Who Are Sappers?

Military engineering is the oldest of the engineering skills and a precursor to the profession of civil engineering.

Employed since ancient and medieval times, military engineers gradually became specialists who made and used engines of war such as catapults, battering rams, and the many other devices used in attacking or defending a castle or camp.

In peace time military engineers designed and built roads, aqueducts, and the fortifications that protected towns and cities.

Military engineers became popularly known as ‘sappers’ in the 17th century, when attackers dug covered trenches to approach (and then undermine) the walls of a besieged fort. The French word sappe means spadework or trench, hence, those specialist soldiers who dug those trenches became known as ‘Sappers’.

The descriptor ‘Sapper’ is now used as a general term to refer to all military engineers. It is also the equivalent rank title to ‘Private’ for soldiers in the Corps of Royal Australian Engineers.

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Royal Australian Engineer Associations

There are a number of RAE unit Associations keeping former and current Sappers in touch. Contact details for these are:

  • 17 Const Sqn Association – Email
  • NT Engineer Association – Website
  • WA RAE Association – Website
  • QLD Sappers Association – Email1  – Email2Website
  • RAE Association South Australia – Email
  • Tunnel Rats – Email
  • Victorian Engineer Association – Email
  • 21 Construction Regiment Association – Email
  • 14 Fd Sqn Association – Email
  • NSW Sappers Association – Email
  • NSW Survey Association – Website – Email
  • President/Editor EX-Fortuna Survey Association – Email
Sappers

Australian Sapper Magazine

Australian Sapper is the official magazine of the RAE. Published annually, the magazine addresses the major issues facing the Corps. Australian Sapper also provides an overview of the operational and training activities of our Sappers. 

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Lest We Forget

Corporal Ashley Birt

Vale Notice – Corporal Ashley Birt

Corporal Ashley Birt was born in Nambour, Queensland in 1989. Ashley enlisted in the Australian Regular Army in Jun 2007. After four years of service in the 1st Topographic Survey Squadron, Royal Australian Engineers, he was deployed to Afghanistan in May 2011.

Ashley was part of the contingent of Australian mentors to the 6th Kandak of the Afghan National Army’s 4th Brigade in Kandahar province. Ashley was Killed in Action on 29th Oct 2011 when a member of the Afghan National Army opened fire with an automatic weapon. Two of Ashley’s Australian colleagues were also killed in this incident, and a number of Australian Soldiers were wounded.

Ashley is survived by his parents Don and Linda, and his brother Dale.

Biography – Corporal Ashley Birt

SappersCorporal Ashley Birt was born in Nambour, Queensland in 1989. He enlisted into the Australian Regular Army in June 2007 and was allocated to the Royal Australian Engineers as a Geospatial Technician.

Following his Engineer Initial Employment Training and Specialist Technical Geospatial Basic course in December 2008, he was posted to the 1st Topographical Survey Squadron (1 TOPO SVY SQN) as a Geospatial Technician. He was promoted to Lance Corporal in February 2011 and to Corporal in April 2011.

Corporal Birt was part of Combined Team Uruzgan and is survived by his parents and brother.

His colleagues describe him as being a proud and well-liked soldier of the 1 TOPO SVY SQN. He maintained a very high level of physical fitness and played hockey at the highest levels. Due to his natural leadership style, maturity, hard work ethic and dedication to his specialist trade, he was quickly promoted through the ranks.

He was a great mate to his many colleagues and well liked by all. He was a larrikin and someone who was always smiling. His mates remember him as a great bloke, a distinguished sportsman and an excellent soldier. He will not be forgotten and will always remain a part of the sapper family.

Corporal Birt has been awarded the following honours and awards:

  • Australian Defence Medal
  • Australian Service Medal with Clasp Solomon Islands II
  • Australian Active Service Medal with clasp International Coalition Against Terrorism (ICAT)
  • Afghanistan Campaign Medal
  • NATO Non Article 5 Medal with clasp – International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

For his efforts on OPERATION FLOODS ASSIST, he was nominated for a soldiers’ medallion.

