Lieutenant Commander Geoffrey James Gellie

By GJ Mellon

At the outbreak of World War II (WWII), all new entry enlisted Australian naval personnel were entered through the RAN Reserve (RANR), signing an agreement for the duration of hostilities instead of the customary 12-year engagement. Officers and potential officers, meanwhile, were entered as members of the RANR (sea-going) or the RAN Volunteer Reserve (RANVR). During the war, the Royal Navy drew most of its Australian loan personnel from the ranks of the RANVR. In June 1944, out of 500 Australians serving with the Royal Navy, more than 400 of them were members of the RANVR. Up to September 1941, the RAN had also supplied the Royal Navy with 96 Reserve officers and 172 Reserve ratings with their initial anti-submarine qualifications gained at HMAS Rushcutter. In all, Rushcutter trained 20 percent of those anti-submarine personnel serving in the critical Battle of the Atlantic. When the war ended the total RAN Reserve force numbered 2863 officers and 26,956 ratings. This represented 80% of the personnel serving in the RAN.[1]

Of the 400 or so RANVR members serving with the Royal Navy in 1944, a small number had volunteered for submarine service. Of these, just three RANVR submarine officers were subsequently selected to undertake the Submarine Commanding Officers’ Qualifying Course (COCQ), also known as ‘The Perisher’. Of the three, Geoffrey Gellie was the first RANVR officer to have command of an RN submarine during WWII, when he was appointed in Command of HMS H-33, on 1 April 1944.

Geoffrey James Gellie was born on 22 September 1915 at Euroa, north eastern Victoria, the youngest of four children and the only son of James Gellie and Alice Gellie (née Higgins). A fourth generation Australian, he grew up on sheep properties around Euroa and Bendigo.[2] Later, the family moved to Geelong and in 1937 Gellie was working as a bank official at the National Bank in Malop Street, Geelong.[3]

On 26 August 1939, Gellie took up his appointment at HMAS Cerberus [4] as a Paymaster Sub Lieutenant (on probation) in the RAN Volunteer Reserve (RANVR), with seniority to date 1 July 1939. He was originally registered to the Williamstown Port Division, but this was later amended to the Port Melbourne Port Division.

On 1 April 1940 he was appointed to HMAS Penguin [5] at Sydney for the Anti-Submarine (A/S) School, completing his course on 29 June 1940, when he was judged to have “above average” ability as an A/S officer. Gellie was confirmed in the rank of Paymaster Sub Lieutenant on 1 April 1940 with seniority to date 1 July 1939. From 1 July to 5 August, he was appointed to HMAS Cerberus. On 6 August 1940, in company with five other RANVR officers from his A/S course, Gellie took passage from Melbourne to Liverpool in the Blue Funnel Line passenger steamer SS Ulysses, being appointed to the RAN London Depot from this date.[6]

Members of the Royal Australian Navy Volunteer Reserve onboard the passenger steamer SS Ulysses. Geoffrey Gellie can be seen second from the left. August 1940. (Gellie Collection)
Members of the Royal Australian Navy Volunteer Reserve onboard the passenger steamer SS Ulysses. Geoffrey Gellie can be seen second from the left. August 1940. (Gellie Collection)

On 18 October 1940, Gellie was appointed to the ASW trawler HMT Cape Portland [7], which was administered from HMS Baccante, a shore establishment in Aberdeen, Scotland. On 31 October 1940, Gellie was appointed to HMS Badger [8] at Harwich and on 12 November 1940, he was appointed to HMS Paragon, a minesweeping base at Hartlepool[9]. That same day he was appointed as First Lieutenant in the Flower Class corvette HMS Snowdrop, which at that time was scheduled to be built[10]. On 30 December 1940, Gellie was appointed to the London Depot, for HMS Orlando [11], a shore establishment and gunnery training school at Greenock, Scotland, from 1 January until 22 June 1941, by which time Snowdrop's keel had been laid. On 15 March 1941, Gellie was promoted to Lieutenant, RANVR, remaining in Snowdrop, which was still building, until 22 June 1941.

On 23 June 1941 he was appointed to HMS Elfin [12] (shore base for the 6th Submarine Flotilla at Blythe, Northumberland) for his submarine course and remained there under training until 17 August 1941[13]. Thereafter, Gellie was appointed to HMS Medway [14] (S/M depot ship supporting the 1st Submarine Flotilla at Alexandria). He was flown to Gibraltar in an Australian-manned Sunderland flying boat, having been appointed as a waist blister machine gunner for the flight.[15] There, he joined HMS Thorn (Lieutenant RG Norfolk RN) undertaking his first war patrol in her, which was actually the final leg of Thorn's delivery voyage to Malta, arriving there on 10 October 1941. En route, a torpedo attack was made on an Italian merchant ship, but all torpedoes missed their intended targets.[16] Leaving Malta on 13 October 1941, Thorn made a war patrol in the Ionian Sea before joining a patrol line with HMS Truant and HMS Trusty to intercept a convoy, but without any contacts. Thorn returned to Alexandria on 27 October 1941.

