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Rhoades, Rodney (1909–1991)

by John Moremon

This article was published online in 2018

Rodney Rhoades, by Damien Parer, 1940

Rodney Rhoades, by Damien Parer, 1940

Australian War Memorial, 005002/14

Rodney Rhoades (1909-1991), naval officer and charity manager, was born on 8 April 1909 at Woollahra, Sydney, youngest of four children of English-born Walter James Rhoades, timber company manager, and his New South Wales-born wife Edith Laidley, née Doddemeade. In World War I his father served in the British Army and Rodney’s brother John, who joined the Australian Imperial Force, was killed in action.

Rhoades attended Edgecliff Preparatory and Mowbray House schools, and entered the Royal Australian Naval College, Jervis Bay, Federal Capital Territory, as a cadet midshipman in January 1923. Awarded the English prize on graduating in May 1927, he proceeded to Britain as a midshipman, completing courses and serving in Royal Navy (RN) warships. Promoted to sub-lieutenant in May 1930, in the following year he returned to Australia, where he was posted to the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) heavy cruiser HMAS Australia. On 5 December 1932 he married Valerie Myra Florence (Val) Williams at St Mark’s Church, Darling Point, Sydney, in a Church of England ceremony. Between May 1935 and July 1936 he was on secondment to the RN.

In 1938 Rhoades was appointed as an aide-de-camp to the governor-general. A month after World War II broke out in September 1939, he sailed for the Mediterranean in the destroyer HMAS Vampire. He became Australia’s youngest destroyer captain of his day when given command of HMAS Vendetta on 30 March 1940, before promotion to lieutenant commander in July. During a hectic eighteen months, Vendetta—part of the famed ‘Scrap Iron Flotilla’—escorted convoys, bombarded shore positions, evacuated troops from Greece and Crete, and ferried reinforcements into Tobruk, Libya. Regularly under fire, ‘Dusty’ Rhoades was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (1941) and mentioned in despatches for his devotion to duty, courage and skill.

Following a stint back home, he sailed for Britain in April 1942 for the commissioning of the destroyer HMAS Quickmatch, which he would command. After convoy escort service in the South Atlantic and Indian oceans, in March 1944 he returned to shore duties in Australia. He was promoted to commander in June. During 1946 and 1947, he captained the frigate HMAS Shoalhaven, before commanding the shore establishment HMAS Moreton, Brisbane (1947–48), and serving as executive officer of HMAS Albatross, the Naval Air Station at Nowra, New South Wales. Seconded to the RN (1950–52), he commanded the destroyer HMS Opportune. He was appointed to Denmark’s Order of Dannebrog after escorting King Frederick IX’s flotilla during a royal visit to Britain. Having been promoted to captain on 30 June 1951, he performed staff duties ashore. In December 1952 he took command of HMAS Albatross.

In 1955 and 1956 Rhoades commanded the 10th Destroyer Squadron, in HMAS Tobruk—for much of the period in the British Commonwealth Far East Strategic Reserve. Command of the shore establishment HMAS Watson, Sydney, followed. Some admirals, reporting on his performance as a captain, emphasised his excellent professional and personal qualities. Others, however, found him wanting in keenness and ambition in comparison with the most outstanding among his peers. By 1958 he had given up hope of becoming a flag officer. That year he was appointed Australia’s defence representative to New Zealand. He and his wife, both articulate and sociable, became popular and effective members of Wellington’s diplomatic circle. New Zealand’s minister for defence, Philip Connolly, commended Rhoades for his ‘sound advice, his frank and forceful approach to problems, and his willingness to help’ in trans-Tasman defence relations (NAA A3798). Returning to Australia in 1960, he was naval officer-in-charge, West Australia Area (1960-62), as a commodore, and commodore superintendent of training, HMAS Cerberus, Westernport, Victoria (1962-63).

Transferred to the RAN Emergency List on 4 July 1963, Rhoades was appointed director-secretary of the Melbourne Lord Mayor’s Fund for Metropolitan Hospitals and Charities. He was also a director (1964-67) of David Syme and Co., which owned the Melbourne Age. A respected manager, effective communicator, skilled networker, and member of the Melbourne Club, he became a familiar sight on Collins Street ‘steer[ing] a straight course … as he makes for his club’ (Hamilton 1973, 2). Fishing and gardening were his recreations. He retired in 1975, settling at Wahroonga, Sydney. Despite losing his eyesight, he retained his renowned sense of humour. Survived by his wife and one of their two daughters, he died at Hornsby on 22 November 1991 and was cremated.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Daily News (Perth). ‘On the Tip of My Tongue.’ 13 August 1939, 9
  • Dunn, Suzanna. Personal communication
  • Eldridge, Frank Burgess. A History of the Royal Australian Naval College. Melbourne: Georgian House, 1949
  • Gill, G. Hermon. Royal Australian Navy 1942-1945. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1957
  • Hamilton, John. ‘The Commodore Expects You to Do Your Duty.’ Herald (Melbourne), 22 October 1973, 2
  • National Archives of Australia. A6769, Rodney Rhoades
  • National Archives of Australia. A3978, Officers (RAN) personal record - Rodney Rhoades
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘The Man Who Fed Tobruk.’ 27 November 1991, 12

Additional Resources

Citation details

John Moremon, 'Rhoades, Rodney (1909–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rhoades-rodney-27525/text34926, published online 2018, accessed online 20 March 2019.

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