During Corporal Birt’s service in the Australian Army he deployed on the following operations:

  • Operation ANODE (Solomon Islands) – July 2010 – September 2010
  • Operation QUEENSLAND FLOOD ASSIST (Australia) – January 2011– February 2011
  • Operation SLIPPER (Afghanistan) – May 2011 – October.

The full Defence Vale notice for CPL Birt can be found here.

Corporal Scott James Smith

Vale Notice – Corporal Scott James Smith

Scott Smith was born in the Barossa Valley, South Australia in 1988. He joined the Army in February 2006 and upon completion of his initial employment training, was posted to the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment, Darwin. In 2008, Corporal Smith was posted to the then Incident Response Regiment.

Scott deployed to Afghanistan for the second time in July 2012 as a member of the Holsworthy-based Special Operations Engineer Regiment, forming part of the Special Operations Task Group. Scott was killed by a bomb blast during a compound clearance operation on 21st October 2012.

Scott is survived by his partner Liv, his parents Katrina Paterson and Murray Smith and sister Roxanne.

Biography – Corporal Scott James Smith

SappersCorporal Scott Smith was born in Gawler, South Australia in 1988. He joined the Army in February 2006 and upon completion of his initial employment training, was posted to the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment, Darwin. He deployed with 1 CER in August 2006 to the Solomon Islands as part of Operation ANODE. He was also a key member of Rifle Company Butterworth 79.

In 2008, Corporal Smith was posted to the then Incident Response Regiment as a search operator. During this time he was a pivotal member within the Regiment’s Domestic and Offshore contingency troops. He also deployed as part of SOTG XII from February to July 2010.

In 2011, Corporal Smith completed the ADF Explosive Ordnance Reconnaissance course (EOR) and was promoted to the rank of Corporal later that year. He deployed as part of SOTG XVIII in July 2012.

Corporal Smith has been awarded the following honours and awards:

Australian Active Service Medal with clasp International Coalition Against Terrorism,

  • Australian Defence Medal,
  • Australian Service Medal with Clasp Solomons 2,
  • Australian Service Medal with Clasp – Counter Terrorism / Special Recovery,
  • NATO International Stabilisation Assistance Force Medal,
  • Army Combat Badge,
  • Soldiers Medallion.

During Corporal Smith’s service in the Australian Army he deployed on the following operations:

  • Operation ANODE (Solomon Islands) – November 2006 – December 2006,
  • Operation SLIPPER (Afghanistan) – February 2010 – July 2010,
  • Operation NORWICH (Australia) – November 2011,
  • Operation SLIPPER (Afghanistan) – July 2012 – October 2012.

Corporal Smith is survived by his partner Liv, his parents Katrina and Murray; and his sister Roxanne.

The full Defence Vale notice for CPL Smith can be found here.

Sapper James Martin

Vale Notice – Sapper James Martin

Sapper James Martin born in Perth, Western Australia in June 1991.

James enlisted into the Australian Regular Army in January 2011 and completed recruit training in April 2011. In May 2011, he began his Initial Employment Training as a Combat Engineer. After completing this course in August 2011, James was posted to the 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment in Brisbane.

In June 2012, James deployed on his first operation, as part of the 3rd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment Task Group. James was killed in action on 29th August 2012 when he and two other Australian soldiers were shot dead by a member of the Afghan National Army at a patrol base north of Tarin Kowt.

James is survived by his mother Suzanne Thomas, his younger brother and sister Angus and Holly, and his grandparents Lucille and Ralph Thomas.

Biography – Sapper James Martin

SappersSapper James Martin born in Perth, Western Australia in June 1991.

James enlisted into the Australian Regular Army in January 2011 and completed recruit training in April 2011. In May 2011, he began his Initial Employment Training as a Combat Engineer. After completing this course in August 2011, James was posted to the 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment in Brisbane.

In June 2012, James deployed on his first operation, as part of the 3rd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment Task Group. James was killed in action on 29th August 2012 when he and two other Australian soldiers were shot dead by a member of the Afghan National Army at a patrol base north of Tarin Kowt.