HMS Thorn was a T Class submarine, a diesel electric variant designed in the 1930s to replace the O, P, and R classes.
HMS Thorn was a T Class submarine, a diesel electric variant designed in the 1930s to replace the O, P, and R classes.

On 10 November 1941, Thorn departed Alexandria for her second war patrol in the Aegean Sea. On 13 November 1941, Thorn had a very lucky escape when she accidentally fired a torpedo from No.2 tube, with the bow cap closed. The bow cap was fractured, and the torpedo went on its way and was later heard to explode. On the night of 14 November, Thorn conducted the first of two special operations on this patrol, when she landed personnel and stores on Despotiko Island.[17] On 16 November, Thorn made a torpedo attack in error, on a Turkish relief ship, which had been granted safe passage. Luckily for both vessels, the submarine yawed badly as the weapon was fired and it missed. On the night of 23 November, in her second special operation, Thorn returned to Despotiko and took onboard 21 British and Australian soldiers, who were withdrawing from the fall of Crete. On 24 November, just before sunset, Thorn made a surface gun attack on a power station in Voudia Bay, expending 25 rounds of 3-inch ammunition, for 17 claimed hits. On 27 November 1941, Thorn completed this war patrol when she arrived back at Alexandria.[18]

After the end of Thorn’s second war patrol, Gellie was posted off HMS Thorn [19] and into HMS Truant. Having survived 19 war patrols in the North Sea and the Mediterranean, Truant had been sent to refit at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Portsmouth New Hampshire, USA. After her refit, Truant had returned to the Mediterranean, and had conducted two more war patrols there, before Gellie joined her on New Year’s Day, 1942. Truant (Lieutenant Commander HAV Haggard DSC RN) was under orders to proceed to the Far East. After a brief docking at Port Said, on 11 January 1942, Truant departed Egypt through the Suez Canal, thence down the Red Sea to Aden, across to Colombo, Ceylon, down the south (Indian Ocean) coast of Sumatra, up through the Sunda Strait, and thence to Batavia (now Jakarta), Java, arriving there on 8 February 1942.[20] At this time, there were only two British submarines in the Far East - HMS Truant and HMS Trusty. [21]

From Batavia, Truant was sent on to Surabaya, where she came under the command of the Dutch Admiral Conrad Helfrich, who was by then the head of the ABDA[22] [23] (American, British, Dutch, Australian) Command. Gellie remained in Truant until 30 June 1942, during which time the submarine conducted six war patrols in the Far East. On 18 February 1942, Truant departed Surabaya for her 22nd war patrol, off Bali, in the Lombok Strait. On 24 February, Truant fired six torpedoes against the IJN Cruiser Nagara, but all missed, before returning to Surabaya on 27 February 1942. Thereafter she was ordered to return to Colombo and, after embarking her spare gear and several of the submarine spare crew, she sailed from Surabaya and arrived at Colombo on 8 March 1942.[24]

On 23 March 1942 now under the command of Lieutenant Commander EF Balston DSO RN, who gave Lieutenant Commander Haggard a ‘stand-off’ for this one patrol[25], Truant departed Colombo for her 23rd war patrol, this time in the Malacca Straits. On 1 April 1942, Truant torpedoed and sank two Japanese merchant ships, after which they surfaced and attempted to ‘gun’ the third ship in the convoy, but she outran them and escaped. Thereafter,Truant returned to Colombo on 12 April 1942[26] and was dry-docked.

On 19 May 1942, she departed on her 24th war patrol, again in the Malacca Straits with Lieutenant Commander Haggard DSO DSC RN, back in command. On the night of 27-28 May, Truant stalked a four-ship convoy, with escorts, successfully penetrating the escort screen and seeking out the largest ship, a 16,000-tonner. Lieutenant Commander Haggard was greatly disappointed when he closed the range enough to realised that his target was a hospital ship, properly marked and lit, and he had to let her go by.[27] Truant then fired three torpedoes, and later a fourth, at the other legitimate targets in the enemy convoy, but all of her torpedoes missed. On 6 June 1942, Truant arrived back at Colombo.[28]

On 26 June 1942, Truant departed Colombo on her 25th war patrol, again in the Malacca Straits. On 3 July, she fired two torpedoes at a Japanese Army cargo ship, but they missed. Truant then surfaced and engaged the ship with her deck gun, damaging but not sinking her. On 5 July Truant fired three torpedoes at a small merchant vessel off One Fathom Bank (well down into the Malacca Strait) but all missed. After this attack Truant was hunted and depth charged by the escorts. Truant sat on the bottom in 500 feet of water (she was designed for 350ft maximum operating depth) for a number of hours, until the enemy departed the scene.[29] Truant returned to Colombo on 15 July 1942, having suffered some serious engine defects which delayed her passage back to base.

