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John William Hedderman (1916–1986)

by Ian Hodges

This article was published:

John William Hedderman (1916-1986), army officer and builder, was born on 25 June 1916 at Rocky River, near Uralla, New South Wales, fourth of six children of William Maurice Hedderman (d.1933), maintenance man, and his wife Grace, née Dowling, both born in New South Wales. Being the eldest son, John left school early to work on the family farm. His mother relied heavily on his labour and the income he received from working with his uncle on fence-building jobs. When his eldest sister, Daisy, married in 1936, she and her husband assumed the running of the family property and John left to seek work.

Having moved to Melbourne, on 22 April 1940 Hedderman enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He was 5 ft 11 ins (180 cm) tall, with a fair complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. In September he embarked for the Middle East, where he joined the 2/6th Battalion in February 1941. He fought in the Greek campaign in April. His battalion then underwent a period of refitting and training in Palestine and performed garrison duties in Syria before sailing to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in March 1942 to counter a possible Japanese invasion. When this failed to materialise, the unit returned to Australia in August. Hedderman had been promoted to corporal in May.

The 2/6th arrived at Milne Bay, Papua, in October and flew to Wau, New Guinea, in January 1943. Hedderman was made lance sergeant in February. In June he led a patrol during a period of fierce fighting in the Mubo area. Over four days he repeatedly risked his life, directing mortar fire from positions dangerously close to the enemy, rescuing wounded men while under heavy fire and attacking Japanese positions, sometimes single-handedly. He was awarded the Military Medal for his `great personal courage, initiative and leadership’. In August he was promoted to sergeant.

The battalion returned to Australia in September and next month Hedderman was sent to an officer cadet training unit. On 12 February 1944 he married Monica Bernadette Fitzpatrick, a typist, at St James’s Catholic Church, Gardenvale, Melbourne. Rejoining his unit in March, he sailed for Aitape, New Guinea, in December. Late in March 1945 he led a series of reconnaissance and fighting patrols in the Maprik area. For his selfless bravery over several days of heavy fighting, during which he once again carried out the daring rescue of a wounded man, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

On 9 August 1945 `Smoky’ Hedderman was commissioned lieutenant, but the war was soon over and he transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 5 December. He rejoined his family at Brighton, Melbourne. Having survived the war unscathed, he was wounded by an explosion at a brick-factory kiln in 1949. Next year they moved to Box Hill, where Hedderman planted a wide variety of fruit trees. Beginning work in the building industry with an ex-army mate in 1954, he became a works supervisor with the Craig Davis company in 1955. He also volunteered his time to help to build local schools. In retirement he enjoyed cooking and indulged his lifelong love of reading. Widowed in 1980, he died of chronic alcoholism on 22 December 1986 at Hawthorn and was cremated. His four sons and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Dexter, The New Guinea Offensives (1961)
  • G. Long, The Final Campaigns (1963)
  • D. Hay, Nothing Over Us (1984)
  • series B883, item VX12728 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Ian Hodges, 'Hedderman, John William (1916–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 25 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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