Petty Officer Alfred ‘Gordon’ Johnson

POTEL A.G. Johnson

Alfred ‘Gordon’ Johnson left high school at 16 years of age to join the Royal Australian Navy’s communications branch, beginning his training as a telegraphist in 1940 at the School of Signals at HMAS Cerberus, Victoria.

As a young man with an enquiring mind Gordon had already grasped Morse code and the fundamentals of wireless communications through reading and study prior to enlisting and it came as no surprise that he progressed swiftly through his communications training graduating early having attaining high marks.

Gordon’s first sea posting was to the modified Leander Class cruiser HMAS Hobart (I) in which he saw service in the Mediterranean as part of the Royal Navy’s 7th Cruiser Squadron.

At that time, control of the sea was being hotly contested in an ongoing arm wrestle between the Allied and Axis forces and Hobart soon found herself involved in operations off Cyprus, Malta and Syria as well as participating in a number sweeps with the Royal Navy 1st Battle Squadron in company with HM Ships Queen Elizabeth, Barham and Valiant.

Throughout her deployment Hobart was subjected to frequent air attacks both at sea and in Alexandria, however, her luck held and she suffered no major damage.

In early 1942 Hobart was involved in operations in the Singapore and Netherlands East Indies area during the initial Japanese advance. As Singapore fell, Hobart was fortunate to escape to fight another day, later taking part in the Battle of the Coral Sea and Guadalcanal actions with units of the US Navy.

It was during these hard fought campaigns that Gordon filmed and photographed life at sea using personal camera equipment to capture and preserve an enduring visual record of the RAN’s contribution. In later years he generously shared this with the Navy’s Sea Power Centre – Australia where it now forms part of the RAN’s historic reference collection.

After serving two years in Hobart the by then seasoned 19 year old Gordon saw further service in HMA Ships Moresby and Townsville, first on patrol and escort duties off Papua New Guinea and later sweeping for mines in Rabaul Harbour and elsewhere in the New Britain area.

Following the cessation of hostilities Gordon remained in the Navy serving at HMAS Cerberus and in the aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney (III) from 1948 to 1949 at which time he was granted a discharge.

His post Navy career included time with the Civil Aviation Aeradio Service at Cocos Island, the Philips telecommunications company in Adelaide and the Commonwealth Public Service in Canberra. He retired from full time work in 1983 having attained a position as a First Assistant Secretary.

Gordon’s love of the Navy stayed with him throughout his life and he was a familiar face both at the Sea Power Centre – Australia and the Australian Command and Staff College where, for a number of years, he was a guest lecturer.

As an octogenarian Gordon became a driving force in highlighting the importance of the Battle of the Coral Sea and he was instrumental in having a memorial erected in the Canberra suburb of Crace telling the story of the battle and of Australia’s involvement. It was officially dedicated on the 70th anniversary of the action with Gordon and several other naval veterans in attendance.

Gordon was also an active member of the Australian American Association in Canberra and was routinely called upon to talk about his experiences at commemorative functions. This involvement led to him joining a small number of Coral Sea veterans in early 2017 who were invited to take part in 75th anniversary commemorations held onboard the museum ship USS Intrepid berthed in New York Harbor. This proved to be a memorable experience for Gordon who proved popular with his hosts and the US media.

Gordon Johnson will be remembered fondly by his many friends in both the serving and retired naval community.

Left: Mr Gordon Johnson, circa 2016. Right: RAN and USN Veterans of the Battle of the Coral Sea with Malcolm Turnbull MP, Prime Minister of Australia, on USS Intrepid, New York. Rear row (L-R): John Hancock, Roger Spooner, Derek Holyoake, Malcom Turnbull, Andrew Robertson, Bill White. Front row (L-R): Gordon Johnson, Norm Tame, Wendell E Thrasher.