Mission accomplished for former commandos

Sixty-one years after he first walked through the gates of 1 Commando Company, Allan Miles trod the familiar path to mark the place of his former unit.

CAPTIONFormer members of 1 Commando Company, from left, National Secretary Airborne and Special Forces Association Pat Doherty, President 1 Commando Association Merv Liddell and Chairman of Operation Pilgrimage Group Allan Miles at the unveiling of the new heritage marker at the company barracks, Georges Heights, Sydney. Story by Corporal Michael Rogers.

A heritage marker commemorating the former site of 1 Commando Company barracks was dedicated by veterans and families at Georges Heights, Mosman, on June 23.

Despite a cold and rainy afternoon, nearly 150 people attended the ceremony, with 46 wearing the unit’s green beret.

It was the end of an almost 2-year process spearheaded by Mr Miles, chairman of Operation Pilgrimage, a group of former commandos who conduct charitable works.

“There is always a sense of achievement when we complete a project, but for this particular one there’s a real sense of satisfaction that we’ve established a permanent record [of the unit],” Mr Miles said.

“It’s a great feeling to finally recognise the many hundreds of men who attained their green beret and the many thousands of men that came here to try.”

The plaque was unveiled by Mark Skipper, son of the unit’s second commanding officer Major Jack Skipper.

A dedication was given by former Chief of Army Lieutenant General (retd) Ken Gillespie and blessed by Major Brett Gallagher from the Salvation Army.

A member of the unit from 1963-76, one of Mr Miles’ fondest memories was working alongside Warrant Officer Class 2 Ray Simpson VC, who proudly wore his green beret.

“Ray was a staff instructor prior to his deployment to AATTV (Australian Army Training Team Vietnam), and on his return as a civilian he stayed and worked as a general-duties orderly and in the cookhouse, and was a dixie-basher with us younger commandos,” Mr Miles said.

“He was a soldier’s soldier; we all knew what he had done in Vietnam.”

1 Commando Company was a citizen’s military force unit raised in 1955, with nearly 4000 soldiers passing through its gates to become commandos – though not all completed the rigorous training.

Commando courses included parachuting, diving, small-scale raids, climbing and roping, unarmed combat and demolitions.

The unit held its first diving course using a re-breather in 1957, based on training received from the British Special Boat Service.

In 1957, the unit was renamed the 1st Infantry Battalion (Commando), until 1966 when the unit was again renamed, becoming 1st Battalion, the Royal New South Wales Regiment (Commando), City of Sydney’s Own Regiment.

It changed back to its original designation of 1 Commando Company in 1973 and was absorbed into the regular Army in 1996 after being granted regimental status.

The unit moved to HMAS Penguin in 2006, and the Georges Heights barracks was turned into parkland, with none of the original buildings still standing.


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