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Ronald Taylor (1918–1942)

by Greg Swinden

This article was published:

Ronald Taylor, c.1935

Ronald Taylor, c.1935

photo donated by his family

Ronald Taylor (1918-1942), sailor, was born on 29 April 1918 at Carlton, Melbourne, fourth of ten children of Collingwood-born parents George Taylor, ironworker, and his wife Elsie, née Davey. Raised at Carlton and Port Melbourne, Ron was a typical boy of the time: he played cricket and Australian Rules football, went fishing and rode billycarts. He developed an interest in the Royal Australian Navy through watching warships entering port and from talking to sailors about life in the service. At the age of 7 he became the mascot of the sloop H.M.A.S. Marguerite and was given his own uniform to wear on special occasions.

In 1930, in the Depression, George Taylor abandoned his family. The two eldest boys went to Queensland to work on a sugar-cane plantation and the eldest girl found a job on a farm; Ron and his brother Ray stayed at home; the five youngest children were placed in institutions. Ron left school at the end of Grade 8 to work as a labourer. On 12 June 1935 he joined the R.A.N. as an ordinary seaman. He was then 5 ft 6¼ ins (168 cm) tall, with dark brown hair, brown eyes and a fresh complexion; within twelve months he had gained almost 2 ins (5 cm) in height and had an anchor tattooed in red and blue on his right forearm.

Taylor began his training at Flinders Naval Depot, Westernport. In April 1936 he was posted to the cruiser H.M.A.S. Australia. After undertaking a course in gunnery (April-September 1938) at Flinders, he served in the destroyer H.M.A.S. Vampire and in the cruiser H.M.A.S. Adelaide before transferring to the sloop H.M.A.S. Yarra, in August 1939.

Yarra remained in Australian waters until August 1940 when she was dispatched to Aden to join the Red Sea Force. The ship took part in operations against Iraq in May 1941 and against Persia in August. 'Buck' Taylor was promoted acting leading seaman and given command of one of Yarra's four-inch (102 mm) guns. Yarra was in the Mediterranean in November-December, escorting convoys which ferried supplies and troops to the allied garrison at Tobruk, Libya. On each of the four trips the sloop made, Taylor's gun was active in beating off enemy air-attacks.

By early 1942 Yarra was employed on escort duties between Java and Singapore. On 5 February she rescued 1804 people from the burning troop-ship Empress of Asia which had been crippled by an air-attack near Singapore. (Sir) Hastings Harrington later reported that Taylor had controlled his gun 'on this occasion, as on many others', with 'judgment and determination', and added that his 'keenness and courage' set a good example to those around him.

On 27 February 1942 Yarra was ordered to escort three auxiliary vessels from Java to Fremantle, Western Australia. Five Japanese warships intercepted the convoy on 4 March. Despite Yarra's gallant defence, all four allied vessels were destroyed, with the sloop the last to be sunk. Taylor ignored the order to abandon ship and stayed alone at his gun, firing slowly and defiantly at the enemy until he was killed shortly before the ship went down.

Select Bibliography

  • T. M. Jones and I. L. Idriess, The Silent Service (Syd, 1944)
  • A. F. Parry, H.M.A.S. Yarra (Syd, 1944)
  • G. H. Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1939-1942 (Canb, 1957)
  • S. Baldwin (ed), Unsung Heroes & Heroines of Australia (Melb, 1988)
  • private information.

Citation details

Greg Swinden, 'Taylor, Ronald (1918–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 20 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Ronald Taylor, c.1935

Ronald Taylor, c.1935

photo donated by his family

Life Summary [details]


29 April, 1918
Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


4 March, 1942 (aged 23)
at sea