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Acting Leading Seaman Ronald 'Buck' Taylor 20863
(KIA 04 March 1942)

Ronald Taylor 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 seven he became the mascot of the sloop HMAS Marguerite and was given his own uniform to wear on special occasions.

In 1930, during 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.  Eventually Ron had to find work so he left school at the end of Grade 8 to work as a labourer. 

On 12 June 1935 he joined the RAN as an Ordinary Seaman.  He was then 5 ft 6¼ ins (168cm) tall, with dark brown hair, brown eyes and a fresh complexion.  Within twelve months he had gained almost 2 ins (5cm) in height and had an anchor tattooed in red and blue on his right forearm.

After his initial training at Flinders Naval Depot, he joined the cruiser HMAS Australia in April 1936, then on exchange service with the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean.  Taylor became an Able Seaman in March 1937 and later returned to Flinders in April 1938 to train as a gunnery rating.  After qualifying as a Seaman Gunner he joined the destroyer HMAS Vampire.  Later Taylor served in HMA Ships Penguin, Adelaide and Australia before joining the sloop HMAS Yarra in August 1939.

Spending the first 12 months of the war in Australian waters, HMAS Yarra was posted in August 1940 to join Red Sea Force at the port of Aden.  Over the next year the ship took part in patrols in the Indian Ocean and in the Iraq and Iran campaigns in the Persian Gulf.

In August 1941 Yarra took part in the Allied takeover of Iran.  Taylor, by now a Leading Seaman, was Captain of Number 2 Gun which fired Yarra’s first shots in the battle of Khorramshahr on 25 August.  Yarra sank the Iranian sloop Babr and captured an Iranian gunboat all without loss to the Australians.  In November Yarra proceeded to the Mediterranean where she briefly served on the Tobruk ferry run.  During her third convoy to Tobruk Yarra was attacked by German Stuka dive bombers.  Taylor’s gun was active in beating off the attack and was seen to hit one of the German aircraft.

On 7 December 1941 Japan entered the war following her attack on Pearl Harbour.  Yarra was ordered to Java in December 1941 to help defend the Far East against the invading Japanese.

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 Yarra left Java on what was to be her last voyage.  She had been ordered to sail to Fremantle as escort for a small convoy and her crew who had been absent from Australia for sixteen months were all looking forward to some home leave.  At 0630 on 4 March Fremantle was only four days steaming away when the convoy encountered a Japanese force of three cruisers and two destroyers.  There was to be no escape.  Yarra’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Rankin, turned his ship towards the enemy, ordered the convoy to scatter, began to lay a smoke screen and opened fire on the Japanese in a vain attempt to protect the convoy.
An hour later only Yarra remained from the convoy.  The sloop was drifting after shells had wrecked her engine room and two of her three guns had been knocked out.  Lieutenant Commander Rankin, ordered abandon ship shortly before a salvo hit the bridge killing all on duty there.

The gallant last stand of HMAS Yarra (II). Painting by artist David Marshall. Oil on canvas, 2012.

As Yarra’s men abandoned ship they saw that ‘Buck’ Taylor was still at his gun, although most of his gun crew lay dead at his feet.  Calling on him to leave he replied “This gun is still firing while I’ve got breath in my body.”  34 men of Yarra’s ships company of 151 made it to the rafts.  When they were rescued five days later only 13 were left alive.  From here they saw the end of Yarra shortly after 0800.  The Japanese destroyers circled the sinking sloop firing, while from the Yarra came slow but accurate return fire.

It was ‘Buck’ Taylor, whose gun had fired Yarra’s first shots at Khorramshahr in 1941.  Having ignored the order to abandon ship he remained at Number 2 gun firing slowly but defiantly at the enemy.  From Yarra’s battered hulk, from an inferno of smoke and flame Taylor continued firing until death silenced him shortly before the ship went down.

