David Ballingal of Macleay Island has attained a unique milestone.
On December 19, he reached the age of 100 - a wonderful lifetime goal.
He also happens to be the last surviving serving serviceman of World War Two living on our islands.
These days he is extremely frail, but he certainly has his wits about him, and he hasn’t lost his sense of humour.
When we mentioned to him that attaining 100 years of age should result in a message from Queen Elizabeth ll, he came back with a very funny story that we definitely can’t repeat here.
We also wanted to know to what did he attribute his longevity.
From another room, we heard a voice from 93-year-old wife Lisa, ‘to me!’
Prior to receiving a message from the Queen, David has already received a message of congratulations from Australia’s Minister for Veteran Affairs who notes: “You have lived through a remarkable period of world history.”
And so he has.
For David, born just at the end of the First World War, aircraft were only fledgling, and so were motor vehicles and communications.
It would be some years before radio became part of Australian homes.
“I certainly have been privileged to see so much change,” he told The Friendly Bay Islander.
He attributes his long life to not drinking alcohol and giving up cigarettes years ago.
“They both will kill you,” he says.
Today his lungs aren’t great, but he is 100 years young!
He reckons the best move he has ever made was moving to the islands about 23 years ago.
“We lived on Russell Island and then moved to Macleay island about 11 years ago.
“There is no where else I would rather be. The islands have been wonderful.”
Being a former Navy man, it is no surprise that his wartime memories are as vivid today as they were all those years ago, and he just loves swapping stories with Macleay Island RSL Sub Branch veterans, and another former Navy man, Sandy Freeleagus (a submariner)
Born in 1918, David grew up in the Coburg and Mordialloc areas of Melbourne and in his late teens, started an apprenticeship in engineering.
When war started, he decided to ‘sign up’ in 1940 and chose the Royal Australian Navy as his preferred arm of the services.
Because of his engineering background, he was quickly headed for the engine room of Australian ships, and there he was to stay for the duration of his war.
David was introduced to the new corvette, HMAS Colac. The engine room was his domain, and he was the Chief ERA, similar in rank to a Petty Officer.
Ironically it was in the last days of the war that the Colac was involved in its greatest wartime adventure, and definitely dangerous for David Ballingal.
Near Bougainville Colac sustained her first casualties on 26 May 1944 when she received two hits from enemy shore batteries. The first killed two ratings and wounded two others while the second shell struck the ship on the waterline.
She began to settle by the stern, but after moveable stores, depth charges and fittings aft had been jettisoned, she was able to proceed for Treasury Island.
“We nearly lost her in this incident.
“I was in the engine room and the skipper asked me how long we could keep her running. I promised I could keep the engines going and we did so until we were chest high in water.
“Luckily the Americans took us in tow and we made it to Finschhafen and were righted and were eventually towed back to Sydney.”
That was the last David would see of the Colac, which was eventually sunk off Jervis Bay in 1987 - a sad ending.
He eventually became an engineer working the presses at the Melbourne Age and, later, set up his own small engineering works.
Over the years David has not attended many Anzac Day ceremonies.
“I have always been a member of my local RSL Club and the Sub Branch here looks after us.
“Every year on Anzac Day I remember my mates and I do what I can for the local RSL.”
• David (seated) on his 100th birthday with Sandy Freeleagus.