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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gosse, George (1912–1964)

by I. Mcl. Crawford

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

George Gosse (1912-1964), by unknown photographer

George Gosse (1912-1964), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 081387

George Gosse (1912-1964), naval officer and designer, was born on 16 February 1912 at Harvey, Western Australia, elder child of native-born parents William Hay Gosse, farmer, and his wife Muriel, née Davidson. W. C. Gosse was George's grandfather and (Sir) James Gosse his uncle. An artillery officer in the British Army during World War I, William was awarded the Military Cross; he was killed in action in 1918. His widow died two years later, leaving George and his sister in the care of their paternal grandmother.

Educated at the Collegiate School of St Peter, Adelaide, in 1926 Gosse entered the Royal Australian Naval College, Jervis Bay, Federal Capital Territory. A member of his family described him as 'so like his father, gay, feckless, fearless and gregarious'. He gained colours for hockey and on graduating was awarded the prize for engineering (theory). From January 1930 he successively served in the cruisers, H.M.A.S. Australia and H.M.A.S. Canberra, and in May was promoted midshipman. In July 1931 he took passage to England for further sea-training and courses with the Royal Navy.

Initially, Gosse was appointed to the battleship, H.M.S. Ramillies, in the Mediterranean Fleet. His training included an air-course in H.M.S. Glorious and destroyer-training in H.M.S. Worcester. In September 1932 he joined the R.N. College, Greenwich. Proximity to the attractions of London, the company of young Adelaidians on 'grand tours', and a passion for sports cars brought about his undoing. Having failed the examination for lieutenant, he was sent home and his appointment terminated on 30 October 1933.

Gosse 'knocked about', resisting the temptation of serious employment. In the chapel of his old school on 1 October 1938 he married Diana Skottowe. On 21 October 1940 he enlisted as an ordinary seaman in the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve. He was commissioned sub lieutenant in April 1941 while posted to H.M.S. King Alfred; in December he joined H.M.I.S. Hooghly at Calcutta, India, as mine disposal officer. Official reports noted his reliability, keenness and ingenuity. Always cheerful under difficulties, he got on well with officers and men, and exhibited 'a daring character and a good knowledge of mines in which he is very interested'. He was made provisional lieutenant in February 1942.

From late 1944 Gosse served in H.M.S. Vernon (D) at Brixham, Devon, England, the base for the R.N.'s port-clearance diving operations in Europe. Described at this time as sporting a bold, black beard, he had soft green eyes and a softer voice, and was somewhat of a law unto himself. Yet, he was inventive and had a fascination with things mechanical. Although he had qualified as a shallow-water diver in January 1945, he lacked practice when he went to Germany to begin underwater mine-disposal operations at Bremen, following its capture in April.

In command of Naval Party 1571, Gosse directed a search for mines laid by the retreating Germans in the waters of Bremen's Übersee Hafen. On 8 May his men found 'a D-type mine with additional fittings'. Known as the 'Oyster', it was pressure operated, with acoustic and magnetic units incorporated in its detonation train. At about 6 p.m. next day Gosse dived on the mine. Even with the aid of a waterproof torch, he could not see the device in the mud and proceeded to work by touch. He also had difficulty in stabilizing his buoyancy and had to secure himself to the mine's marker-buoy rope to keep his depth steady.

Gosse used tools which he had improvised, removed the primer release and then extracted the primer 'about eighteen inches [46 cm] down a two-inch tube'. He had interrupted the detonation train and the mine was safe. While he was releasing himself from his makeshift tether, there was a small explosion. Later examination of the landed mine showed that water had entered through the primer tube and operated a mechanism designed to respond to changing water pressure and trigger the detonator if the mine were raised. Gosse rendered safe two more 'Oyster' mines at Bremen. In 1946 he was awarded the George Cross. Having been promoted acting lieutenant commander on 30 September 1945, he was demobilized on 20 March 1946.

Back in Adelaide, Gosse invented many practical household gadgets and fittings, but lost interest once he had met the challenge of concept and design: for the most part, his work was unspectacular. He was president (1946-48) of the Sporting Car Club of South Australia. In 1953 he was chosen as a member of the coronation contingent which went to England in H.M.A.S. Sydney. Survived by his wife and two daughters, he died of a coronary occlusion on 31 December 1964 at Maslin Beach and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • F. B. Eldridge, A History of the Royal Australian Naval College (Melb, 1949)
  • J. Grosvenor and L. M. Bates, Open the Ports (Lond, 1956)
  • F. Gosse, The Gosses (Canb, 1981)
  • V. Smith, A Few Memories of Sir Victor Smith (Canb, 1992).

Citation details

I. Mcl. Crawford, 'Gosse, George (1912–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 26 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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