also responsible for camp construction including services and their maintenance.
Role of Engineers During Peace
During peace time, other than training for our war time role, Engineers are actively employed in the following areas:
Training other Corps in counter-surveillance and deception methods, training other Corps and government agencies in NBCD, EOD training and assistance to law enforcement agencies, dog handling assistance to law enforcement agencies in detection of explosive devices, co-ordinate construction, maintenance and repairs required in permanent facilities and during exercises as well as providing engineering assistance to the civil community during natural disasters.
In recent years Engineers have become involved in assisting neighbouring countries in the construction of barracks facilities as well as conduction joint training exercises.
School of Military Engineering (SME)
Engineers have been associated with the Liverpool district since early part of the 1900’s. Photographs depicting Sappers exercising in the banks of the Georges River can be seen in the Museum. The SME can be traced back to colonial times when first established in Victoria Barracks, Sydney.
The SME has been located in other areas of Sydney including Moore Park (now the site of the Sydney Football Stadium), South Head and chowder Bay at Middle Head (Mosman). It was established on a permanent basis in the Liverpool District in September 1939 in the area known as Hospital Block (not far from Yulong Oval). In 1940 it moved to the Casula site and was located with the School of Signals until 1941 when the School of Signals moved out.
In 1942 the RAE Training Centre was established at Kapooka Loop outside Wagga Wagga on the same site as 1 RTB. The centre was used to conduct basic field engineering training for other ranks.
The SME was used for training all engineer Officers and NCO’s. During the war years the School ran twelve different types of courses. At the start of the Korean War the range of courses expanded and the establishment increased to include the Trade Wing was formed and was responsible for trade training and works service instruction. Today this wing is known as the Construction, Mechanical and Electrical (CME) Wing.
The NBC wing was established in 1963 to train the Army in NBCD. It now trains NBCD instructors for all three services. It also maintains an operational NBC response team that is on call 24 hours a day.
In 1965, with Australia’s involvement in Vietnam and the introduction of selective National Service, the existing Depot Sqn (now FE Wing) was expanded to cater for the increased number of soldier’s being allocated to the RAE.
Links with the Royal Engineers and US Engineers are maintained through Officer and SNCO exchange system. At present Operations (Ops) Wing is commanded by an American Major and Plant, Roads and Airfields (PRA) Wing is commanded by a British Major. Two exchange SNCO’S, a US Master Sgt and a British QMSI are posted to the FE Wing.
Today the SME trains all ranks of the RAE in the following areas:
ARA and ARes Initial Employment Training (IET), specialist training in trades employment and promotion qualifications, young officers from both Australian and overseas in military engineering and to prepare them for service as engineer officers within their own army, for the management of engineering projects and resourses, and practical apprentice tradesmen tasks.
In 2015 the SME moved to the Holsworthy Barracks area into new purpose built barracks and training facilities on 26 June 2015 when the Chief of Army, Lt Gen Angus Campbell, officially opened the new Steele Barracks (SME).