Each year the Lane Cove RSL Sub Branch invites a Lane Cove Resident to talk about a relative who has served in the military. This year Robert Cardelli spoke about his father Petty Officer Merv Cardelli.
The Cardelli family emigrated from the Veneto and Tuscany regions in Italy in 1880 on an ill-fated expedition led by Marquis de Ray. Those that survived were eventually granted land in the New Italy settlement in Woodburn, Northern NSW.
Dad was born in Sydney on 25 January 1922 – the eldest of three children to his parents Lou and Ruby and lived a modest life around the Lakemba and Belmore area.
Dad attained the Intermediate Certificate at the age of 14 and left school at 15 to get a job and help his family pay the bills. His first job was with George Cull & Son, a leather merchant and then with McMahon & Co., a millinery company but it was his next job with the P&O Steamship Navigation Co. which later became known simply as P&O, where he learnt the ins and outs of shipping.
He attended night classes at Sydney College to obtain his Leaving Certificate.
Dad was still working with P&O on 3 September 1939 when Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced Australia’s involvement in the Second World but it was not until September 1941 when he was called up to join the Militia, which is the equivalent of the Army Reserve.
Dad’s basic training commenced at the camp at Warwick Farm with the Army Field Survey Regiment – in July 1942 he was promoted to Lance Bombardier.
Dad has always talked about their living quarters in converted stables with their bedding made from chaff bags filled with straw and that the stables were riddled with fleas.
Dad was trained in surveying, geometry, and trigonometry and to drive and be an observer in Bren gun carriers. These were like small armoured tanks with a Bren gun, which was a machine gun, mounted on the front.
Their aim in battle was to be at the front line watching where the allied artillery fire was landing and then through quick calculations report back to the Command Post so adjustments could be made so that the next shells would land on target.
Some of his mates requested transfers to the Royal Australian Air Force, but Dad’s application was rejected by his Colonel who said his training and skills made him too important in the survey regiment.
Eventually, his request for a transfer to the Royal Australian Navy was approved – he joined with the rank of Ordinary Seaman and was posted to HMAS Cerberus, near Melbourne, in early 1943.
Initial training took three months before he was selected to be trained in electronics at Melbourne Technical College.
Training at the College included radar and new navigation position fixing systems such as Loran and Decca as well as how to construct a radio, radio transmitters and receivers. Other training included the study of radio waves, electromagnetism and submarine tracking.
After six months of training, Dad received orders that he was to proceed to Townsville where he would be part of a team comprising 24 Navy personnel to maintain eight radio transmitting towers.
The following day Dad boarded a troop train to Townsville with the rank of Petty Officer.
The towers were located on the outskirts of South Townsville. They worked in shifts of 4 hours on and 8 hours off. They would work for 7 days and then have 1 day off. Often when extra maintenance was required they would forego some of their time off.
Although radio telephone messages could be sent and received the majority of messages were in morse code.
The towers were critical in sending, relaying, and receiving messages from the Armed Services not only right around Australia but from the Pacific, in the South China Sea and as far away as London. They played a key role in the Battle of The Coral Sea.
Dad remained in Townsville until the end of the war.
Civilian Life After the War
A few months later he was sent back to Sydney before accepting an offer of a permanent position in the Navy. Dad enjoyed working for the Navy, but after pressure from his parents to return to a safer civilian life, he discharged in October 1946 and returned to work with P&O at the age of 24. He progressed to P&O Wharf Manager until his retirement in 1982.
Although retired from P&O, with his vast wealth of knowledge, he continued working for various shipping companies in Sydney for several more years.
After the war, dad married Dorothy and they built a home in Lane Cove which dad lived in until last year when he moved into a Nursing Home
I am proud of my father, his life and his service in the Army and Navy.
Merv is also a legend at the Lane Cove Bowling Club.
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