James is survived by his mother Suzanne Thomas, his younger brother and sister Angus and Holly, and his grandparents Lucille and Ralph Thomas.

The full Defence Vale notice for SPR Martin can be found here.

Sapper Rowan Jaie Robinson

Vale Notice – Sapper Rowan Jaie Robinson

SappersSapper Rowan Robinson was born in Wahroonga, New South Wales in September 1987.

Rowan enlisted in the Australian Regular Army in January 2006. After four years of service in the Royal Australian Engineers, he was posted to the Incident Response Regiment, with whom he deployed to Afghanistan in 2011.

While involved in an operation to clear a large cache of weapons in northern Helmand province on 6th June 2011, Rowan was Killed In Action during a firefight with insurgents.

Rowan is survived by his parents Peter and Marie, sister Rachael and brothers Ben and Troy.

Biography – Sapper Rowan Jaie RobinsonSappers

Sapper Rowan Robinson was born on the 3rd September 1987 in Wahroonga, N.S.W. He joined the Army on the 30th of January 2006 and after Recruit Training and Initial Employment Training was posted to the 3rd Combat Engineer Regiment Townsville. After four years of service he was posted to the Incident Response Regiment at the start of 2010 where he completed his reinforcement cycle and was allocated 2 Troop, Alpha Squadron.

While involved in an operation to clear a large cache of weapons in northern Helmand province on 6th June 2011, Rowan was Killed In Action during a firefight with insurgents.

Sapper Robinson has been awarded the following Honours and Awards:

  • Australian Active Service Medal with clasp ICAT
    Afghanistan Campaign Medal
  • Australian Defence Medal
  • NATO Medal Clasp ISAF
  • Return Active Service Badge
  • Australian Combat Badge

During Sapper Robinson’s service in the Australian Army he has been deployed on the following Operations:

  • OPERATION SLIPPER (Afghanistan) 01 Mar 11- 06 Jun 11
  • OPERATION SLIPPER (Afghanistan) 19 Sep 07-20 Apr 08

Sapper Robinson is survived by parents Peter and Marie Robinson, sister Rachael and brothers Ben and Troy Robinson.

The full Defence Vale notice for SPR Robinson can be found here.

Sapper Jamie Larcombe

Vale Notice – Sapper Jamie Larcombe

Sapper Jamie Larcombe was born on Kangaroo Island, South Australia in September 1989.

Jamie enlisted in the Australian Regular Army in February 2008 and was subsequently posted to the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment, with whom he deployed to Afghanistan in October 2010.

During an engagement with insurgents while on patrol in the Mirabad Valley, Jamie was Killed in Action on 19th February 2011. Jamie had just passed the third anniversary of his Army enlistment on 18th February 2011.

Biography – Sapper Jamie Larcombe

Sappers

Sapper Jamie Larcombe, Engineer, 2nd Mentoring Task Force. Killed in action in the Mirabad Valley, Uruzgan Province on 19 Feb 2011 NOTE: This is a composite image, created for the memorial service in Tarin Kot. Flag and hat added for the memorial service.

Sapper Jamie Larcombe was born on 14 September 1989 at Kingscote Hospital on Kangaroo Island, South Australia and enlisted in the ARA on 18 February 2008. Jamie enlisted in the Australian Regular Army in February 2008 and was subsequently posted to the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment, with whom he deployed to Afghanistan in October 2010.

During an engagement with insurgents while on patrol in the Mirabad Valley, Jamie was Killed in Action on 19th February 2011. Jamie had just passed the third anniversary of his Army enlistment on 18th February 2011.

Sapper Larcombe had previously served on Operation PADANG ASSIST in Sumatra, Indonesia and was posted to the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment.

Jamie went to Parndana Area School where he was loved by all his peers. He was a community-minded person who was a Country Fire Service volunteer, played sport for his local footy club.

Jamie was a fun, loving individual who loved life and loved to give where he could. A dedicated brother, son and partner, he could always be relied on. Anyone who came in contact with Jamie grew to love him for his personality and great sense of humour. He was cherished by his local Kangaroo Island community, friends, family and his close Army mates, who are now mourning this great loss. Jamie is survived by his parents Steven and Tricia, sisters Ann-Marie, Emily and April.

