Roy Salmon


With permission from the Author, ScotWilson. 
Reprinted from the Bush Telegraph Nov 2023

“This is a story for Remembrance Day. I have been working on it for a while. It follows closely from the story I wrote last year about Robert Frederick Young. In fact, there are quite a few uncanny links between these two men. Looking through my files, it seems that this is the twelfth year I have written stories for the Bush Telegraph. Time does fly!” Scott Wilson.

Remembering Private Roy Warwick Salmon

You won’t find Private Roy Warwick Salmon’s name among the Second World War servicemen named upon Berowra War Memorial, although, you could make a case that it should be there. Roy and his parents were living in Berowra in the early to mid-1930s and naturally a young Roy mixed with the local youth he grew up with, some of whom would also serve in the war less than a decade later. Roy moved away from Berowra only a few years before the war started but is still remembered by some. At this year’s Anzac Day Service, I was asked by the Berowra RSL Sub Branch to talk about a local soldier who had served during the war. I spoke about Gunner Robert Frederick Young from Mount Kuring-Gai, who was killed in action off the beaches at Gona, New Guinea, in November 1942, whilst moving field guns on barges into the area to support Australian and American infantry fighting the Japanese. Shortly after making that speech, I was approached by Ian Fox, son of Harry Fox, who had grown up in Berowra. Ian told me, “I should look into Roy Salmon”. He mentioned that Roy had grown up in the area and had died somewhere in the Pacific during the war. Ian had become aware of Roy Salmon through his father’s relationship with Bill Foster. Ian, when he was young, had asked Bill if there were any local service people not named on the war memorial and Bill had told him that Roy wasn’t. According to Ian, Roy was a close mate of Bill’s during their school years. I told Ian that I would look into Roy’s history, which leads us to this story.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists only one Roy Salmon as having died in the Second World War: VX62053 Private Roy Warwick Salmon of the 39th Infantry Battalion. Roy died on 9th December 1942 and was buried, like Robert Frederick Young, in Bomana War Cemetery. Roy was the only son of James Joseph Salmon and Katherine McEwan Salmon of Port Melbourne, and later served in a battalion raised in Melbourne, which frustratingly doesn’t tie him to Berowra. Being that local residents who resided in Berowra during the Second World War are now particularly thin on the ground I turned to Mick Joffe’s book from 1987 ‘Yarns and Photos’. Mick described his book as not an official history but a ‘light-hearted look at Berowra and district through photographs and yarns’. Mick interviewed and collected photographs from many long term residents, most of whom have now passed, and created something of a time capsule for anyone interested in local history. Sure enough, I found mention of both Roy and his mother Katherine within the book. Early in the book Mick Joffe created a year by year timeline for Berowra. The entry for 1945 listed several men from Berowra who lost their lives whilst on active service during the war, among them is Roy Salmon. Later in the book there is a photograph, provided by Josie McDonald, of a fund-raising afternoon tea stall that was set up in Berowra Park, circa 1933, and among locals identified is Mrs Katherine Salmon. Sadly, a search through newspapers of the 1930’s informed that in April 1936, James Joseph Salmon, Roy’s father, died in Hornsby Hospital. A funeral procession from the family’s Goodwyn Road, Berowra home to the Presbyterian Cemetery at Northern Suburbs Cemetery was held on 25th April 1936. At some stage after that I believe Katherine and Roy (by that time twenty-one years old) left Berowra to return to Melbourne where her family resided.

When Australia entered the war on 3rd September 1939, Roy, who was born on 23rd April 1915, was nearing twenty five years of age. He was single and working as a barman and chose not to enlist straight away. He later enlisted with the 2nd AIF on 19th August 1941, signing up with a Royal Australian Artillery unit at Melbourne Town Hall.

He was taken on strength by the Recruit Retention Depot on that day and early in September 1941 he was sent to the 6th Infantry Training Battalion for basic training. It is worth mentioning that Roy had some previous military experience with a militia engineers’ unit, so military life was not entirely foreign to him. It is likely that he and the men serving with him were being trained as reinforcements for the AIF battalions that were at the time serving in the Middle East.

Roy was hospitalised during November and December 1941 and did not complete his training until early in the New Year. Events were changing rapidly in the Pacific region and after Pearl Harbour and the Fall of Singapore there were grave fears that the Japanese were moving ever southwards.
With most of the 2nd AIF serving in the Western Desert the defence of Australia fell largely at the feet of the militia forces, who were young, poorly equipped and poorly trained. If they had a strength it was that most of their officers and non-commissioned officers were largely First World War veterans with plenty of experience.

