GARDINER, Roy Stewart
Roy Stewart Gardiner, eldest son of Arthur John Gardiner and Maggie Flora Kathleen Stewart, was born on 12 September 1917. He lived with his sister and four brothers in Culcairn, New South Wales, where his father worked as a labourer for over twenty-four years before becoming a glazier.
Gardiner was a keen footballer, playing Australian Rules and Rugby League for Henty and Culcairn, and was also a first-class clay pigeon shot. In 1935 Gardiner was employed as a share farmer and also a mechanic, when he married Maida Beatrice Rodgers of Culcairn. In 1941 he won the Culcairn Pastoral Agricultural Horticultural and Industrial (PAH & I) Society Incorporated wheat crop competition for the wheat that he grew on the property 'Jillamtong' in the Mountain Creek area, which he had started to share-farm prior to the war. The Culcairn PAH & I Society still exists and holds an annual agricultural and community show at the Culcairn Showground each October.
In 1941, after harvesting his crop, Gardiner went to Melbourne and tried to enlist in the RAAF, but was rejected because of his skin disorder, psoriasis. Undeterred, he then tried the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) but they were not taking farmers, particularly married men with families. Gardiner was disappointed but he decided to stay in Melbourne, getting a job in a munitions factory.
As the Japanese continued their advance into South East Asia, Darwin was declared a war zone and needed reinforcements; the Army called for volunteer drivers and mechanics to drive a convoy of trucks to Darwin. Gardiner volunteered and, after passing the driving and mechanics tests, was finally accepted.
Gardiner enlisted on 9 June 1941 (service number V15812) and joined the 7th Military District Ordnance Workshop Company. He was able to make a final brief visit in uniform back to his family before returning to Melbourne to get ready for departure to Darwin.
The convoy took the train to Alice Springs and then drove on unmade roads to Darwin, stopping every night to service and often repair the trucks. Gardiner had taken his repeater rifle with him and would often shoot rabbits, giving them to the cooks for fresh meat, making a change from bully beef and army rations. On arrival in Darwin they were camped at Larrakeyah Barracks and Gardiner was soon promoted to Corporal.
While in Darwin, Gardiner transferred to the Royal Australian Army Electrical Engineers (RAAEE) AIF, for which he had been studying, and received a new service number VX129388.
Sometime in February 1942, Gardiner found himself in Berrimah Hospital suffering from one of the endemic fevers common to the tropics during the wet season. Berrimah Hospital had been built in war time specifically for war purposes but was badly sited, as it was less than 1.5 kilometres from the end of very busy runway on the RAAF aerodrome and had an anti-aircraft gun position almost touching the hospital wall; even an accidental shot could prove disastrous.
This was the case during the first Japanese air raid on Darwin on 19 February, when one of the Japanese Zeros, which was shooting at the anti-aircraft gun from a height of 8 metres, accidentally shot at the hospital and the bullets thudded through the walls. A patient, too ill to be moved and believed to be Gardiner, was sheltering under a bed; he was hit in the back of the neck and killed. It is believed that Gardiner was the first Australian soldier to be killed on Australian soil by enemy action during World War II.
Gardiner was buried at the Berrimah Hospital Cemetery on 20 February 1942 and was then re-buried at the Berrimah War Cemetery in July 1942; his final resting place is the Adelaide River War Cemetery. Gardiner’s wife was officially advised that Gardiner had been killed in action by telegram on 23 February 1942. He left behind his wife and two small sons, John Raymond, who unfortunately died in 1957, and Kenneth Roy.
Gardiner’s commanding officer wrote to Maida Gardiner expressing his deep sympathy and praising Gardiner as 'a good soldier and a grand man' (from personal communication held by the Gardiner family).
Roy Stewart Gardiner's name is located on panel 91 and supplementary panel 10 in the Commemorative Area at the Australian War Memorial.
Compiled with the assistance of Roy Gardiner’s son Ken.
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