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Bishop, John Ackland (1908–1985)

by Dayton McCarthy

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

John Ackland Bishop (1908-1985), soldier and businessman, was born on 16 January 1908 at Malvern, Melbourne, second of three sons of Albert Adonis Bishop, an inspector of factories, and his wife Milly Emily, née Tate, both Victorian born. Educated at Box Hill State School and privately, John worked as a salesman and then as a manager with Ball & Welch Ltd. Having served in the senior cadets from 1924, he joined the 24th Battalion, Militia, in 1926. He was commissioned as a lieutenant in 1928 and promoted to captain in 1935.

On 13 October 1939 Bishop was seconded to the Australian Imperial Force and posted to the 2/7th Battalion. He attended a company commanders’ course at the Command and Staff School, Sydney, before being appointed intelligence officer, 17th Brigade, in February 1940. Arriving in the Middle East in May, he became staff captain of the brigade in July. During the Libyan campaign of January-February 1941 he ensured that the brigade’s troops were kept supplied with ammunition and that the men had hot meals whenever possible. He was also attentive to the needs of the wounded. For his `continued devotion to duty and outstanding service’ he was appointed MBE (1941).

Promoted to temporary major in April 1941 (substantive in June), Bishop took part in the disastrous Greek campaign that month. He was made brigade major in May. The 17th Brigade fought in the latter phases of the Syrian campaign, including the battle of Damour early in July. Bishop was mentioned in despatches for the superior performance of his duties in February-July. In the first half of 1942 he attended the Middle East Staff School, Haifa, Palestine. He returned to Australia in July and was made senior instructor at the senior wing of the Staff School (Australia), Duntroon, Canberra, as a temporary lieutenant colonel (substantive in September). In March 1943 he was appointed to command the 2/27th Battalion. Arriving in Port Moresby in August, the battalion flew to Kaiapit, New Guinea, and advanced up the Markham and Ramu valleys.

On 9 October 1943 the 2/27th took up a position astride the Japanese supply line north of Kumbarum, holding two features in the Faria River Valley. The battalion soon came under small-arms and artillery fire. The Japanese attacked four times on the 12th with more than a battalion supported by machine-guns and artillery. At this time the 2/27th was missing two of its companies and a platoon deployed on other duties. Though outnumbered and outgunned, the Australians repulsed all attacks. Bishop was faced with the possibility of having to withdraw when, with ammunition already low, he discovered that the ammunition supply party had been interdicted by the Japanese. By the evening, however, the enemy broke contact, leaving about two hundred dead at the battalion perimeter. Bishop, who had `fearlessly directed’ his troops, setting them `an excellent example of personal gallantry’, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

In November 1943 Bishop was appointed general staff officer, 1st grade, of the 6th Division. His divisional commander, Major General (Sir) Jack Stevens, commended him for his `marked skill, efficiency and enthusiasm’, which, together with his high-grade staff work and willingness to visit forward areas to keep himself appraised of tactical developments, contributed substantially to the success of the division. In May-July 1945 Bishop also administered command of the 19th Brigade, involved in mopping-up operations in the Wewak area. Stevens noted that he directed operations with `skill, courage and judgement’. For his command of the brigade and his earlier staff work, Bishop was elevated to OBE (1947).

After the war ended, Bishop worked with the co-ordinator of demobilisation and disposal (Sir) Stanley Savige, his former 17th Brigade commander. He transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 4 July 1946. On 29 March that year at St Cuthbert’s Presbyterian Church, Brighton, Melbourne, he had married Frances Marion Fowler, née Saunders, a divorcee; they had one daughter and were later divorced. They moved to Sydney in 1948 and Bishop joined Anthony Hordern & Sons Ltd as sales manager; he became general manager in 1962. Retiring from the firm in 1963, he was for a time managing director of Beard Watson & Co. Ltd before going into private practice as a marketing consultant.

Resuming part-time duty in the Citizen Military Forces, Bishop commanded the 5th Brigade in 1951-55 and was promoted to brigadier in 1952. In 1956-59 he was an honorary aide-de-camp to the governor-general Sir William (Viscount) Slim. As a temporary major general (substantive in July 1960), he commanded the 2nd Division in 1959-60. He was then given command of Eastern Command Troops before assuming control of headquarters, Communication Zone, in 1961. He transferred to the Unattached List in December that year and to the Retired List in 1965.

Bishop continued to serve the community in other capacities; he chaired the Vasey Housing Association in 1969-80 and the New South Wales Council on the Ageing in 1975-79. His recreations included horse-riding and sailing. Survived by his daughter, he died on 8 October 1985 at Kirribilli and was cremated with Anglican rites and military honours.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Long, To Benghazi (1952)
  • G. Long, Greece, Crete and Syria (1953)
  • J. Burns, The Brown and Blue Diamond at War (1960)
  • D. Dexter, The New Guinea Offensives (1961)
  • G. Long, The Final Campaigns (1963)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Oct 1985, p 18.

Citation details

Dayton McCarthy, 'Bishop, John Ackland (1908–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bishop-john-ackland-12214/text21901, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 13 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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