The full Defence Vale notice for SPR Larcombe can be found here.

Corporal Richard Atkinson

Vale Notice – Corporal Richard Atkinson

SappersCorporal Richard Atkinson was born in Hobart, Tasmania in May 1988.

Richard enlisted in the Australian Regular Army in April 2007 and was subsequently posted to the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment, with whom he deployed to Afghanistan in October 2010.

Richard was in command of a Combat Engineer search section during an Australian patrol through the Tangi Valley in the Deh Rawud region. He was Killed In Action on 2nd February 2011 when an insurgent Improvised Explosive Device detonated near his section.

Richard is survived his parents Ross and Kate, brother James and sister-in-law Sumah.

Biography – Corporal Richard Atkinson

Corporal Richard Atkinson was born in Hobart, Tasmania on 11 May 1988 and enlisted in the ARA on 30 April 2007. He was subsequently posted to the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment, with whom he deployed to Afghanistan in October 2010.

Richard was in command of a Combat Engineer search section during an Australian patrol through the Tangi Valley in the Deh Rawud region. He was Killed In Action on 2nd February 2011 when an insurgent Improvised Explosive Device detonated near his section. Richard was Killed in Action on 2 February 2011 serving on Operation SLIPPER in Afghanistan at the age of 22 having served for 3 years and 9 months.

Corporal Atkinson had previously served on Operation PADANG ASSIST in Sumatra, Indonesia and was posted to the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment.

Rich was a funny man, always putting smiles on other people’s faces. He was hoping to start a family this year with Dannielle. He was a dedicated soldier with long career aspirations. He was a family man who was very close to each of his relatives and was looking forward to coming home at the end of his tour to spend time with them in Tasmania.

He shared a strong mateship with those he left behind in Afghanistan and all his mates in Australia. He will be missed by all and not a day will go by that he won’t be thought of.

Richard is survived his parents Ross and Kate, brother James and sister-in-law Sumah.

The full Defence Vale notice for CPL Atkinson can be found here.

Sapper Jacob Moerland

Vale notice – Sapper Jacob Moerland

Sapper Jacob Moerland was born in Cairns, Queensland in January 1989.

Jacob enlisted into the Australian Regular Army in July 2007. After basic training and two years service with the 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment, Jacob deployed to Afghanistan in January 2010.

Jacob was involved in a route clearance task ahead of an Australian patrol in the Mirabad Valley on 7th June 2010. He was inspecting a suspected improvised explosive device when it was detonated by insurgents. Jacob subsequently died as a result of his wounds from the blast.

Jacob is survived by his parents Robert and Sandra and sisters Bethany and Laura, and fiancée, Kezia.

Biography – Sapper Jacob Moerland

SappersSapper Jacob Moerland, 21, a member of 1st Mentoring Task Force (MTF- 1) from 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment (2 CER) was killed as a result of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated on 7 June, 2010.

Sapper Jacob Moerland was born in Cairns, Queensland on 14 January 1989.

He enlisted into the Australian Regular Army on 9 July 2007 and completed his Initial Recruit Training at 1st Recruit Training Battalion in October 2007.

After completing his driver courses and the suite of Combat Engineer Courses in May 2008, Sapper Moerland was posted to 2 CER, Brisbane.

Whilst at 2 CER, he went on to complete a number of courses including: Protected Mobility Vehicle Driver course in April 2009 and Combat First Aider in August 2009. His deployment as part of MTF-1 in January 2010 was his first operation.

As part of his tour he was awarded the Australian Active Service Medal with Clasp International Campaign against Terrorism, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the NATO non-article 5 ISAF Medal, the Meritorious Unit Citation  and Army Combat Badge. Additionally he has been awarded the Australian Defence Medal.

Sapper Moerland left behind his fiancée, Kezia who lives in Brisbane.

The full Defence Vale notice for Sapper Moreland can be found here.

Sapper Darren Smith

Vale Notice – Sapper Darren Smith

Sapper Darren Smith was born in Adelaide, South Australia in November 1984.

