Posted in Stories

Discovering Dad – The Enlistment

1 May 2015

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Horror, disbelief and even a healthy dose of fear must have coursed through my father as reports of the air raids on Darwin flashed over the radio waves of our nation on 19 February 1942.  Ronald Norman Di Salvia had enlisted only one month prior to the devastating bombing and was approximately half way through basic training.  Every Australian child learns about WW2 at school, but this morning I looked at information on the Japanese bombing of Darwin with new eyes.  I am not sure how Dad, or even Mum, felt about the news reports that told the nation that 242 Japanese aircraft bombed Darwin killing at least 235 Australian soldiers and civilians  and causing immense damage to the major naval port, but it would be a “safe bet” that the news brought home just how close the war was to the citizens of Australia.  The Darwin air raid was closely followed a number of smaller attacks and then a major attack on Broome, which was a significant air base at the time. Another 88 Australian soldiers were killed on home soil!  In coming months there would be more raids on Australian towns and cities, including Sydney.

Dad had already told me that he had not been accepted into the Army as he was found to be colour blind during his physical examination. For that reason he joined the Citizen Military Forces on 15 January 1942 at the Drill Hall in Merrylands, New South Wales. At that time Dad, Mum and my oldest sister Noeleen were listed as living at 163 Macquarie Road, Greystanes which was only three and a half kilometres away from the Drill Hall. On his enlistment paperwork he was noted as being a Lorry Driver and Storeman – skills he had learned whilst employed by the Sanitarium Health Food Company.  These skills would have been very useful to an Ordnance Division.

I thought that finding out about the Drill Hall where dad had enlisted would add both colour and context to his war history so I turned to the internet to start my search. Searching the Internet for information on a given subject is sometimes difficult if you do not set your criteria correctly,  and after nearly one and a half hours I had found no information about the hall  – no pictures of events that may have been held there, no descriptions of the building itself.  I rang my sister Noeleen in a very disheartened state  to tell her that my search for information about dad’s enlistment wasn’t off to a good start, and she suggested that I ring the Holroyd Municipal Council.  Nonny quickly looked up the phone number for me.

Luckily I got on to a very nice young man by the name of Andrew who really did want to help me, a refreshing concept in today’s busy world.  I discovered that Andrew wasn’t one of the Municipal historians but that he personally remembered the building.  Andrew went on to describe the building as a tin structure with a field gun sitting in the corner of the block to the front of the building.  He believed that the old drill hall had been pulled down during the 1990’s to make way for the business that now sits on the block – a McDonalds outlet.

Andrew also gave me the email address of the Granville Historical Society suggesting that I contact them, as well as the Parramatta Heritage Centre, to try to find further information on the Drill Hall. I sent the emails off immediately.

Private Ronald Norman Di Salvia 1942 – 1943

I knew that Private Ronald Di Salvia was in the 2nd Australian Advanced Ordnance Dept so I then turned my focus to discovering what type of work an Ordnance Depot would be involved.   Of course, in this day and age when we are all so used to instant access to any information we may need, it was particularly frustrating that I could find very little written documentation about the unit to which Dad had been assigned. There were a number of pictures of stores items that were being transported from Broadmeadows to the Ordnance depot in Bathurst by both road and rail, a report on why the need for an Ordnance Depot in a rural setting was required, and a description of the actual buildings at Bathurst, but nothing specifically about the work carried out by an Ordnance Division beyond a general description of “supply of stores to other units”.

I did take the opportunity to discover why an Ordnance Depot was positioned inland.  Some of our major cities had already been attacked by either air or sea and it was believed that substantial losses, both in life and equipment needed for the war effort, would be sustained if all our Ordnance Depots were within a city’s limits especially after the devastating attacks on Darwin and the near miss of attack by 3 mini submarines in Sydney Harbour.

My level of frustration had risen to breaking point steadily throughout the day! I felt that I had spent hours searching for information on dad and had found nothing of significance, but as I sit here tonight and reflect on what I have learned in the last few hours I discovered that nothing could be further from the truth.  Below I have listed the new information that my search has turned up:

  • The point at which the war raged when Dad joined the army.  I found detailed information on raids on Australian soil and in the Pacific region that I never knew before  and which gave me an insight into the mindset of people living through that period.  I also found pictures of the bombing of Darwin which brought home the devastation of the city.  I wondered at the horror people would have experienced as they watched the newsreels at a picture show.
  • Dad’s commitment to serving his country at whatever level he was able.  When he was found to be colour blind he proudly served in Ordnance.  It is quite likely that he used his lorry and storeman skills, but he may also have been involved loading trucks with equipment, munitions and blankets for soldiers who were fighting all over the world.
  • The location of the Merrylands Drill Hall where he enlisted
  • A description of the Merrylands Drill Hall
  • Our Governments position on the need for Ordnance Depots to be positioned in rural settings as opposed to major cities
  • A general idea of Ordnance that my father would have been responsible for handling
  • A description of the Ordnance Depot buildings at Bathurst

This information colours my understanding of the life my father was leading at the time of his enlistment. I now have an insight into the thoughts that must have filled his mind plus the events that influenced his motivation, and these are details that I had no idea of when I started researching this morning.   The truth is that I have learned much today, both about my dad and the history of my country.  I also learned something about myself – for better or for worse! I have no credible level of patience when I want something, so waiting to hear from the Granville Historical Society and the Parramatta Heritage Centre about the Merrylands Drill Hall will be difficult.  Of course, I realise that impatience is not a nice quality! – perhaps I should work on that!



  • Wikipedia
  • National Archives of New South Wales
    • NAA A1163 PA189 Darwin 1942 Bomb Disposal
    • NAA A11663  PA189 Darwin 1942
    • NAA C4076 HN990 Guinea Airways Hanger After Raid
    • NAA C4076 HN5009 Darwin Post Office and Residence after Air raid
    • NAA C4076 HN5011 Interior Darwin Post Office after Air Raid
    • NAA C4076 HN5015 Bombed Shipping after Air Raid

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