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Ranford, Robert Frank Gordon (1917–1943)

by Anthony Staunton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Robert Frank Gordon Ranford (1917-1943), soldier, was born on 29 October 1917 at Semaphore, Adelaide, sixth of seven children of Stewart Galway Ranford, a South Australian-born labourer, and his wife Mary Elizabeth, née Davy, who came from England. As a boy, Gordon was fond of sport, particularly cricket, baseball and swimming. On 2 March 1929 he rescued a woman and her 10-year-old daughter from drowning in the Port Adelaide River at Ethelton; he was awarded the bronze medal of the Royal Humane Society of Australasia. He attended Ethelton Public and Lefevre Peninsula Central schools, then worked as a stationhand on properties in the Clare district.

On 20 May 1940 Ranford enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. Five ft 8 ins (173 cm) tall and stockily built, he had blue eyes and brown hair, and gave his religious denomination as Presbyterian. His fair complexion earned him the nickname 'Snowy'. Following initial training, he joined the 2nd/48th Battalion and embarked for the Middle East on 17 November. He served at Tobruk, Libya, throughout the siege, from April to October 1941, and was mentioned in dispatches. He was confirmed in the rank of corporal in July.

After the 9th Australian Division withdrew to Palestine, Ranford was admitted to hospital on 19 November. He recovered from his illness in nineteen days and rejoined his battalion. In July 1942 the 2nd/48th was sent to the El Alamein area, Egypt, to block a German advance towards the River Nile. Ranford was promoted acting sergeant on 25 July (confirmed 17 September). The battle of El Alamein began on 23 October. On the night of 30/31 the 2nd/48th—which had been constantly in action—attacked towards Barrel Hill, south-east of Sidi Abd el Rahman. When his platoon commander was wounded, Ranford took over. He led the assaults on two posts which killed fourteen enemy soldiers, and destroyed two machine-guns and an 88-mm gun. Although he was wounded, he continued to command the platoon (then only seven strong) until he was wounded a second time. For his 'leadership and grim determination' he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Ranford recovered in time to sail for Australia with the 2nd/48th in February 1943. The battalion trained in North Queensland before being deployed to Papua in August to prepare for the Huon Peninsula campaign in New Guinea. In November, during fighting along the Sattelberg Road, west of Finschhafen, Ranford showed bravery and initiative, for which he was again mentioned in dispatches (1945). On 20 November 1943, shortly after Japanese positions at Fougasse Corner had been captured and occupied, he was killed by a sniper. He was buried in Lae war cemetery. Sergeant T. C. Derrick, who won the Victoria Cross four days later, wrote in his diary that Ranford was a dashing, courageous and fearless soldier, 'easily the battalion's best'.

Select Bibliography

  • J. G. Glenn, Tobruk to Tarakan (Adel, 1960)
  • M. Farquhar, Derrick, V.C. (Adel, 1982)
  • G. A. Mackinlay, True Courage (Syd, 1992)
  • J. Coates, Bravery Above Blunder (Melb, 1999)
  • AWM 52, item 8/3/36 and PR82/190 (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Anthony Staunton, 'Ranford, Robert Frank Gordon (1917–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ranford-robert-frank-gordon-11485/text20481, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 2 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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