Thereafter, Truant was to be sent home to the UK for refit, but first she had to enter dry dock again at Colombo, to rectify some urgent defects before she could make the passage home. On 1 September 1942, Truant departed Colombo on passage for Kilindini, Kenya (then a major RN base in East Africa), with a refuelling stop at Port Victoria, in the Seychelles. From Kilindini, Truant sailed to Diego Suarez, Madagascar, thence to East London, Port Elizabeth, and Simonstown, in South Africa, arriving there on 18 October.

On 21 October 1942 Truant departed Simonstown for Freetown, Liberia, and while en route was directed to patrol off Novo Redondo in Portuguese East Africa (now Sumbe, Angola) to search for a re-supply U-boat (Type XIV, aka Milch Cow) reported to be in that area, but nothing was seen. On 31 October 1942, Truant made a surfaced rendezvous with the Dutch submarine HrKMs K XIV (Lieutenant Commander JH Geijs RNN) and both boats proceeded to Freetown together, arriving there on 8 November 1942. From there, Truant arrived back at Holy Loch, Scotland on 29 November 1942 and commenced her refit at Troon, Scotland, on 5 December 1942.

Gellie was sent on leave, and in January 1943, he met his wife-to-be in Cornwall. On 24 July 1943, it was reported in the Melbourne Argus newspaper that Lieutenant Geoffrey James Gellie RANVR was married on that date at St Paul’s, Knightsbridge, London, the only son of Mr James Gellie and Mrs Gellie, of Geelong, Victoria, to Patricia Holman, V.A.D[30], youngest daughter of Mr and Mrs J Leonard Holman[31], of Rosewarne, Camborne, Cornwall.

Throughout 1943, Gellie served as the First Lieutenant in a number of submarines in home waters. Administratively, he was posted in HMS Forth [32] and later HMS Cyclops [33] (both of which were submarine depot ships). On 14 January 1943, Gellie was appointed to HM Submarine H-33 [34] and on 26 February 1943, he was appointed to HMS Cyclops. On 11 June 1943, he was appointed to HMS Otus and on 18 July 1943, he was again appointed to HMS Cyclops. Other short-term postings probably occurred but, as was customary, they have not been recorded outside the depot ship. Thus, was the life of a spare crew officer.

Gellie served in numerous Royal Navy ships and submarines, including three stints serving in the submarine repair and depot ship HMS Cyclops.
Gellie served in numerous Royal Navy ships and submarines, including three stints serving in the submarine repair and depot ship HMS Cyclops.

On 11 August 1943, he was appointed to HMS Tribune, during which time she was a training boat for new submariners on the Clyde.[35] On 1 November 1943, he was appointed once again to HMS Truant (also a training boat on the Clyde by then) and on 10 November 1943, he was appointed to HMS Thrasher.[36] On 6 December 1943, Gellie was awarded his Full Watchkeepers Certificate in HMS Thrasher and on 22 December 1943, his status as a ‘Qualified (submarine) Officer’ was granted. Throughout this period, Thrasher was conducting training exercises at and off Scapa Flow.

On 13 February 1944, Gellie was appointed to HMS Cyclops for the submarine Commanding Officers’ Qualifying Course (Perisher). On 1 April 1944, Gellie was appointed in command of HM Submarine H-33,[37] however this command was short-lived. From 17 to 19 May 1944, H-33 was docked at Rothesay for the removal of her battery and propellers, thereafter she was decommissioned and taken in hand by the shipbreaker, to be broken for scrap.

Notwithstanding the brevity of this appointment, Gellie was the first RANVR officer to be given an effective appointment in Command of a Royal Navy submarine.[38]

On 16 May 1944, Gellie was appointed in Command of HMS Varangian.[39] He took up this appointment on 24 May 1944, at Lough Foyle, Northern Ireland, and remained in Command of Varangian as she operated as an ASW training submarine off Scotland and Northern Ireland, until he was relieved in Command on 16 August 1944. Gellie recalled that every time they came back from Northern Ireland to Scotland, they would carry a large quantity of fresh eggs, which were procured from the Irish Republic by the British submarine liaison officer in Londonderry. This trip was known as “the egg run”, and the eggs were very greatly appreciated and well received by their colleagues in their depot ship and the attached submarine flotilla in Scotland, where wartime rationing imposed strict controls on such things.[40]

On 17 August 1944, Gellie was appointed to HMS Maidstone [41] (S/M depot ship, then at Trincomalee, Ceylon). Although how he made the trip out there is not known, he probably travelled by air, as his RANVR submarine captain contemporaries did. In September 1944, HMS Maidstone and the 8th Submarine Flotilla were moved down to Fremantle, Western Australia.[42] Administratively, on 26 October 1944, Gellie was appointed to HMAS Lonsdale [43] (additional) and then reappointed to HMS Maidstone “for service in the RN”. On 16 August 1945, Gellie was granted the acting rank of Lieutenant Commander RANVR, while holding the appointment to HMS Maidstone (additional) as a spare crew submarine CO.

Gellie’s service record indicated that he initially requested to be demobbed in the UK, but this was subsequently changed, as his depot ship and flotilla were based at Fremantle in Western Australia at the end of the war. In late 1945, HMS Maidstone left Australia for the UK, via Simonstown, South Africa. He was again administratively appointed to ‘HM Submarines’ effective 1 October 1945 and was then sent back to the RAN on 17 December 1945. Gellie was appointed to HMAS Lonsdale on 8 February 1946 and was demobbed from there on 28 March 1946, when he was granted the war service rank of Lieutenant Commander.[44]

After the war, Gellie returned to England, where he was reunited with his family and took employment with Holman Brothers Ltd, the mining and rock drilling equipment company founded in 1801 by Nicholas Holman, and of which his father-in-law was a joint owner.[45] On 30 June 1949, Gellie was promoted Lieutenant Commander RANVR. In 1950, Gellie and his family took passage to Durban, South Africa, in the Union Castle Line vessel SS Durban Castle where he took up the position of Managing Director of Holman Bros. South Africa, based in Johannesburg.[46] On 31 March 1958, Gellie was transferred to the Retired List.[47]

In 1967, Gellie retired from the company and the family returned to London, where he worked for the Royal Naval Officers Association, before deciding to return to Australia in 1969.[48] Among his many lifelong friendships he could count Vice Admiral Sir Hugh (Rufus) Mackenzie KCB, DSO*, DSC, RN[49]; Vice Admiral Sir Ian McIntosh KBE, CB, DSO, DSC, RN[50]; Rear Admiral Sir Tony Miers VC, KBE, CB, DSO*, RN[51]; Commander William King DSO*, DSC, RN[52]; and Commander Hugh Haggard DSO, DSC, RN[53], all of whom were highly accomplished wartime submarine commanders.

After settling back in Melbourne, Gellie became an advisor to De Beers and the Anglo American Corporation in Australia, having a key role as public relations adviser to De Beers when Australia’s first diamond mine, the Argyle mine, was being developed. He was also the General Manager of the Australian arm of Swedish company Axel Johnson Corporation (Australia) AB, in which capacity he travelled extensively in Australia, the Far East and Europe.[54] Gellie and his wife Patricia had a lifelong passion for travel which they indulged at all opportunities. Gellie retired from business in 1984 but continued to live an extraordinarily active life dominated by family, golf, gardening and travel.

He outlived his much beloved wife Patricia, who died suddenly in 1996.[55] Geoffrey James Gellie died in Melbourne on 30 September 2002 aged 87 years, and his ashes were scattered at a number of locations, including over the grave of his father, James Gellie, at Warrnambool Cemetery.[56] He was survived by his three children, Richard, Veryan and Nicholas.

Geoffrey Gellie was remembered in his obituary by Captain Barry Nobes RAN (Ret’d)[57], at that time the President of the Submarines Association of Australia (SAA), as:

One of a small band of very special Australian submariners, and by friends as the epitome of elegance and fine, old-fashioned manners, and as a distinguished submariner with a wonderful war record, one of the kindest men you could meet. He will be sadly missed.[58]


This biography was compiled with the kind assistance of Mr Richard H Gellie, the eldest son of Lieutenant Commander Gellie.