On 16th March 1942 Roy was transferred to the militia’s 39th Infantry Battalion and embarked on S.S Taroona that day for Port Moresby. The restriction on militia forces serving within Australia did not cover New Guinea, which was considered an Australian territory. Consequently Roy arrived in Port Moresby on 26th March 1942 with sixteen other reinforcements and joined the rest of the battalion who had been there since early January 1942 carrying out garrison duties.

The 39th Infantry Battalion had been raised in October 1941 to relieve the 49th Infantry Battalion from Queensland, who were garrisoning Port Moresby. That was the initial plan, however, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour the 49th Infantry Battalion were combined with the 39th and 53rd Infantry Battalions to form the 30th Brigade. Their initial duties were to protect Seven Mile Airfield at Port Moresby and unload supplies arriving at the port. As the situation deteriorated their work turned to building defences around the area until June 1942 when the battalion was ordered up to the Kokoda Track to check any Japanese forces moving south via the overland route.

As some will know, it was B Company of 39th Infantry Battalion who were among the very first Australian soldiers to engage the Japanese forces at Awala, near the Kumusi River, on 23rd July 1942. What followed was a period of battles, particularly at Kokoda Village and Isuruava, where the militia men of the 39th Infantry Battalion acquitted themselves with distinction against a better prepared and equipped enemy who had experience in jungle warfare. Their fighting spirit far exceeded the gloomy expectations the regular AIF had of them prior to Kokoda, where they had been described as ‘chocos’- chocolate soldiers who would melt when heat was applied to them. The 39th Infantry Battalion continued a fighting retreat down the track until 2nd September 1942 when they were taken out of the line at Koitaki.

There is a famous photograph taken by the photographer Damien Parer of the survivors of the 39th Infantry Battalion parading at Menari on 6th September 1942, defiant but ragged looking.

It wasn’t just the Japanese that took a toll on the men. It was the weather, the jungle environment, the lack of supplies and the disease that gnawed away at them. The battalion spent a month at Koitaki before being sent back to Port Moresby in mid-October 1942 to help prepare more defensive positions should the Japanese breakthrough, which luckily never happened.

Roy’s service records contain no entries for the period between 28th March 1942 and 1st October 1942, the period in which the 39th Infantry Battalion served on the Kokoda Track. He had been lucky and had survived without being wounded, however, the stress of the campaign caught up with him on 30th September 1942, when he was hospitalised with suspected renal problems at the 46th Australian Camp Hospital. He spent ten days there before returning to the battalion. Sadly his physical health was not good and he was hospitalised again with an unknown fever on 17th October 1942. He was discharged five days later and returned to hospital once more after another five days with the battalion. This time, on 27th October 1942 he was diagnosed with Malaria and did not return until 4th December 1942.

When Roy returned to the 39th Infantry Battalion they had just been airlifted to the frontline around the BunaGona area. They had taken up positions around Gona on 2nd December 1942 and were having a rough time forcing the entrenched Japanese out of their positions. This was the battle that Robert Frederick Young and his fellow gunners of the 2/5th Field Regiment were bringing the field guns up for when they were attacked and lost off the nearby beaches on 16th November 1942.

The Australian 16th and 25th Brigades, along with two American infantry regiments had made little headway when the 39th Infantry Battalion were flown into the area and were attached to the 21st Brigade. It is reported that Roy was a member of ‘C’ Company, and although the 21st Brigade had captured Gona Village on 1st December 1942, fighting continued for the capture of Gona Mission. It was during the fighting for the Mission on 8th December 1942 that Roy was mortally wounded. No details are known, however, the battalion’s war diary recorded that during an attack on the mission “C Company’s losses were heavy and it was replaced by B Company”.

Roy died of those wounds the following day, the day that the mission was taken and the famous message ‘Gona’s gone’ was relayed back to 21st Brigade Headquarters by men of the 39th Infantry Battalion. The battalion remained in the area, cleaning up Japanese positions until the New Year when they were taken out of the line. When they returned to Port Moresby on 25th January 1943 the battalion could only muster seven officers and twenty five men. They gradually returned to strength, however, by July the entire 30th Brigade was disbanded, remaining members of the 39th Infantry Battalion being absorbed into other 2nd AIF units.

Roy was buried in the field, before his body was later moved to the temporary War Cemetery at Soputa on 31st March 1943. At a later date he was moved to Bomana War Cemetery, where he now rests, only a few rows ahead of Robert Frederick Young. Roy was an only child and within the space of seven years Katherine Salmon had lost her husband and son. She chose as the inscription for Roy’s grave ‘Sacred Memories of My Son Roy. At Rest’.

I have mentioned Robert Frederick Young several times within this story as both men were of similar age and grew up in the same area. Did they know each other? I do not know. I do find it very sad that two soldiers who grew up within the same area now lie within a stone’s throw of each other in Bomana War Cemetery. It does seem that writing about one has led to a remembrance of the other.
Lest We Forget

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