Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gordon, James Hannah (Jim) (1907–1986)

by Jolyon Horner

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

James Hannah (Jim) Gordon (1907-1986), soldier, was born on 7 March 1907 at Rockingham, Western Australia, fifth of eight surviving children of Australian-born parents William Beattie Gordon, member (1901-11) of the Legislative Assembly and later farmer, and his wife Harriett Ann, née Scott. (Sir) John Hannah Gordon was his uncle. Jim grew up on his parents’ properties at Namban, near Moora, and (from 1917) at Gingin. Educated at local state schools, he worked as a drover, rouseabout and farmer. He was employed on the goldfields as a battery worker when World War II broke out.

On 26 April 1940 Gordon understated his age and enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force, giving his middle name as Heather. He was 5 ft 9 ins (175 cm) tall and of medium build, with brown eyes and dark hair. At St Edmund’s Church of England, Wembley Park, Perth, on 14 June that year he married Myrtle Anzac Troy. He embarked for the Middle East in September and joined the 2/31st Battalion in February 1941. In June-July the unit was engaged in the Syrian campaign against the Vichy French. On the night of 9-10 July Gordon’s depleted company was ordered to seize the high ground overlooking the villages of Amatour and Badarane, north of Jezzine. An enemy machine-gun post held up the advance. On his own initiative, Gordon crept forward through a hail of bullets and grenades until he was near the post. He leapt to his feet and charged it from the front, killing its four crew members with his bayonet. His action demoralised the enemy in the area and inspired his comrades to continue the attack. He was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Corporal Gordon arrived back in Australia with his unit in March 1942. Having recovered from a bout of malaria, he reached Papua late in November, by which time the 2/31st was fighting the Japanese around Gona. In January 1943 he returned to Australia and was made acting sergeant. He was confirmed in the rank en route to Port Moresby in July. During the advance towards Lae, New Guinea, in September, he led a charge against a machine-gun nest. It is likely that he was considered for a further decoration, perhaps another VC, but no award was forthcoming. `Just as well, too’, he later said. `Imagine what my cobbers would have called me then’. After taking part in the subsequent operations in the Markham and Ramu valleys, he came home to Australia in January 1944. He spent more time in hospital with malaria and performed administrative duties before being discharged on 17 February 1947. His brothers Talbot and Ken also served in the AIF; Talbot was killed at El Alamein, Egypt, in 1942.

Finding that a job with the State Electricity Commission of Western Australia did not suit him, and missing army life, Gordon joined the Australian Regular Army on 2 December 1947. Employed as an instructor of cadets in Western Australia, he was promoted to temporary warrant officer, class two, in October 1949 (confirmed 1 February 1950). He retired from the army on 1 August 1968, then worked as a groundsman at Campbell Barracks, Swanbourne, until 1975.

A quiet, unassuming man, Gordon often hid his VC ribbon in his pocket after ceremonial occasions. He enjoyed fishing and gardening, liked cricket and avidly followed Australian Rules football. Survived by his wife and their son, he died on 19 July 1986 at the Repatriation General Hospital, Nedlands, and was cremated with full military honours. (Sir) William Dargie’s portrait (1941) of Gordon, which won the 1942 Archibald prize, is held by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (1963)
  • J. Laffin, Forever Forward (1994)
  • People (Sydney), 2 Aug 1950, p 7
  • Stand-To (Canberra), Nov 1958-Jan 1959, p 1
  • private information.

Citation details

Jolyon Horner, 'Gordon, James Hannah (Jim) (1907–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gordon-james-hannah-jim-12554/text22599, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 21 October 2014.

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

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