On 11 April 1965 the then Governor-General, Lord de Lisle VC, KG, GCMG, GCVO, PC, presented the 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (4 RAR) with its Queen’s and Regimental Colours and on the occasion he suggested that the Battalion’s Assault Pioneer Sergeant should wear a beard and carry an axe, as is the custom in many British Army Units. The then Commanding Officer, Lt Col David Thomson MC of course accepted the suggestion and so a tradition was born.
The tradition of the bearded sergeant dates back to the 18th century when each British infantry company had a pioneer who marched at the head of the regiment. He wore a “stout” apron and carried an axe which was used to clear a path for all who followed. The pioneer sergeant was also the unit blacksmith and so wore an apron to protect his uniform and a beard to protect his face from the heat and the slag of the forge. His axe was also used to kill horses that were wounded in battle. The Assault Pioneer Platoon Sergeant also carries a tomahawk on parade in lieu of a bayonet.
From 1973 to 1995, the 4th Battalion was linked with the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (2 RAR) and the tradition of the bearded pioneer sergeant continued with the amalgamated battalion, 2/4 RAR. In 1995, 2 RAR and 4 RAR were delinked and resumed their original titles. Shortly after taking on its commando role in 1997, 4 RAR removed the position of pioneer sergeant from its establishment and the bearded role was passed to the Regimental Police Sergeant until that position was also removed from the establishment. In 2009 the members of 4 RAR formed a new regiment to comply with their commando role and became the Second Command Regiment (2 Cdo Regt) but the relevant standing orders allow for the Battalion, 4 RAR, to reinstate the position of the bearded sergeant when the Battalion comes back on line.
In 2007, the tradition of the bearded sergeant was formerly raised within 2 RAR because of its former amalgamation with 4 RAR and now 2 RAR and 4 RAR are the only units within the Australian Army officially authorised to have bearded troops.
On being reposted either within the Battalion or to another unit, the outgoing bearded sergeant has his beard removed by the unit’s commanding officer in front of the entire battalion.
Assault Pioneer Platoon Sergeant 4 RAR/NZ '68/69 tour to Vietnam.
The Bearded Assault Pioneer Platoon Sergeant
the motto of the Royal Australian Regiment
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