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Gatacre, Galfry George Ormond (1907–1983)

by Alastair Cooper

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

Galfry George Ormond Gatacre (1907-1983), naval officer and company director, was born on 11 June 1907 at Wooroolin, Queensland, second son of Reginald Henry Winchcombe Gataker, an English-born farmer, and his wife Christian Esson, née Gordon, from Scotland. In 1930 he was to change the spelling of his surname to Gatacre by deed poll. He was educated at home, then as a boarder at the Church of England Grammar School, Brisbane, and subsequently at Brisbane Boys’ College after his family moved to the city. Inspired by his godfather, Admiral Sir Reginald Tupper, RN, he developed an interest in the sea. In 1921 he entered the Royal Australian Naval College, Jervis Bay, Federal Capital Territory. One of two chief cadet captains in his final year (1924), he graduated with colours for cricket, Rugby Union football and tennis.

Appointed midshipman on 15 May 1925, Gatacre served in a variety of RAN and Royal Navy ships in the Far East and Mediterranean. He was promoted to sub-lieutenant in April 1928 and, after further training in Britain, was posted to HMAS Canberra in November as a watch-keeping officer. Made lieutenant in January 1930, he became flag lieutenant to the commodore commanding the Australian Squadron in May 1931. He continued to play sport and had notable success at cricket as a spin bowler; he had played for the Royal Navy in 1928 and came to the notice of some Australian State cricket coaches, but shied away from higher grade cricket.

On 16 January 1933 at the Presbyterian Church, Mosman, Sydney, Gatacre married Winifred (`Wendy’) May Palmer (d.1978); they were to have a son and a daughter. The Gatacres soon sailed for Britain, for `Gat’, as he was known in naval service, to undertake specialist navigation training. Following postings to the small sloop HMS Harebell and the destroyer HMAS Stuart, he completed an advanced navigation course in Britain in 1937. He joined HMS Devonshire late that year. In January 1938 he was promoted to lieutenant commander. He was in HMS Edinburgh when World War II broke out and afterwards served in the battle cruiser Renown and in the battleships Nelson and Rodney, revealing a capacity for long hours and hard work. As navigator of Rodney he was involved in the hunt for and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck in May 1941. For his `accurate navigation and judicious selection of courses’ during the action, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. He had been mentioned in despatches.

Promoted to commander in December 1941, Gatacre returned to Australia in April 1942 and next month was appointed to HMAS Australia as staff officer (operations and intelligence) to the commander of the Australian Squadron. He served with distinction in this demanding role under three different commanders for more than two years, participating in many operations in the South-West Pacific theatre, including the battles of Savo Island and the Eastern Solomons, and most of the amphibious landings along the New Guinea coastline. For his `skill, resolution and coolness’ in the Solomon Islands in July-August 1942 he was awarded a Bar to his DSC. In August 1944 he was given his first shore job after eleven years of marriage and over twenty years in the RAN. He was the staff officer for post-hostilities planning at Navy Office, Melbourne, for a year before being placed in command of the destroyer HMAS Arunta in August 1945. Arunta operated throughout the Asian region assisting with demobilisation and the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan.

Gatacre was posted to Flinders Naval Depot, Westernport, Victoria, in October 1947. Promoted to captain in June 1948, he became deputy chief of Naval Staff at Navy Office in October. After attending the 1951 course at the Imperial Defence College, London, he was appointed commander of HMAS Anzac and the 10th Destroyer Squadron in February 1952. From September Anzac patrolled off the east and west coasts of Korea and spent more time in the combat area than any other Commonwealth ship. Gatacre, as a senior captain, also commanded a number of task units and forces at various times. For his service in the Korean War he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (1953). In July 1953 he was posted to the United States of America as the Australian naval attaché in Washington, a position he held for two years before being appointed commanding officer of the aircraft-carrier HMAS Melbourne, commissioned in October 1955.

In January 1957 Gatacre was again made DCNS, his appointment reflecting the small number of experienced senior officers in the RAN at the time. Eighteen months later he was promoted to rear admiral and in January 1959 named flag officer commanding HM Australian Fleet, the most senior seagoing post in the navy. He was appointed CBE in 1960. In January that year he was sent to Washington, this time as head of the Australian Joint Services Staff, where he remained for two years. He became second naval member of the Naval Board (chief of naval personnel) in January 1962 and flag officer-in-charge, East Australia Area, based in Sydney, in July. In February 1964 units under his command were involved in rescuing survivors of the collision between HMA ships Melbourne and Voyager.

Gatacre retired from the RAN on 10 June 1964 and began a career in business. He was a director of the RSL Permanent Building Society Ltd and of Elliott-Automation (Pty) Ltd (later the General Electric Co. of Australia Ltd), for which he was also a representative of the defence and aerospace arm. A keen golfer, he played mostly at the Royal Sydney Golf Club. His memoirs, Reports of Proceedings, were published in 1982. Survived by his son, he died on 11 August 1983 at Eastwood and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • F. B. Eldridge, A History of the Royal Australian Naval College (1949)
  • G. H. Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1942-1945 (1968)
  • R. O’Neill, Australia in the Korean War 1950-53, vol 2 (1985)
  • series A6769, item Gatacre G G O (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Alastair Cooper, 'Gatacre, Galfry George Ormond (1907–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gatacre-galfry-george-ormond-12526/text22541, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 21 September 2014.

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

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