PORT MORESBY - From among the countless stories about Sir Michael Somare comes this one, about a secret.
It originated from near the tip of Cape Moem peninsula in Wewak, East Sepik Province.
This part of the Sepik coastline is home to the PNG Defence Force’s 2nd Royal Pacific Islands Regiment (2RPIR), the sister battalion to the Taurama-based 1RPIR in Port Moresby.
The story began in 2001 during a near mutiny, which saw angry soldiers burn down the battalion’s administration building in Moem. In their anger, the soldiers tore apart the Royal Regimental Colours.
For those who may be wondering, the Regimental Colours, as seen in the images here, is a double folded silk white ensign, on which a crown and a royal cypher have been embroidered.
The Queen’s Colours are blue, red and white.
The Regimental Colours is the most sacred and heavily guarded flag of the battalion, representing the Queen’s ownership.
In the PNGDF, it is found only at 1RPIR and 2RPIR.
Her Majesty owns the two battalions, thus the word ‘Royal’ is imbedded in their regimental names, and they possess the colours.
It is an important symbol of respect and has the RPIR battle honours embodied on it.
Prince Charles had initially presented 2RPIR with its Colours in September 1985 in Wewak.
The ripping apart of the Colours in 2001 came with heavy consequences and serious regret.
The battalion plunged into disgrace and shame and was rejected by its own mother, Queen, Elizabeth II, at which time the word ‘Royal’ was stripped from its name.
For almost 12 years, the Moem-based Unit was shrouded with dishonour, only referred to as the 2nd Pacific Island Regiment (2PIR) without the Royal in its name.
Commonwealth eyes regretfully looked towards disbanding the unit.
But in 2012 the late Grand Chief Sir Michael Thomas Somare quietly, anonymously and gently took the disgraced battalion into the palm of his hand.
With the help of the people of East Sepik, he brought back brand new Regimental Colours from the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
He knew the Pacific Islands Regiment, which was formed by native soldiers who fought under the command of Australian officers against the Japanese invasion during World War II.
Sir Michael was around then, a young child.
The regiment was disbanded after the war but raised again on 11 March 1951 as part of the Australian Army until independence in 1975.
Sir Michael understood the battalion and the PNGDF as a whole. They had been around him just like his own compatriots – the people who helped instigate independence – of the Bully Beef Club.
On 4 October 2012, Prince Charles arrived in Port Moresby bringing with him 2PIR’s new Regimental Colours.
In the presence of Sir Michael, on behalf of Buckingham Palace, Prince Charles presented the Colours to then Governor-General the late Sir Michael Ogio.
Finally, on the afternoon of 11 March 2013, with pride restored to 2RPIR, the battalion marched into a packed Sir Michael Thomas Somare stadium in Wewak.
Hundreds of people lined around the fences and filled the lawns to catch a glimpse of the Colours.
Also present were Sir Michael Somare, Sir Michael Ogio, then Defence Minister Dr Fabian Pok and then PNGDF Commander Brigadier General Francis Agwi (retired).
Heavily armed soldiers with painted faces stood guard around the ground.
At precisely one o’clock, the battalion marched on.
No one except Sir Michael knew what it took for Her Majesty to accept back the Battalion as her own Royal Regiment.
The truth remains unknown.
With Sir Michael’s death, the secret is secured forever, known only to the winds of Cape Moem.