Rear Admiral Alan Gibb McFarlane, AO

Alan Gibb McFarlane and his twin brother Brian Mahoney McFarlane were born at Cremorne, NSW on 30 June 1919. Their father, Lieutenant John Clement McFarlane, was a career naval officer who had joined the Royal Navy as a boy seaman in 1905 before transferring to the RAN in 1912. Both boys were to later follow in their father’s footsteps and join the Royal Australian Navy.

Alan was educated at Hutchins School Hobart and Brisbane Church of England Grammar School, Queensland.   He completed his schooling in 1936 before joining the RAN Reserve (Port Melbourne Division) as a sailor.  Following his selection for officer training he was mobilised for service as a paymaster sub-lieutenant on 1 September 1939 and posted to Navy Office in Melbourne as a junior staff officer.  In February 1940 he was drafted to HMAS Penguin II, the naval depot in Sydney, where he performed base staff duties.

In September 1940, Sub-Lieutenant McFarlane joined his first ship – the armed merchant cruiser HMAS Westralia that operated as a convoy escort and patrol vessel in the Indian Ocean, on the Australia Station and in the South-West Pacific.   Westralia saw little action during that time but conducted several patrols to Ocean Island and Nauru in 1941. She was also employed in searching for German raiders and escorting troop convoys to Timor in December 1941 and Port Moresby in early 1942.  McFarlane was promoted to paymaster lieutenant in September 1941.    In June 1942 he was posted to Navy Office before being appointed the secretary to the commanding officer of HMAS Lonsdale (Port Melbourne) from September 1942 – January 1943.

Lieutenant McFarlane served briefly in the destroyer HMAS Arunta during January – April 1943 before joining the cruiser HMAS Hobart in late April.  Hobart was at that time operating in Queensland waters but in July she deployed to the New Hebrides as part of the US Navy Task Force 74.   On 20 July 1943, while returning to Espiritu Santo from a patrol Hobart was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I - G011 and badly damaged with thirteen officers and sailors killed and seven wounded. The cruiser limped into Espiritu Santo for temporary repairs before returning to Sydney in late August 1943 where she entered Cockatoo Island Dockyards to undergo extensive repairs.  McFarlane was subsequently posted to HMAS Kuttabul in October 1943 for duties on the staff of the commander of Sydney depots.

In January 1944 McFarlane joined HMAS Ladava, the RAN shore base at Milne Bay in eastern New Guinea, as a member of the base staff.  In March 1944 he was badly injured in a motor vehicle accident at Ladava in which he broke his left femur. He was then hospitalised for several months in Victoria and was not fit to return to full time duty until August 1945 when he joined the training establishment HMAS Cerberus.   McFarlane was eventually deemed fully fit for duty in early 1947 at which time he transferred from the RAN Reserve to the Permanent Naval Forces in October 1947.

Lieutenant McFarlane was appointed secretary to the captain of the 10th Destroyer Flotilla (embarked initially in HMAS Bataan) in July 1947.  In April 1948 he transferred to the destroyer HMAS Warramunga serving in her until August 1949.  During this two year period McFarlane saw service in Australian, South East Asian and Japanese waters; the latter as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force.  McFarlane was promoted to lieutenant-commander (Supply) in September 1948.

Alan McFarlane following his promotion to lieutenant-commander in 1948.

In 1949-50 he served briefly at HMAS Penguin before proceeding to Darwin to become the supply officer of the naval base, HMAS Melville, from May 1950 until May 1952.  During his posting to Darwin he married Dorothy Patricia Besly on 17 April 1951 and they later had a daughter.

Returning to Sydney he was appointed the secretary to the Flag Officer-in-Charge East Australian Area (based at HMAS Kuttabul) from December 1952 until June 1956.  McFarlane was then promoted commander (Supply) in June 1954.  From June 1956 until August 1957 he served as the supply officer in the aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney during which time the ship operated in Australian and South East Asian waters.   

Commander McFarlane performed the role of secretary to the Second Naval Member, at Navy Office, during 1958-60 and upon promotion to captain in June 1960 he became the Fleet Supply Officer in the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne.  In 1961-62, Captain McFarlane discharged the duties of Director of Officers Appointments in Navy Office before becoming the Fourth Naval Member, responsible for all supply and personnel issues, of the Australian Naval Board during 1962-63.  During the period 1960-63 he was also an honorary ADC to the Governor General.

McFarlane’s next appointment was as the Australian Services Attaché in Bangkok from December 1963 until February 1966, after which he returned to Australia, taking up the appointment as captain of the Port of Sydney based at HMAS Kuttabul.

In early 1968 McFarlane became the Assistant Controller (Technical Support) at Navy Office before his appointment as the Director-General Manpower during 1969-70.  Following his promotion to commodore he became the Australian Naval Attaché in Washington during 1971-73 and was also an honorary ADC to Queen Elizabeth II. Alan McFarlane was promoted rear admiral on 2 September 1973 and upon his return to Australia he became the Chief of Naval Supply & Works (1973-74).   His final appointment in the RAN was as the Chief of Naval Personnel during 1974-76 after which he retired from the navy after 40 years of reserve and regular service.

Rear Admiral McFarlane was appointed as an Officer in the Order of Australia (AO) in January 1976 for services to the RAN.   The citation for his award noted he was ‘an officer of exceptional administrative ability with a perspective approach to all matters within his responsibilities’.  Following his retirement he took on a number of company directorships and eventually settled at Carwoola, NSW in 1988.   During the 1990’s he was an active member of the Stoney Creek Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade.


The Governor-General, His Excellency The Honourable Sir John Kerr, AC, KCMG, K St J, QC invests Rear Admiral McFarlane as an Officer in the Order of Australia at Government House, Canberra, 1976.

Rear Admiral Alan McFarlane died at Carwoola, NSW on 26 March 2012.  He was cremated and his ashes scattered at sea

Alan’s twin brother, Brian Mahoney McFarlane, entered the RAN College in 1933 attaining the rank of lieutenant. He was on loan to the Royal Navy in February 1944 when he was killed while serving in X-Craft midget submarines. Their father retired from the RAN in 1942 having attained the rank of commander.