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Morrison, Thomas Kenneth (1911–1983)

by Brett Mitchell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Thomas Kenneth Morrison (1911-1983), naval officer, was born on 31 October 1911 at Windsor, Melbourne, second child of Tasmanian-born Leonard Neil Morrison, schoolteacher, and his Victorian-born wife Ethel May, née Bennet. Entering the Royal Australian Naval College, Jervis Bay, Federal Capital Territory, in 1925, as a cadet midshipman, Morrison excelled at sport, representing the college in cricket, rugby, hockey, tennis and rowing. He graduated in 1928 and served as a midshipman for one year in HMAS Australia before travelling to Britain for seagoing training in HMS Ramillies and professional courses ashore. There he became one of only two Australians to represent the Royal Navy in cricket.

At the end of 1932 Morrison returned to Australia to join HMAS Canberra but in May 1933 he transferred to HMAS Australia, where he served for three years. Promoted to lieutenant in February 1933, he specialised in torpedoes before returning to Britain in 1936 to attend the long course in torpedoes at HMS Vernon. On 25 June 1938 he married Dorothy Cornish Hole at St Faith’s Church of England, Lee on the Solent, Southampton. He then served in the cruiser, HMS Apollo, which was recommissioned in September as HMAS Hobart.

From August 1940 Hobart formed part of the Red Sea Force with which Morrison was to see action in the Mediterranean and Red seas and the Gulf of Aden. His initiative in destroying all material of value to the enemy during the evacuation of British forces from Berbera, British Somaliland (Somalia), led to his being appointed OBE in April 1941. In the first half of that year, Morrison filled the post of squadron torpedo officer. He was promoted to lieutenant commander on 1 December. After the outbreak of war with Japan, he was present at the battles of the Coral Sea (May 1942) and Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands (November 1942).

On 27 April 1943 Morrison became officer-in-charge of the Fairmile Motor Launch School, HMAS Rushcutter, Sydney; this was his only substantial wartime service ashore. He rejoined Australia in January 1944, resuming the post of squadron torpedo officer. Australia participated in offensive operations against Japanese-held islands in the South-West Pacific, and took part in the Allied landings in the Philippines. During these operations the cruiser was heavily damaged by kamikaze attacks. Morrison was mentioned in despatches for ‘skill, determination and courage’ at Leyte Gulf (October 1944), and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for ‘gallantry, skill and devotion to duty’ at Lingayen Gulf (January 1945).

At the close of World War II, Morrison attended a staff course in Britain. Returning to Australia, he served as director of training and staff requirements in Navy Office, Melbourne (1946-48), and at the Royal Australian Naval College, Westernport, Victoria (1948-49). He had been promoted to commander on 1 December 1946. In his first seagoing command, Morrison, in May 1950, became the inaugural commanding officer of the recently commissioned destroyer, HMAS Tobruk. He assumed temporary command of HMAS Bataan in August 1951 for one month, before returning to Navy Office as director of manning (1951-52). On promotion to captain in December 1952, he was appointed deputy chief of naval personnel, and in the following year became honorary aide-de-camp to the governor-general (1953-56).

From 1954 to 1961 Morrison served in a succession of senior appointments, all of which groomed him for flag rank. Command of HMAS Quadrant as captain of the 1st Frigate Squadron (1954-55) was followed by a diplomatic posting to Washington, DC, as naval attaché (1955-57). He then proceeded to Britain for the senior officers’ technical course (1957) and to attend (1958) the Imperial Defence College. Returning to Australia, Morrison assumed command (1958-59) of the RAN flagship, HMAS Melbourne; his term included one deployment to the British Commonwealth Far East Strategic Reserve. He was then appointed in command (1960-62) of HMAS Albatross, the Naval Air Station, Nowra, New South Wales.

In the 1960s the navy was becoming more engaged in South-East Asia, especially in assisting Malaysia and providing support to the United States Seventh Fleet during the Vietnam War. On 7 January 1962 Morrison was promoted to rear admiral and appointed deputy chief of naval staff at Navy Office, Canberra. He became flag officer commanding HM Australian Fleet in January 1965 and a year later flag officer in charge, East Australia Area (1966-68). Having been seconded as Australian commissioner-general for Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan, in January 1968, Morrison joined the Prime Minister’s Department in March, although he did not officially retire from the navy until 30 October. He had been appointed CBE in 1962 and CB in 1967.

Morrison was a keen golfer and gardener. Predeceased (1976) by his wife but survived by a son and three daughters, he died at Darlinghurst, Sydney, on 20 April 1983 and, following a service at HMAS Watson, was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • F. B. Eldridge, A History of the Royal Australian Naval College (1949)
  • G. H. Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1939-1942 (1985)
  • J. J. Atkinson, By Skill & Valour (1986)
  • A6769, item Morrison T K (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Brett Mitchell, 'Morrison, Thomas Kenneth (1911–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/morrison-thomas-kenneth-15026/text26222, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 17 January 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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