"When the war started and in the youth of my day, all you could think about was going to war." Donald McNeice says, recalling his teenage years, which took place during the Second World War.
At 14 years old, Donald was in the Scouts as a runner for the Air Raid Wardens, delivering messages back and forth between air raid shelters on his bike. A dangerous job, but at the time Donald didn't think much about the dangers.
"One night the Japanese came into the harbour with search lights, anti-aircraft guns going off in the sky. Everyone thought it was a bombing raid. I remember my mother telling me, 'you can't go, it's real.' I told her that I had to go, and I went and delivered those messages. That's what I grew up with."
Just a year earlier, at 13 years old, Donald applied to the midshipman school. While his application wasn't successful at that stage, it was no surprise that years later, when he was finally of age, he joined the Navy.
Donald had been working for a company called Williamston Croft, which sold paint and wallpaper before he made the call to enlist. "The propaganda from the Australian government was pretty high," he says. He recalls seeing images of Japan invading various countries on its course to invade Australia.
It was these images that made Donald want to join in the fight to protect his country. At just 15 years old, he tried to join the 45th Battalion St George Regiment. "They woke up to the fact that I was too young," he says, leaving him with no choice but to leave.
It was two years later that Donald was able to join the Navy, in 1944. "They took men at 17 for the Navy, however to be a part of the Army you had to be 18." Despite joining in 1944, he wasn't called up until early 1945. "I had to go by train from central station in Sydney to Melbourne, which was quite the experience because I was so young."
Donald remembers the day he left for the Navy clearly. "A Petty Officer would line everybody up to get onto the train. He would then tell everyone to say goodbye to their wives, girlfriends and mothers, and then proceed with a speech." Donald says, recalling on the harsh and hardened attitude of the Petty Officer, who told all the young men standing at Central station to "get into line," with colourful language.
"When you are 17, it frightens you." Donald says. "The discipline was extremely tough, especially when you're young."
Once arriving in Melbourne, Donald took part in naval training on a ship called the Doomba, which operated in Southern Victoria.
"I spent time training on various aspects of tying knots, sailing boats, learning to fire different machine guns - both anti-aircraft guns at Point Cook at the Air Force base. I also learnt to fire three six inch guns."
It was the discipline in the Navy that Donald found incredibly challenging. "You could not look at an Officer, or talk to him in the face. You had to avert your eyes to the left or right. If you looked at an officer you were charged with insolence and would have to do some form of duty if you were found guilty."
While these challenges were difficult, Donald still loved the Navy and enjoyed his time there. His average day on the Navy included early starts, showers and parades. "You would get counted off, then you would have breakfast. After that, you would do all sorts of training to make you confident enough to go onto a ship."
One of his training sessions went wrong, Donald recalls. He was in Point Cook, while firing at a drone that was flying behind a plane. The drone was the target, and Donald was aiming to hit the target when his crew member's hand slipped on the wheel. "We nearly shot down the plane instead of the target." He says. "We had a woman who was relaying communication to the pilot standing next to us, and she went off her brain because it was her husband in the plane. She didn't think much of our shooting at the time."
The following day, Donald moved onto a stationary artillery gun shooting at a pylon. "We tried to aim and get as close to the pylon as possible. There was a passenger freighter that came from Cowes Island and again, we had a problem with the trainer." The gun moved sideways and instead of the pylon, "we put a spouter about 50 yards in front of the boat." The passenger boat turned around went back to Cowes.
"I was not impressed by training officers," Donald says.
Even with the bumpy training experience, he and his crew worked hard to be prepared for the war. It was while his crew were still training that Victory was declared in the Pacific.
"Everyone had mixed feelings when the war was declared won." Donald says. "The main feeling was that we had beaten them." But he explains that the mixed feelings came into play when the crew realised they would no longer be able to work in the Navy. "They wanted to demob as many of us as possible and get us back into the workforce." It was this that Donald found demoralising. His crew was officially disbanded in 1946, and he served for a total of 12 months.
After the war was over, Donald and his crew were asked to participate in the Victory marches in both Sydney and Melbourne. "We marched through Melbourne for the Victory March, and then they shipped us off to Sydney to march through Sydney for the Victory March." Donald recalls that the crowd in Melbourne were more subdued during the Victory March compared to their Sydney counterparts. "The crowds were four, or five, or six deep, and people were clapping - but it was very sedate. When we marched in Sydney, there were people who were emptying garbage bins full of paper onto us like it was confetti - Sydney just went mad."
A section of the crowd in Martin Place during VP celebrations
Donald had a passion for serving. After his crew was disbanded, he joined the Citizen Military Force in Sydney. He served in the 30th Battalion Black Watch Scottish Regiment in NSW for three years. He was also on the committee for the Reserve Forces. Today, the Association is still going strong and Donald is now the Vice President of the NSW Scottish Regiment.
Reflecting on his experience training in WWII, Donald says "It changed my life because it taught me discipline." He says there is a stark contrast to how he grew up compared to children growing up today. "It was just an entirely different mood."
Donald was also the RSM for 30th Battalion on Anzac Day and other marches and Parade Commander for Rosebay and Caringbah RSL for their Anzac Day marches up until 2018.