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James Cairns Morrow (1905–1963)

by Darryl Bennet

This article was published:

James Cairns Morrow (1905-1963), by Dennis Adams, 1945

James Cairns Morrow (1905-1963), by Dennis Adams, 1945

Australian War Memorial, ART25504

James Cairns Morrow (1905-1963), naval officer, was born on 6 February 1905 at Brunswick, Melbourne, son of Australian-born parents James Ernest Morrow, implement-maker, and his wife Marion Agnes, née Cairns. James Morrow was his grandfather. Young James attended Melbourne Church of England Grammar School and entered (1919) the Royal Australian Naval College, Jervis Bay, Federal Capital Territory. Chief cadet captain in 1921, he gained colours for cricket and Rugby, and won the King's medal on graduating in 1922. As a midshipman (1923-25) and an acting (1925-26) and confirmed (1926-28) sub lieutenant, he trained at sea and completed courses in Britain.

Returning to Australia, Lieutenant Morrow served as navigator of H.M.A.S. Marguerite (1927-29) and as a watch-keeper in H.M.A.S. Australia (1929-31) before joining the staff of the R.A.N.C. (then at Flinders Naval Depot, Westernport, Victoria). From 1933 to 1935 he was attached to the Royal Navy. His marriage (probably on 13 April 1935) ended in divorce. He was promoted lieutenant commander in 1936, while executive officer of H.M.A.S. Vendetta. In April 1938 he took command of the destroyer, Voyager, which was deployed to the Mediterranean shortly after World War II began.

On 13 and 14 June 1940 Voyager damaged two Italian submarines near the port of Alexandria, Egypt; within a fortnight she helped to sink another about 100 nautical miles (185 km) south-east of Crete. Morrow was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his part in these actions and promoted commander that month. In July his ship screened the aircraft-carrier, Eagle, in the battle of Calabria. Between December 1940 and April 1941 Voyager operated for extensive periods off the North African coast. Maintaining sea communications and bombarding shore positions, she supported the British and Australian drive westwards across Libya and covered the subsequent withdrawal to Tobruk. Her commanding officer was mentioned in dispatches for this work.

During the evacuation of British Commonwealth forces from Greece in late April 1941, Voyager carried soldiers and nurses to safety. In the last three weeks of May she helped to reinforce Crete. Earlier that month she had made her first run as part of the 'Tobruk Ferry', a shuttle-service of destroyers which supplied the fortress from Egyptian ports. Resuming that role, Voyager transported troops, ammunition and stores until she sailed for Australia in July. Morrow left the ship in November and in March 1942 assumed command of the newly built destroyer, H.M.A.S. Arunta. On 7 August the Japanese submarine, RO 33, sank a passenger vessel, the Mamutu, in the Gulf of Papua; its crew then machine-gunned the survivors—men, women and children. Encountering RO 33 off Port Moresby on 29 August, Arunta attacked the submarine with depth-charges and destroyed it. Morrow won the Distinguished Service Cross.

Although employed primarily on convoy-protection work in eastern Australian and Papuan waters, Arunta landed the 2nd/12th Battalion on Goodenough Island in October 1942 and carried Lancer Force from Timor in January 1943. Posted ashore in August, Morrow commanded escort forces in Sydney and (from January 1944) at Milne Bay, Papua. He joined the cruiser, Shropshire, as executive officer in May 1945; she sailed to Tokyo Bay for the Japanese surrender ceremony in September.

Morrow's outstanding record as a captain of destroyers in wartime stemmed from his gifts as a seaman and leader. He was a 'superb shiphandler'. Friendly and convivial, he won the affection of his men as well as their respect. His piercing eyes and ringing voice complemented his strength of character. Of middle height, he was nicknamed 'Copper' because of the colour of his hair. At St Mark's Anglican Church, Darling Point, Sydney, on 11 September 1946 he married 27-year-old Dulce McWhannell.

As an acting and (from June 1947) substantive captain, Morrow commanded H.M.A.S. Bataan in 1946-48. He served as Australian naval attaché, Washington (1948-51), commanding officer of H.M.A.S. Australia (1951-52) and commodore superintendent of training at Flinders Naval Depot (1952-55). Made commodore, first class, and appointed chief of naval personnel in January 1955, he had little aptitude or liking for staff duties. In 1956 he was appointed C.B.E. Following a posting (1956-59) as naval officer-in-charge, Western Australia, he retired from the navy on 6 February 1960. He worked in 1960-61 as chief executive officer, Melbourne metropolitan area, for World Refugee Year and later held a post in Sydney with the Australian National Travel Association. For recreation, he watched cricket and football, and went to the races. He died of cancer on 8 January 1963 at his Vaucluse home and was cremated; his wife and their two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • F. B. Eldridge, A History of the Royal Australian Naval College (Melb, 1949)
  • G. H. Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1939-1942 (Canb, 1957)
  • G. H. Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1942-1945 (Canb, 1968)
  • A3978/9, Morrow, J. C. (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Darryl Bennet, 'Morrow, James Cairns (1905–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

James Cairns Morrow (1905-1963), by Dennis Adams, 1945

James Cairns Morrow (1905-1963), by Dennis Adams, 1945

Australian War Memorial, ART25504

Life Summary [details]


6 February, 1905
Brunswick, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


8 January, 1963 (aged 57)
Vaucluse, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.