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Video Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion, c1942 - item 1 of 2

TLF ID R8917

This clip from a silent black-and-white home movie shows Torres Strait Islander servicemen undertaking army training drills on Thursday Island (Weiban) during the Second World War. It opens with a long shot of barefoot uniformed men marching in formation, and passing behind a squad of stationary men. It then cuts to shots of servicemen carrying out rifle and bayonet drills and concludes with a squad of rifled servicemen at attention with a non-Indigenous officer or sergeant at their head. The home movie was filmed by John Alexander Crawford.




Educational details

Educational value
  • The well-trained servicemen seen here were members of the Torres Strait Light Infantry (TSLI), a unit comprising men from the various islands in Torres Strait whose service from 1941 to 1946 is one of the least recognised in Australian military history. Initially the TSLI comprised one company but in 1942, as the number of men enlisting rose substantially, the unit grew to four companies organised around the men's home islands and in 1943 it became a battalion.
  • The TSLI was the only Indigenous battalion in the history of the Australian Army. When it first reached battalion strength it comprised 830 Torres Strait Islanders, 40 Torres Strait Malays and Aboriginal people from mainland Queensland, but after 1944 the battalion was reorganised to comprise only Torres Strait Islanders. Despite this, no Torres Strait Islanders were promoted to officer rank. By 1946 almost every man of eligible age in Torres Strait had volunteered to serve.
  • Approval to form the TSLI was given in May 1941 as soon as the military authorities realised there were insufficient regular or militia troops to garrison the Torres Strait against the predicted Japanese advance. Until that time it had been military policy to prohibit Indigenous people from enlisting. The TSLI was initially deployed on Thursday Island and later some companies were stationed at Horn Island (Nurupai) to protect the airstrips and the wharf.
  • The Torres Strait Islander servicemen received the standard infantry training of basic weapon and marching drill and, as the footage shows, they became highly proficient; they also trained in conventional and jungle warfare including patrolling, carrying out reconnaissance and stalking exercises and setting up defensive positions. They exercised with Bren guns and .303 rifles.
  • As well as the lack of Indigenous officers, the TSLI soldiers served under a discriminatory pay and allowances scheme. The men shown here received none of the allowances paid to a soldier on active service and only about one-third the pay of a non-Indigenous soldier. After a strike in 1943 the pay was raised to two-thirds. Even then only a small percentage was actually paid to the TSLI soldiers. Most was paid to the Queensland Director of Native Welfare.
  • The TSLI played a significant role in the war effort in the Torres Strait region, particularly in supporting other military units but also in fighting the Japanese themselves. In their support role, for example, they unloaded and moved 7,000 tonnes of aviation fuel in five days during the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942. In actively engaging the enemy, for example, they patrolled deep into Dutch New Guinea, encountering and fighting the Japanese.
  • This resource includes closed captions.
Year level

F; 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • History
  • Studies of society and environment

Other details

Contributors
  • Contributor
  • Name: State Library of Queensland
  • Organization: State Library of Queensland
  • Description: Content provider
  • Address: QLD, AUSTRALIA
  • URL: http://www.slq.qld.gov.au
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: John Alexander Crawford
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: State Library of Queensland
  • Organization: State Library of Queensland
  • Address: QLD, AUSTRALIA
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL: http://www.esa.edu.au
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL: www.esa.edu.au
Access profile
  • Colour independence
  • Device independence
  • Hearing independence
Learning Resource Type
  • Video
Rights
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and State Library of Queensland, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements