Rear Admiral Jack Statton Mesley

Jack Statton Mesley was born in Brunswick, Victoria on 11 December 1910, the son of Arthur and Annie Mesley. His family moved to Leongatha in late January 1912 when his father took up the position as the first Headmaster of the new Leongatha Agricultural High School. Jack started his schooling at Leongatha State School, in 1916, and continued on to study at Leongatha Agricultural High School. He was a very good student and did well in all areas of the curriculum. He entered the RAN College in 1924 as 13 year old Cadet Midshipman.

His parents had hoped he would become a doctor and only let him sit the college entrance exam because they thought his puny size and previous poor health would prevent him being accepted as Cadet Midshipman. They were very surprised when he was selected as one of the 12 Cadet Midshipmen to attend the college at Jervis Bay. While at the college he excelled at sport, playing in the first XI cricket team, the first XV rugby team and also the hockey team. He was awarded his colours for rugby and hockey. He topped his class academically and on graduating in 1927 he was awarded the prize for the grand aggregate score and also came first in navigation, mathematics, English, history, physics and chemistry.

In February 1928, he traveled to England for training in HM Ships Tiger, Marlborough and Renown. While he was on board Tiger the ship carried out secret trials on the multi-barrelled pom pom guns (later known colloquially as the Chicago Piano). Marlborough served in the Mediterranean and Midshipman Mesley visited places such as Gibraltar and Barcelona, where he witnessed a bull fight. Jack Mesley also spent quite a bit of time playing rugby union in Scotland. He was promoted Sub Lieutenant in January 1931.

Due to the Depression there were a number of cuts to the RAN and some of Jack’s fellow Midshipmen were returned to Australia and retrenched. Jack Mesley was retained in the service and proceeded to the Royal Naval College, Greenwich for six months training before completing courses in gunnery, navigation, torpedo, signals and divisional duties. He received first class certificates in all his courses and a special mention for the high standard of his mathematics skills. Mesley returned to Australia in December 1931 and was promoted Lieutenant on 1 February 1932. He joined the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia in February 1932 and then in July, of that year, transferred to the sea plane carrier HMAS Albatross where he was awarded his watch keeping certificate. During 1933-34, Lieutenant Mesley served in the survey ship HMAS Morseby carrying out surveying work in the Great Barrier Reef area; mostly in the Whitsunday Passage. In 1934 he served in the destroyer HMAS Stuart (the leader of the RAN destroyer flotilla). He rejoined Australia in late 1934 and took part in the Royal Tour which involved taking the Duke of Gloucester to a number of the Britain's Pacific Island Territories and then back to England via the Panama Canal. On arrival in England, Jack Mesley went immediately to HMS Dryad to undertake the long navigation course. He then spent time in the cruiser HMS Orion, based at Gibraltar, during 1935-36 as the navigator.

Jack Mesley returned to Australia in 1936 in the SS Moloja and joined Morseby again to conduct survey work. This involved the surveying of Darwin Harbour and later Rabaul Harbour. During 1937-39 he served in the sloops HMA Ships Swan and Yarra. On 8 May 1939, he married Sydney socialite Edna Gay Curtis at St Marks Church of England at Woollahra, Sydney. In July 1939 the Mesleys sailed to England and Jack joined the navigation school at HMS Dryad. In September 1939 war broke out and in November Lieutenant Mesley joined the cruiser HMS Hawkins as the navigator for service in the South Atlantic. Hawkins visited several ports on the east coast of South America and rounded Cape Horn many times while on patrol. Mesley was promoted Lieutenant Commander in February 1940. Hawkins then went to East Africa and was involved in the bombardment of Mogadishu, in Italian Somaliland, as well as capturing several Italian merchant ships off Kismayu in April 1941.

In July 1941 he traveled to Egypt and transferred to the light cruiser HMAS Hobart. She operated in the eastern Mediterranean, bombarded Bardia and Tobruk and also transported troops to Cyprus and Beirut. Lieutenant Commander Mesley returned to Australia in November 1941 and joined the heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra in February 1942. She was sunk off Savo Island on 8/9 August 1942, during the Solomon Islands campaign. After his rescue by the US Navy he returned to Australia in the transport USS President Grant and was appointed to the staff of the Flag Officer in Command, Sydney. In July 1943 he became staff officer (operations) at Port Moresby and was also briefly naval officer in command of Port Moresby.

On 16 November 1943 he took command of the destroyer HMAS Vendetta, engaged in convoy escort duties in Australian and New Guinea waters. He served briefly at Navy Office in Melbourne from September-November 1944 before joining Australia as the squadron navigating officer in late November 1944. Australia saw intense action at the battle of Lingayen Gulf, in January 1945, in which she was struck several times by Japanese kamikaze aircraft. Mesley transferred to the heavy cruiser HMAS Shropshire in March 1945 and participated in numerous operations during the closing months of the war, including the Allied landings at Balikpapan and Brunei, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC). Shropshire was present at the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay in September 1945 and Jack Mesley was promoted to Commander on 31 December 1945. While still serving in Shropshire he took part in the victory celebrations in London in 1946.

Mesley took command of HMAS Rushcutter, a shore establishment in Sydney, in February 1947, where his duties included management of the RAN Reserve personnel in the Sydney area and recruiting. In January 1949 Commander Mesley joined the joint planning staff in Navy Office, Melbourne and then in May 1950 he was appointed as executive officer of the RAN's main training establishment, HMAS Cerberus at Westernport, Victoria. In April 1952 he took command of the destroyer HMAS Anzac and she saw active service in the Korean War during September 1952-June 1953 conducting naval gunfire support missions and aircraft carrier escort duties. In March 1953 he took on the additional responsibility of commanding the 10th Destroyer Squadron and was promoted Captain on 30 June 1953. During the royal visit to Australia by Queen Elizabeth II in 1954, Anzac was assigned as the escort ship for the royal yacht (HMY Gothic) and Captain Mesley was subsequently appointed as a Member of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO) for his services. He then served in Navy Office, in Melbourne, as Deputy Chief of Naval Staff (then still a Captain's billet) during 1955-56.

In January 1957, Jack Mesley was given command of the aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney and after 14 months of service in her came ashore to briefly command the training establishment HMAS Watson which also carried with it the command of Rushcutter as well. Mesley became chief staff officer to the Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Fleet in July 1958 and following this attended the course at the Imperial Defence College in London in 1959; in preparation for more senior staff positions. Upon return to Australia he commanded the RAN's flagship, the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne, during 1960 and then in January 1961 he took command of the Sydney shore base HMAS Penguin. After a year in command of Penguin Captain Mesley assumed command of the Naval Air Station, HMAS Albatross, in January 1962.

In the 1965 New Years Honours List he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in recognition of his long and distinguished service to the Navy. After three years in command of Albatross he then took up his final posting to Navy Office in Canberra. Jack Mesley was promoted Rear Admiral in July 1965 and held the dual position of Second Naval Member and Chief of Naval Personnel before retiring from the Navy in December 1967.

Known throughout the Navy simply as 'Mes' he had earned a reputation as a highly capable and experienced sea-going officer who possessed a brisk and cheerful disposition. He died on 24 February 1987 in Sydney, NSW and was cremated; he was survived by his wife and three sons.