For his naval service, Leading Seaman Taylor was entitled to the following awards:

  1939–1945 Star
  Africa Star
  Burma Star with Pacific Clasp
  War Medal 1939–1945
  Australia Service Medal 1939–1945

Defence Honours Tribunal
Excerpts from the report of the inquiry into unresolved recognition
for past acts of naval and military gallantry and valour

What has led to the Review

Frustrated that a full account of Yarra’s end was never issued, the brothers of Acting Leading Seaman Ronald ‘Buck’ Taylor broke into Victoria Barracks in Melbourne sometime around the end of the war to try to find more information, but without success. Taylor’s brothers (Ray and Lawrence) also served in the RAN.

Lobbying for recognition for those serving in Yarra began as early as March 1947, when an article was published in the Sydney Morning Herald.  Following publication of this article, the ex‑Naval Men’s Association of Victoria made representations to the Minister of the Navy on the issue.  Unfortunately, the contents of this correspondence are largely unknown due to the file not being marked for retention.

Several other newspaper articles on the issue have appeared over time, often coinciding with the anniversary of Yarra’s loss.  More recently, authors such as Commander Greg Swinden RAN, Dr Tom Lewis and Mr John Bradford have taken up the cause for recognition for Taylor in websites, articles and books.

The matter of recognition for Taylor has also been raised in the Australian Parliament.  On 3 June 2004, Mr Tony Smith, MP (Liberal, Casey, Victoria) recounted the actions of Yarra, and went on to request that ‘the Navy consider more formally recognising his bravery, perhaps through the naming of a ship in the future’.  On 28 February 2007, Smith, by then the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, mentioned that ‘the families of those who survive to pass on the stories of Yarra very much want to have the contribution recognised in a major way’.

Taylor was included in the Tribunal’s Terms of Reference after being proposed by the Department of Defence.  Defence advised at a public hearing on 31 May 2012 that Taylor was added to the list after advice from the RAN Sea Power Centre – Australia that they had received a number of submissions in the past from members of the public pressing the case for recognition for Taylor.

There were arguments put forward for and against an award and the tribunal reviewed the merits of the case.  The full tribunal review on Robert Taylor can be found by downloading Chapter 24 of the report. (see sources below)

Tribunal conclusion
The Tribunal concluded that in relation to the events of 5 February 1942 and 4 March 1942, on process, Taylor’s case was not properly handled or considered at the time, to the extent that an injustice had taken place.  However, the Tribunal concluded that there was insufficient evidence available to recommend the award of an individual gallantry honour to Taylor for his actions on either of these dates.

Tribunal recommendation
To remedy the injustice, the Tribunal recommends that Leading Seaman Taylor, along with the other members of Yarra’s crew who served on either 5 February 1942 or 4 March 1942, receive the Unit Citation for Gallantry for their extraordinary gallantry on both of these dates.

The Tribunal also supports the steps the RAN has recently taken to recognise Taylor in other ways, particularly in the naming of the Recruit Division at HMAS Cerberus.  The Tribunal suggests the perpetual recognition of Taylor in this manner.

Sister of Leading Seaman Ronald 'Buck' Taylor, Faye Huxley and Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, AO, CSC, RAN, unveil the Taylor Division plaque during the Naming Ceremony held at the Recruit School, HMAS Cerberus

General Entry 315, Taylor Division offer a salute to the Reviewing Officer,
Chief of Navy, VADM Ray Griggs as they 'march past' during their graduation ceremony

The Taylor Family, Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs AO CSC RAN, and recruits of the first Taylor Division
after the Divisions Naming Ceremony held at the Royal Australian Navy Recruit School, HMAS Cerberus.

HMAS Yarra's Last Stand
This extract from the Royal Australian Navy production
"The History of the Royal Australian Navy Volume Two 1919-1945"
recreates HMAS Yarra's last stand.



The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of
(20863) Leading Seaman Ronald Taylor, HMAS Yarra,
Royal Australian Navy, Second World War


Greg Swinden - Australian Dictionary of Biography
Greg Swinden - Naval Historical Society of Australia
Australian War Memorial
Defence Honours Tribunal Report Chapter 24