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Rogers, John David (1895–1978)

by Neil James

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

John David Rogers (1895-1978), by Edward Cranstone, 1940

John David Rogers (1895-1978), by Edward Cranstone, 1940

Australian War Memorial, 002339

John David Rogers (1895-1978), army officer and company director, was born on 29 April 1895 at Penguin, Tasmania, second of nine children of native-born parents James Rogers, Methodist clergyman, and his wife Agnes, née Caldwell. James Stanley Rogers was his elder brother. Raised in an austere but loving household at various places in rural Victoria, John won a scholarship to Geelong College (dux 1913) and proceeded to the University of Melbourne (B.Sc., 1922). He undertook compulsory military training with the Geelong College cadets and the Melbourne University Rifles. On 20 August 1914 he interrupted his studies and enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force.

After training in Egypt with the 6th Battalion, Rogers fell ill in a troop-ship off Gallipoli and missed the initial landing at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915. He rejoined his unit a day or so later and was appointed lance corporal on his twentieth birthday. Following the 2nd Brigade's attack at Cape Helles, he was promoted sergeant and company sergeant major on successive days in May. On 4 August he was commissioned. He became battalion intelligence officer in September and lieutenant in December.

On the Western Front, Rogers won the Military Cross for leading a successful raid on German trenches in June 1916. He was promoted captain in December. From time to time in 1917 he was attached to the 1st Division for staff training before being posted to its headquarters in January 1918 as general staff officer, 3rd grade. During the Menin Road attack (3rd battle of Ypres) in September 1917 he had served as 3rd Brigade intelligence officer. Mentioned in dispatches in May 1918, he joined the Australian Corps headquarters staff that month and worked for Major R. G. (Baron) Casey. His A.I.F. appointment terminated on 21 February 1919 in Melbourne. He was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre that year.

Resuming his university studies, Rogers cut a dashing figure and relished extra-curricular activities. He gained honours in almost every examination and won a Bloomfield scholarship. At the Methodist Church, Balaclava, on 14 September 1922 he married Irene Myrtle Lowe; his father performed the ceremony. Rene had been the first woman to graduate (1918) in agricultural science from the University of Melbourne. In 1923 Rogers joined the Vacuum Oil Co. Pty Ltd. After being employed as head chemist (1924-29) in Sydney, he held increasingly senior management positions in Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria. He was also active in the Militia in 1920-24, serving as an intelligence officer at the district base headquarters, Melbourne.

With Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Blamey's encouragement, Rogers was appointed to the A.I.F. on 15 June 1940 and sent to I Corps headquarters in Palestine at the end of September. In November he was promoted lieutenant colonel and became the corps' senior intelligence officer. Next month he was attached to the 6th Division as liaison officer for the attack on Bardia, Libya (3 January 1941). In the Greek campaign (April) he headed the team that co-ordinated the evacuation; he was one of the last Australians to leave for Egypt and was appointed O.B.E. Following the Syrian campaign (June-July), he worked closely with Lieutenant General (Sir) John Lavarack and Brigadier (Sir) Sydney Rowell. For much of the second half of 1941 he performed liaison duties in the Western Desert.

Recalled to Australia in January 1942, Rogers carried out intelligence work at Headquarters, Home Forces. He was made a liaison officer with General Headquarters, South-West Pacific Area, on 31 March and promoted colonel in May. On 1 July he became director of military intelligence at Land Headquarters, Melbourne, with the temporary rank of brigadier (from September). He remained D.M.I.—the senior intelligence officer in the Australian armed forces—until August 1945, and served with Advanced L.H.Q. in Brisbane and New Guinea, at Hollandia and on Morotai Island.

Rogers' leadership, integrity, thoroughness and diplomacy came to the fore as D.M.I. Trusted by Blamey, the commander-in-chief, he was also respected by Major General Gordon Bennett and by Staff Corps officers such as Lavarack and Rowell. He successfully promoted co-operation among the many, varied, bureaucratic, and often mutually suspicious Australian, American and British military and civilian intelligence organizations and security services, and the headquarters and forces they supported. In September 1944 he represented Australia at a major intelligence co-ordination conference in Britain. In late 1944 and again in 1945 he acted forcefully to alert the Australian government to Soviet espionage and the ensuing betrayal of allied plans to the Japanese.

During the latter part of World War II Rogers planned for postwar intelligence and counter-intelligence structures, providing for the involvement of regular as well as reserve officers. This approach partly stemmed from his dislike of Staff Corps-Militia jealousies. In August 1945 he led the Australian mission to South East Asia Command, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and in September represented his country at the surrender of Japanese forces in Singapore. He was appointed C.B.E. (1947).

In November 1945 Rogers returned to Vacuum Oil as general manager for New South Wales. A director (from 1946), he represented the Australian subsidiary in New York in 1951-52, and became its deputy chairman (1954) and chairman (1958). He also sat on the boards of Moulded Products (Australasia) Ltd (1959-67), Mayne Nickless Ltd (1959-67), David Syme & Co. Ltd (1960-67) and the Trustees, Executors & Agency Co. Ltd (1959-70). On retiring from Vacuum Oil in August 1959, 'J.D.R.' served as chief executive officer (1959-71) of the building committee of the Victorian Arts Centre, National Gallery of Victoria.

Rogers was honorary colonel of the Australian Intelligence Corps (1956-61), a member of Legacy, and a trustee of the Services Canteens Trust Fund (1957-76) and the Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey Memorial Fund. His broader community service was exemplified by a range of honorary appointments on hospital boards, and on committees that handled superannuation and scholarship funds. He also served on the councils of Ormond College (1950-65) and Geelong College (1943-51 and 1954-60). Survived by his wife, daughter and two sons, he died on 10 April 1978 at Caulfield and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac, vol 2 (Syd, 1924)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1917 (Syd, 1933)
  • G. Long, To Benghazi (Canb, 1952)
  • G. Long, Greece, Crete and Syria (Canb, 1953)
  • D. Dexter, The New Guinea Offensives (Canb, 1961)
  • G. Long, The Final Campaigns (Canb, 1963)
  • D. M. Horner, High Command (Syd, 1992)
  • D. Ball and D. Horner, Breaking the Codes (Syd, 1998)
  • Melbourne Legacy Bulletin, 18 Apr 1978
  • Mobil News, May 1978
  • Journal (Royal Historical Society of Victoria), June 1985
  • family correspondence and private information.

Citation details

Neil James, 'Rogers, John David (1895–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rogers-john-david-11555/text20619, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 22 November 2014.

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

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