  1. Taken from
  2. In 1996, Gellie gave a talk about his naval career at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club (RMGC), where he was introduced by Sir John Holland. A copy of the recording of this talk was provided to the author by Mr Richard H Gellie, his eldest son. Some of the details herein were taken from this recording. On Thursday 22 October 2002, the Herald Sun newspaper published an obituary for Geoffrey James Gellie, with details of his naval career and later life. The obituary, dated 5 October 2002, was authored by Richard H Gellie (son) and Mary Clark (former business colleague of Lieutenant Commander Gellie). A copy of the obituary was also provided to the author by Richard Gellie.
  3. Electoral Roll - 1937 Commonwealth - Corio, State - Geelong, Sub Division of, Page 61, Entry 3582 - Gellie, Geoffrey James, National Bank, Malop at., bank official, M (Bank Buildings at Malop St Geelong).
  5. National Archives of Australia (NAA): Series No. A6769, Barcode 5216724. Online Copy Available. Gellie G J - Service Record.
  7. Service Record and SS Ulysses made the following port stops - Liverpool, Madeira, Cape Town, Durban (only Nestor and Ulysses on outward voyages), Fremantle, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane.
    See also
    See also and
  16. From the book “Through Hell and High Water - With the Men of the Little Ships of the Royal Navy” by John Drummond (Sampson Low, and Marston & Co Ltd, London, 1944), in the chapter entitled “The Trade”, wherein Gellie is accorded a five page description of his war experiences to that date, including his flight to the Mediterranean.
  17. See and Gellie’s talk at RMGC.
  18. See, between 1945 hours (14th) to 0115 hours (15th) HMS Thorn landed Captain ‘Harry’ Grammatikakis, Lieutenant JGP Atkinson and Sergeants JA Redpath and AB Empson with three tons of stores. This was an operation for MI9 (the British Military Intelligence organisation tasked with the recovery of escaped prisoners of war and/or men who had evaded capture), to arrange a pickup of escapees.
  19. See and Gellie’s talk at RMGC. Captain Grammatikakis and Sergeant Redpath remained behind to organise another group of escapees/evaders.
  20. HMS Thorn (Lieutenant Commander Robert Galliano Norfolk, DSO, RN) was presumed lost on 6 August 1942, during her eighth war patrol, she was most likely sunk while attacking an Axis convoy about 30 nautical miles south-west of Gavdos Island. At 1255 hours one of the escorting Ju-88 aircraft was seen to machine-gun the surface of the sea about 5000 yards ahead of the convoy and the Italian torpedo boat Pegaso moved in to investigate. Four minutes after the aircraft attack, Pegaso picked up a contact and carried out seven depth charge attacks. At 1345 hours an enormous air bubble was seen, followed by a large oil slick. Pegaso was escorting the transport ship Istria (5441 GRT, built 1921) on passage from Benghazi to Piraeus. HMS Thorn was declared overdue on 11 August 1942, when she did not arrive back at Beirut.
  22. Gellie’s talk at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, 1996.
  24. Administratively, per his service record, Gellie was appointed to HMS Lanka (a shore establishment at Colombo, Ceylon), from 18 August 1941 until 31 March 1942, and then from 1 April to until 30 June 1942, he was appointed to HMS Truant. In practice, this period was one continuous posting in Truant. See also
  25. See also
  26. From the book “Through Hell and High Water - With the Men of the Little Ships of the Royal Navy” by John Drummond.
  27. Ibid. Also see
  28. From the book “Through Hell and High Water - With the Men of the Little Ships of the Royal Navy” by John Drummond.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Gellie’s talk at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, 1996.
  31. V.A.D. - The Voluntary Aid Detachment was a voluntary unit of civilians providing nursing care for military personnel in the United Kingdom and various other countries in the British Empire. The most important periods of operation for these units were during World War I and World War II.
  32. See and
  35. The name of the submarine is misspelled on his service record. See also
  38. Noted on his service record.
  39. Note that Gellie’s surname has been misspelled as “Glennie” in the record for HMS Varangian. This error has been reported to the webmaster by this author, but as of 10 February 2021, it had not been corrected.
  40. Gellie’s talk at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, 1996.
  42. In September 1944, HMS Maidstone and the 8th Submarine Flotilla were transferred from Ceylon to Fremantle, see
  44. Some of the specifics of Gellie’s return to Australia are unclear on his service record, having been written in pencil, which has faded with time.
  45. See See entry for Holman Bros Ltd, a mining equipment manufacturer founded in 1801 based in Camborne, Cornwall, UK. The Directors of the company were James Miners Holman (Managing Director), and J Leonard Holman (Gellie’s father-in-law).
    See also:
  46. See service record annotations for South African addresses. See also the UK and Ireland Outbound Passenger Rolls, 20 April 1950, for the Union Castle Line ship Durban Castle.
  47. Service Record.
  48. Obituary.
  54. Gellie’s obituary, copy provided to the author by the Gellie family.
  55. Ibid.
  56. Memorial ID: 140462492.
    See also
  58. Gellie’s obituary, copy provided to the author by the Gellie family.