Rear Admiral George Carmichael Oldham

Rear Admiral Oldham

George Carmichael Oldham was born on 4 September 1906 in Glenelg, South Australia. He attended Pulteney Anglican Grammar School in Adelaide before entering the Royal Australian Naval College (RANC) in 1920. There he gained his colours for cricket and on graduating was appointed a Midshipman in 1924.

Following consolidation training in HMA Ships Brisbane, Adelaide and HMS Ramillies, Oldham was promoted to Sub Lieutenant in May 1927 and Lieutenant in July 1929. He qualified as a naval observer in 1930 and in meteorology two years later. Postings to the Royal Navy aircraft carriers HMS Glorious and Eagle followed before completing the Royal Navy Staff Course in 1937 by which time he had attained the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

At the outbreak of World War II Lieutenant Commander Oldham was serving on the Naval Staff at Navy Office in Melbourne, Victoria, as Staff Officer Operations and intelligence. In May 1940 he was appointed Squadron Observer to the Rear Admiral Commanding HMA Australian Squadron, serving variously in HMA Ships Perth, Hobart, Canberra and Australia. While serving in Australia he was mentioned in dispatches for bravery after the cruiser was attacked by enemy aircraft.

On promotion to Commander in June 1942 Oldham was appointed in command of HMAS Swan. During his time in command of Swan the sloop was engaged in convoy escort work between mainland Australia and New Guinea, coming under attack on several occasions. A posting as Commander (D), based in Cairns, followed before he returned to sea as the Commander (Executive Officer) in the heavy cruiser HMAS Shropshire. Service in Shropshire saw him again mentioned in dispatches for ‘gallantry, fortitude and resolution’ in the successful assault operations in the Lingayen Gulf, Luzon Island. He was also decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross for ‘skill, determination and courage’ during the Leyte Gulf operations in the hard-fought campaign to secure the Philippines.

In May 1945 Commander Oldham was appointed to the Department of Defence as the Joint Secretary - Australian Chiefs of Staff Committee before returning to sea in December 1946 in command of the destroyer HMAS Warramunga. He remained in Warramunga until May 1948 at which time he took up the appointment as the Director of Naval Intelligence following his promotion to Captain. During this time he was also appointed honorary Aide-de-camp to His Excellency the Governor-General of Australia for a period of three years.

On 26 October 1949 Captain Oldham assumed command of the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia (II) which at that time was employed mainly on the Australia station. A posting as the Captain Superintendant of Sydney followed before he assumed command of the light fleet aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney (III) on 12 September 1953.

On 27 October 1953 Sydney departed Fremantle for her second tour of duty in Korean waters. The July 1953 ceasefire meant that the deployment should have been a comparatively uneventful affair. However, the deaths of two pilots (one from 805 Squadron, the other from 850 Squadron) and the serious injury of an aircraft handler would mar the deployment.

October 1955 saw Captain Oldham promoted Acting Commodore 2nd class and appointed as the RAN Liaison Officer in London, UK, a position he held until January 1957. Attendance at the Imperial Defence College followed before he returned to Australia the following year, taking up the appointment of Fourth Naval Member. He was also made an Aide-de-camp to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at that time. In July 1958 he reverted to the rank of Captain as was given command of the RAN shore establishment HMAS Watson, a position he held until February 1960. During his command he was instrumental in initiating the construction of the HMAS Watson memorial naval chapel.

In June 1960 Captain Oldham was promoted Acting Rear Admiral and appointed Flag Officer-in-Charge Eastern Australia. On completion of that appointment in 1962 he retired from the RAN in the rank of Rear Admiral and was created a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).

On retirement Rear Admiral Oldham became Chairman of the Industrial Mobilisation Course making many contacts and friends in the business community. His value in business was quickly recognised by appointments to the Boards of Pacific Sea World Pty Ltd, Wormalds International, the Australian Mutual Fire Insurance Society Ltd, the North Shore Gas Company and the Australian Gas Light Company. For two years he planned the Captain Cook Bicentenary celebrations in Sydney, resulting in a most successful occasion.

Rear Admiral Oldham died suddenly in Sydney on 28 September 1974. He is remembered as an outstanding leader of men and as an optimist with strong beliefs who inspired confidence in others. His diplomacy and personality were distinct assets in his numerous meetings with foreign dignitaries during overseas visits which gained great credit for Australia.