Anzac Day: Service in Ron Stafford's blood

RON Stafford is a Bega Valley born and bred Digger who was part of the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) during WW2.

Mr Stafford was born in the old Bega Hospital in 1922 and grew up in his family’s home in Kalaru. 

He is a third generation soldier, as during WW1 his father Lot and uncle Bill fought in Palestine as part of the 12th Light Horse Regiment, while in the same war his grandfather was a soldier in the 38th Battalion in France. 

Mr Stafford remembers it was a Friday night in July 1941 when he was called up for duty.

At 19 years old he was an underage volunteer only going to war with his parents’ consent. 

The first training camp that Mr Stafford was sent to was in Cowra where he joined the 1st Australian Armoured Division in the 2nd/11th Armoured Car Regiment.

During this period Australia feared the Japanese would attack the west coast and take a submarine base near Perth, so in response to this threat the 2nd/11th Armoured Car Regiment was sent to a base between Fremantle and Geraldton in case of an attack. 

Mr Stafford drove a US-built Staghound armoured car, which had twin petrol motors in the rear, automatic transmission and could reach speeds of 55kmh. 

Mr Stafford spent 14 months at this base, waiting for the attack that never came and so in early 1944 the 2nd/11th Armoured Car Regiment was disbanded. 

He recalled the soldiers used to have inter-regiment football, cricket and union matches, and that his regiment won the union competition where he played in the forwards.

After the regiment disbanded, he joined the 13th Small Ships Company water transport division and trained at Mount Martha in Victoria as an engineer, before being sent to the island of Bougainville in the Solomon Islands where he served for the last 12 months of the war. 

US soldiers had established a bridgehead at Torokina in the middle of Bougainville, between the Japanese held north and south sections, but left control of the base to the AIF when they went to defend the Philippines. 

Here Mr Stafford was an engineer as part of a three-man crew on small ships and tugs in the water transport division.

Along with a skipper and a gunner, it was his job to run his ships up and down the coast taking supplies to the different camps, as Bougainville was mainly jungle with no roads and all transport had to be done by sea. 

Crews slept and lived on their boats, where they even had to just hang over the side if they needed to go to the toilet!

When he wasn’t delivering supplies to the front, Mr Stafford would just have “lazy days” on the island.

He remembered other servicemen and he would make burley bait out of bully beef and flour, chuck it into 9ft deep water off the beach, which would attract schools of trevally, and then drop a grenade into the middle of them as an easy method of fishing!

Some of the Solomon Islanders caught on to this fishing method, and would come down and get fish for their families when the grenades were going off.

Mr Stafford applied to be discharged from the army in August 1945 before the war ended, so he could return home to work in his father’s brick-making company, L Stafford and Son, where he worked as a brick maker until his retirement.

He met his wife Doreen at a Saturday night old time dance at the Tathra Hall and they married in 1948. 

After their wedding they built their home in Kalaru near to Mr Stafford’s parents’ house, and have been there ever since.

The Staffords have four children, eight grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and Mr Stafford’s brick-making company is still in his family. 

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