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Goldsworthy, Leonard Verdi (Leon) (1919–1994)

by David Stevens

This article was published online in 2018

Leon Goldsworthy, c.1944

Leon Goldsworthy, c.1944

Australian War Memorial, 081383

Leonard Verdi Goldsworthy (1909–1994), naval officer and factory manager, was born on 19 January 1909 at Broken Hill, New South Wales, second son of South Australian-born parents Alfred Thomas Goldsworthy, miner, and his wife Eva Jane, née Riggs. Known widely as ‘Goldy’ or ‘Ficky’ (a derivative of ‘Mr Fixit’), Leon spent his early years in South Australia. After leaving Kapunda High School, in 1924 he became a junior apprentice in the physics workshop at the University of Adelaide. Over the next several years he took part-time courses in physics, chemistry, mathematics, electrical engineering, sheet metal work, and French polishing at the South Australian School of Mines and Industries. Quiet, short of stature, and of wiry build, he kept himself fit by wrestling and gymnastics. He moved to Western Australia in 1929 and obtained employment in an electrical business in Perth. On 4 November 1939 at St George’s Cathedral, he married Maud Edna Rutherford (d. 1959), a clerk.

Soon after the outbreak of World War II Goldsworthy applied to join the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) but was rejected for failing to meet the required physical standards. Undeterred, he reapplied through the Yachtsmen Scheme, and was appointed as a probationary sub-lieutenant, Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve, on 24 March 1941. In May he went to Britain for further training, and volunteered to become a rendering mines safe (RMS) officer. In August he joined the Admiralty Mine Disposal  Section based in London. During his time there he rendered safe 19 mines and qualified as a diver. In January 1943 he transferred to the Enemy Mining Section at HMS Vernon, the Royal Navy’s torpedo and mine countermeasures establishment at Portsmouth.

Goldsworthy’s pre-war technical training and capacity for patience served him well in his new role, and he displayed great skill in defusing explosives on land and underwater. His work often had to be completed in a bulky diving suit, with touch being the only sensory perception available, making defusing enemy mines highly dangerous work. On 13 August 1943 he defused a German mine in the waters off Sheerness, using a special diving suit that he and a colleague, Lieutenant John Mould, had helped develop. Mould went on to form and train Port Clearance Parties ('P' Parties) to clear liberated harbours in Europe. Goldsworthy volunteered to assist but was retained at Vernon for further underwater mine disposal duties. Later that year he defused two particularly tricky influence mines (mines that detonated by the influence of passing vessels), one of which had rested at a Southampton wharf for two years.

He was awarded the George Medal ‘… for gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty’ (London Gazette, April 1944, 1775). The same month, Goldsworthy disarmed an acoustic mine that had lain in the water off Milford Haven since 1941. At the beginning of this operation he came to the surface under the boat’s diving ladder, which pierced his helmet, flooding his diving suit. Extricated by the prompt action of his assistant, he resumed work with little delay. In August he was mentioned in despatches and in the following month was awarded the George Cross for ‘great gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty’ (London Gazette, September 1944, 4333).

Goldsworthy was involved in the selection and training of men for port clearance prior to the Normandy (D–Day) invasion in June 1944. He rendered safe the first type K mine in Cherbourg Harbour in fifty feet (15 m) of water while under enemy shell-fire, and three ground mines on the British assault area beaches. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for ‘for gallantry and distinguished services in the work of mine-clearance in the face of the enemy’ (London Gazette, 16 January 1945, 419). On 30 September 1944, he was promoted to acting lieutenant commander. After his work in France, he was sent to the Pacific as British Naval Liaison and Intelligence Officer attached to the US Navy's Mobile Explosive Investigation Unit No 1, initially in the South West Pacific and subsequently, the Philippines. By war’s end he had become Australia's most highly decorated naval officer of World War II.

Demobilised on 24 May 1946, Goldsworthy returned to Perth and resumed his employment with Rainbow Neon Light. He rose to factory manager before retiring in 1974. In 1953 he briefly returned to service to take part in Queen Elizabeth’s coronation celebrations in London, and then again in 1957 for a Special Examination Service Officers’ Course. On 13 December 1968 in Perth he married Georgette Roberta Johnston. He became vice-chairman (overseas) of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association in 1991 and was patron of the Underwater Explorers Club of Western Australia.

Survived by his wife and the daughter of his first marriage, Goldsworthy died of heart disease on 7 August 1994 at South Perth and, following a naval funeral, was cremated and his ashes scattered at sea. The Australian War Memorial, Canberra, holds his portrait by Harold Abbott. A ward at Perth’s Hollywood Private Hospital is named in his honour, as is a road on Garden Island, where the RAN’s primary naval base on the west coast, HMAS Stirling, is located. In 1995 Australia Post released a stamp bearing his image as part of the ‘Australia Remembers’ series commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Jeffrey, Vic. ‘RAN Mourns Loss of Most Highly-Decorated Hero.’ Navy News, 26 August 1994, 3
  • London Gazette, 18 April 1944, No. 3674, 1775
  • London Gazette, 15 August 1944, No. 36654, 3767
  • London Gazette, 19 September 1944, No. 36707, 4333
  • London Gazette, 16 January 1945, No. 36895, 419
  • National Archives of Australia. A6769, Goldsworthy, Leo Verdi
  • Wigmore, Lionel. They Dared Mightily. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1963

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

David Stevens, 'Goldsworthy, Leonard Verdi (Leon) (1919–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/goldsworthy-leonard-verdi-leon-19128/text30704, published online 2018, accessed online 18 October 2019.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

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