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Geoffrey Vernon Gladstone (1921–1999)

by Aaron Pegram

This article was published online in 2024

Geoffrey Gladstone, c. 1961-71

Geoffrey Gladstone, c. 1961-71

Supplied by Kay Gladstone

Geoffrey Vernon Gladstone (1921–1999), naval officer, was born on 27 January 1921 at Wagin, Western Australia, eldest of two children of Rupert George Gladstone, accountant, and his wife, Myra Constance Victoria, née Jeffreson, both Victorian-born. Geoffrey was educated at Guildford Preparatory and Guildford Grammar schools. His naval career began in 1935 when he was the only Western Australian out of thirteen new entrants to the Royal Australian Naval College (RANC), then located at Flinders Naval Depot, Westernport, Victoria.

Gladstone excelled as a cadet midshipman, becoming cadet captain and gaining sporting colours for cricket. Graduating in 1938 with the King’s medal for exemplary conduct, he joined the heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra as a midshipman in January 1939 before proceeding to Britain in May for training aboard the heavy cruiser HMS Sussex. With the outbreak of World War II, he stayed with Sussex as it patrolled the South Atlantic and Indian oceans, including seeking the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee. Promoted to sub-lieutenant in October 1940, he gained first-class certificates in seamanship, signals, and torpedoes. He was posted to the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia in December 1940, then in refit at Liverpool. Australia sailed to Singapore and subsequently escorted convoys in Australian and New Zealand waters; with Japan’s entry into the war in December 1941, its operations extended to Port Moresby, Noumea, and Fiji.

Posted back to Britain as a newly promoted lieutenant in May 1942, Gladstone in September joined the commissioning crew of the destroyer HMAS Quickmatch as gunnery officer. Quickmatch patrolled the North Atlantic and the English Channel before sailing to the South Atlantic. On 8 November 1942 he married Charmian Margaret Theodore Prendergast at St Mary the Virgin Church, Holne, Devon. Charmian later worked (1943–44) in the Secret Intelligence Service at Bletchley Park, decoding and encrypting messages from and to agents in occupied Europe. Gladstone was with Quickmatch when it was attached to the British Eastern Fleet in 1944; from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) it escorted British aircraft carriers in attacks on Japanese bases in the Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia) and on the Andaman Islands. On 25 July 1944 Quickmatch bombarded Japanese port facilities at Sabang in northern Sumatra at close-range; for his ‘calm manner and efficient execution of his duties’ in ensuring that the ship’s sensors and weapons were brought to bear effectively he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. He returned to Britain in October 1944 and trained as an anti-submarine warfare officer at HMS Osprey at Portland in Dorset before serving on its training staff until August 1947.

Returning to Australia, Gladstone from June 1948 served at HMAS Rushcutter in Sydney as an instructor at the Torpedo Anti-Submarine School, before being promoted to lieutenant commander in June 1949 and joining the destroyer HMAS Warramunga as executive officer. With the outbreak of the Korean War, Warramunga joined United Nations forces in operations off the west Korean Peninsula. For ‘zeal above average’ he was awarded a Bar to his DSC in June 1952, and received the United States Bronze Star with combat distinguishing device for his efforts when based at Chinnamp’o in plotting minefields and navigating ships along dangerous and narrow channels to port. In October 1951 he became naval liaison officer with the Joint Services Staff at the Australian High Commission in London. He attended the Royal Navy Staff College in 1954, was promoted to commander in December that year, and completed the joint services staff course at Latimer, Buckinghamshire, in 1955.

Back in Australia in July 1955 as executive officer of the RANC, he emulated the revision of training structures in the Royal Navy by focusing on changing the college’s culture from that of a boarding school to a centre of learning for young naval officers. Although he normally ‘detested sailing’ (Crawford 2016), in 1955 and 1956 he skippered the college yacht Tam O’Shanter in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, encountering in 1956 some of the worst weather in the race’s history.

In 1957 Gladstone was appointed naval member of the South-East Asia Treaty Organization military planning office in Bangkok. He returned to Australia in 1959 to be executive officer of the naval air station HMAS Albatross. In 1960 he became director of manning and training in Navy Office, and he was promoted to captain in June 1961. From May 1962 he commanded the tanker HMAS Tide Austal (renamed HMAS Supply 1963). Between 1964 and 1967 he again served with the Joint Services Staff at the High Commission in London. In February 1968, he became the inaugural commanding officer of the escort maintenance ship HMAS Stalwart, and in January 1970 took command of the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne. He returned to London in 1971 as head of the Australian Defence Staff and defence advisor to the Australian high commissioner, having been promoted to rear admiral that June. Between January 1974 and November 1975 he was deputy chief of Naval Staff, and, for his ‘distinguished service in responsible positions,’ was appointed AO in 1975. His final posting was as fleet commander between November 1975 and April 1977, during which he was embarked in the Melbourne during its deployment to Britain for Queen Elizabeth II’s silver jubilee celebrations.

Gladstone, a stocky and determined man, set himself and others exacting standards in dress and conduct; he always valued friendship highly, and often expressed himself in memorably colourful language. Retiring from the navy in January 1978, Charmian and he lived at Deakin, Canberra. Service as vice-president of the Alliance Française de Canberra reflected his respect for France and its naval technology. As well as participating in the social life of the capital’s diplomatic community, Gladstone enjoyed country activities and also horse-racing. He worked in a variety of civilian jobs, principally as Australian representative of the French airline UTA Industries (Union de Transports Aériens), and, from August 1982, Thyssen Rheinstahl Technik GmbH (TRT). Survived by his wife and their two sons, Gladstone died in the Sydney Adventist Hospital, Wahroonga, New South Wales, on 7 September 1999 after a long illness. His funeral took place at the Garden Island Dockyard Naval Chapel in Sydney. Following Charmian’s death twenty-one years later, their ashes were interred together in the cemetery of the church where they had married.

Research edited by Stephen Wilks

Select Bibliography

  • Crawford, Ian. ‘A Sydney–Hobart to Remember for the Navy’s Tam o’Shanter, 1956–57.’ 3 January 2016. Accessed 30 October 2023. https://navalinstitute.com.au/a-sydney-hobart-to-remember-for-the-navys-tam-o-shanter-1956-57/. Copy held on ADB file
  • Gladstone, Kay. Personal communication
  • National Archives of Australia. A3978, GLADSTONE G. V.
  • National Archives of Australia. A6769, GLADSTONE G. V.
  • Royal Australian Navy. ‘Rear Admiral Geoffrey Vernon Gladstone.’ Accessed 30 October 2023. https://www.navy.gov.au/biography/rear-admiral-geoffrey-vernon-gladstone. Copy held on ADB file.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Aaron Pegram, 'Gladstone, Geoffrey Vernon (1921–1999)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gladstone-geoffrey-vernon-33293/text41544, published online 2024, accessed online 22 February 2024.

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