Darren enlisted into the Australian Army Reserve in November 2001. Darren subsequently transferred to the Australian Regular Army in October 2004. After five years service in the Royal Australian Engineers, Darren deployed to Afghanistan in March 2010 while posted to the 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment.

Darren was involved in a route clearance task ahead of an Australian patrol in the Mirabad Valley on 7th June 2010. He and his Explosive Detection Dog ‘Herbie’, a 3-1/2 year old Collie Cross. were inspecting a suspected improvised explosive device when it was detonated by insurgents. Darren and Herbie were both Killed In Action by the blast.

Dareen is survived by his wife Angela and their son, Mason.

Biography – Sapper Darren Smith

SappersSapper Darren Smith, 26, a member of 1st Mentoring Task Force (MTF-1) from 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment (2 CER) was killed as a result of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated on 7 June, 2010.

Sapper Darren Smith was born in Adelaide, South Australia on 16 November 1984. He enlisted in the Australian Army Reserve on 29 November 2001 and completing recruit training in January 2002, serving with the 3rd Field Squadron, Royal Australian Engineers, located in South Australia.

Sapper Smith went on to complete his Combat Engineer suite of courses in 2004 and transferred to the Australian Regular Army where he was posted to 1st Combat Engineer Regiment (1CER), Darwin in October 2004. He has completed a number of driver courses up to heavy vehicle and Armoured Personnel Carrier.

While at 1 CER, he successfully completed his Explosive Detection Dog (EDD) Handler course in December 2006 and his Junior Leader Course in November 2008.

Sapper Smith was posted to 2 CER in January 2009. His deployment as part of MTF-1 in March 2010 was his first operation.

As part of his tour he was been awarded the Australian Active Service Medal with Clasp International Campaign against Terrorism, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the NATO ISAF Medal, the Meritorious Unit Citation and Army Combat Badge. Additionally he has been awarded the Australian Defence Medal.

Sapper Smith left behind his wife Angela and a 2-1/2 yr old son Mason.

Sapper Smith’s dog was Herbie, a 3-1/2 year old Collie Cross who also died as a result of the same improvised explosive device detonation on 7 June, 2010.

Full Defence vale notice for Sapper Smith can be found here.

Sergeant Brett Till

Vale Notice – Sergeant Brett Till

Sergeant Brett Till was born in Campsie New South Wales, in September 1977.

He enlisted in the Australian Regular Army in July 2001. After eight years of service in the Royal Australian Engineers, Brett was posted to the Incident Response Regiment, with whom deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician.

During a route clearance task on 19th March 2009 for an Australian patrol, Brett was Killed In Action on while attempting to clear an improvised explosive device in the Chambarak Valley.

Brett is survived by his parents Susan and Noel, his wife Brianna and their three children.

Biography – Sergeant Brett Till

SappersSergeant Brett Till was born in Campsie New South Wales, Australia on 6th September 1977. He enlisted in the Australian Regular Army on 17 July 2001. After completing Recruit training he was allocated to the Royal Australian Engineers and completed his Combat Engineer Initial Employment Training on 6 March 2002.

His first posting was to the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment where he fulfilled a number of junior sapper roles and qualified in a range of mechanised combat engineering roles such as crewman driver, bridging and destruction of malfunction explosive ordnance.

In 2002, Brett deployed on Op Relex 2, an operation focused on boarder protection to the north of Australia.

On 20 June 2004, he was promoted to LCPL and in January 2005, was posted to the Incident Response Regiment as a Combat Engineer within the Chemical, Biological and Radiological Response Squadron.

In September 2005, Brett was promoted to CPL and in late 2005 he completed the Explosive Ordnance Reconnaissance course. In 2007, Brett was posted to the School of Military Engineering as an Instructor and was given the opportunity to complete the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician course which was one of the highlights of his military career.

In September 2008, Brett was temporarily promoted to SGT and was posted back to the Incident Response Regiment to conduct force preparation for Op Slipper.

Full Defence Vale notice for SGT Till can be found here.