Fallen Digger’s enormous heart: Ron Stanton fondly remembered

THE life and memory of widely respected and much loved Bega resident Ronald David Stanton was celebrated at a memorial service held at Tarraganda last Saturday.

The service drew a large gathering of family and friends who held the war veteran in the highest regard for many reasons, but mostly because he was an inspiration to all who met him over his 92 years.

Ron Stanton was a proud family man who, along with wife Marjorie, lived by a strong Christian faith in helping others.

In his lifetime he also demonstrated an enormous heart and willingness to forgive. 

Born on October 11, 1921, to Charles and May Stanton, Ron was the fifth of nine siblings and the last living member of his family.

He died on November 13 at Bega District Hospital, after suffering a stroke.

Ron had required hospitalisation following an accident at home when he tripped and fell while taking out the rubbish bin.

“Dad always said he wanted to ‘die with his boots on’,” son Doug Stanton said, “and to some degree he did as he was 92 and still doing the household chores.”

A true family man in every sense of the word, Ron and Marj raised five sons - Ross, Brian, Graham, Douglas and Roy.

At the memorial service his sons proudly spoke about their dad, who they described as “a selfless man”.

“Dad lived for his wife and kids in all he did. As kids, our dad would buy us all a treat and would often not have one himself … which is a small example of how he made sacrifices for his family and required very little for himself.

“He was a dad who taught by example. He could fix anything and did. It seemed to dad there was always a way to do the job at hand. He would often say, ‘if you have a fulcrum strong enough and a lever long enough, you could move the world’.

“We feel we have all learned from Dad’s experiences.

“His devotion to our mum has been an example to us all, right to his last days.

“Dad’s traits of a positive attitude and forgiving nature, despite his horrific war experiences live in our hearts and memories.

“Dad imparted an ability to get back up after any hard trail in life.

“After many setbacks in our timber mill days, dad would get us on track with a stirring talk, that we could get back up and achieve our goals, if we just work a bit harder.

“He would often wake us up early with, ‘wake up boys, before the sun burns your flaming eyes out’.

“Dad often spoke with fondness of growing up in the love and security of his family. It was this deep family bond that held hope in his heart during his war experiences to make it home when so many did not.

“Even though he had good memories of school, he left school at about 13.

“Dad just wanted to be on the land with his horses, fresh air and the smell of the Australian bush and believed he could learn more at home with his dad and family.”

The Great Depression hit from 1929-32 so Ron’s father moved his family to Burragorang Valley where they lived off the land – crops, veggies and an abundance of trapped rabbits.

At 14 years of age, Ron won the Wollondilly Cup on an unrideable 17-hand-high race horse, reputed to buck off every other jockey.

His dad just said “Ron will ride him, get on him son and keep him moving”.

Through the drought years of this period, Ron had to shoot 13 of his beloved horses. He became accustomed to loss and hardship at an early age.

He worked for “Nock and Kirby” a hardware store in George St, Sydney, before the onset of WW2.

He volunteered at age 19 to join the Australian infantry and was shipped overseas for active duty on the front line with the 2/19th Battalion.

He was part of active fighting just prior to the fall of Singapore. 

Ron survived three-and-a-half-years as a prisoner of war, including a time in Changi Prison and the Burma Railway.

“Dad would often say, with a forgiving attitude, ‘I was a guest of the Japanese’.

“Dad went in at 12-and-a-half stone and through malnutrition, malaria, dysentery and physical abuse, came home at only six stone. 

“Many of his mates did not make it home, but dad had a steely resolve to ‘just last three more months and it will be over’.

“Dad often told a story about the time when he was transported on a barge, where he found and secured peanuts through a knot hole in the timber.

“He shared these peanuts with his mates which added some much needed protein to the ‘starvation diet’.

“Dad’s forgiveness of six Japanese soldiers, when the roles were reversed and he was holding the rifle and bayonet, set the stage for a long life, free of bitterness.”

A family of his own began after the war when he met Marj at Tilba Tilba in 1946.

“Their first date was when the young 25-year-old Ron came calling with two saddle horses to take the beautiful Marjorie for a ride, and Dad would say lovingly in jest ‘she’s been taking me for a ride ever since’.

“They married on April 5, 1947.

“Dad built a slab house on Brooklands Farm at Tilba, with his father-in-law Bill Eddie.

“Things were tough in those days and Dad was trying to live off the land, selling rabbit skins and wattle bark.”

Ron and Marj headed to Sydney with a secure job offer in the NSW Mounted Police Force too hard for Ron to resist.

Rumours that ex-POWs may be impotent were proved wrong. 

During this time their boys started to arrive.

Today Ron and Marjorie’s family of five sons has grown to a family of 41 and three on the way…with no end in sight!

“Dad often told the story of how word had spread within the POW camp that the hibiscus leaf would stop impotency. 

“The next day there was not a leaf to be found on any hibiscus tree in the camp.”

Later Ron and Marj returned to Tilba where Ron took up share farming on a dairy.

In 1952, the year of the devastating bushfires in Bega, the family moved to Victoria on the Murray River, where Ron began his sales career with Rawleigh’s health products and stock supplements. He subsequently took a job with Colonial Mutual Insurance Company.

Life on the Murray provided the family with many special memories, but it was back to Sydney for the family of seven where Ron continued with insurance sales for the next 20 years.

Even though they were in a city, Ron made sure the family still lived a country lifestyle, with a horse, milking goats, chooks, ducks, rabbits, budgerigars, pigeons and a large veggie garden for some time, before a pool was installed.

Ross, Brian, Graham, Douglas and Roy remember how actively involved their dad was with everything they did, particularly football and sporting events where there was much encouragement from the sidelines.

They gained building and construction skills from their dad and led a very adventurous life, including many farm breaks, shooting trips out west, river and beach holidays and even a caravan trip around half of Australia.

Ron spent several years cleaning up the Stanton family farm “Glenorrie” at Tilba and during this time was instrumental in setting up a sawmill on this property to take advantage of the mill logs cut down while clearing the land.

Ron and a few of the boys then became sawmillers, purchasing the Cobargo sawmill. 

This led to the purchase of another farming property, where Ron would stay and work in the mill and on the farm, when not in Sydney with Marj.

During this time Ron developed a real faith and belief in God, and lived his life accordingly.

Later, whilst still living in Sydney, Ron and Marj belonged to the Australian Hospital Christian Fellowship, an extremely satisfying activity which involved visits to hospitals and aged care homes.

Ron and Marjorie’s Christian calling took them to Orange in 1986 to help in the building of a church. 

They then moved to Port Macquarie, where they purchased a block of land and at age 68 Ron helped build a new home for Marjorie. Once again he assisted in building a church, which Doug and wife Karen established in Port Macquarie.

In 1998 Ron and Marj decided it was time to return to their “home” Bega, where they have enjoyed family, church and good friendship for many years.

Ron was farewelled at a private funeral service in November attended by family members.

Last Saturday's celebration of his life was held for those family members who could not make it to the funeral and his friends.

Marj said she was completely overwhelmed with the number of people who attended the service.

"I didn't realise we knew so many people, it was wonderful to see and I feel blessed," she said.

The immediate family gathered together once again last Sunday at the family's Brogo farm to bury Ron’s ashes at his favourite spot, looking across the mountains.

Doug described it as a “very powerful and emotional day, which brought a lot of closure to the family”.

* WW2 veteran Ronald Stanton was an honoured guest at the Bega Anzac Day service earlier this year. In the BDN Anzac Day issue, Mr Stanton shared the story of his life, including being a POW in Changi. It is reprinted in full here in honour of the fallen Digger.

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