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Gledhill, Jeffrey Allan (1921–2011)

by Malcolm Brown

The German battleship Bismarck proved such a menace to Allied shipping in World War II that Winston Churchill had to virtually put everything else on hold to sink it. This might have been the end for the 19-year-old New Zealander Jeffrey Gledhill, whose ship, the Tamaroa, almost blundered into the battle between the Bismarck and HMS Hood.

Hood was blown up. Tamaroa was undetected and Gledhill went on to serve throughout the war as a naval pilot. He also led a flight of Barracudas in an attack on the Bismarck's sister ship, Tirpitz. His flight landed two bombs on Tirpitz, not sinking it but doing it no good and the battleship survived a few more months.

Gledhill saw service on the aircraft carriers HMS Furious and HMS Victorious, in the North Atlantic and Antarctic, and in Norwegian waters. It was in his blood, because after a brief spell at the end of the war he joined the Royal Australian Navy, served in the Korean War, and remained with the RAN for the rest of his working life.

Jeffrey Allan Gledhill was born in Wellington, New Zealand, on Armistice Day, 1921, the son of an engineer, William Gledhill, and Daisy (nee McQuade). Schooled at Wellington College, he signed up for the Fleet Air Arm in November, 1940. On loan to the Royal Navy, he sailed on the Tamaroa in 1941. He did his naval and flying training in Britain. He was posted to 827 Squadron RN and, on leave at Lee-on-Solent in southern England, met English-born Margaret Armstrong, who was serving with the Women's Royal Naval Service.

Gledhill continued flying from HMS Furious in January 1944, damaging a number of German ships with bombs off Norway. He survived heavy flak defences. He transferred to the HMS Victorious and on April 3, 1944, led the attack on the Tirpitz, in Kaafjord, off Altenfjord at the northern tip of Norway.

After two years on the front line, Gledhill was appointed a deck-landing instructor and promoted to lieutenant. He married Margaret in July 1944. George VI awarded him the DSC. In 1946, Gledhill returned to New Zealand with his bride. He worked for a period in an architect's office and for recreation went sailing. But the lure of the services was too great and in 1947 he moved with Margaret to Australia to join the newly founded RAN Fleet Air Arm.

Gledhill trained in Australia then returned to Britain for more training. He served in 817 Squadron RN, flying Fireflies, and in 1950 returned to Australia on HMAS Sydney. A year later, Sydney and the Carrier Air Group were deployed to the Korean War.

In 1952, Gledhill was promoted to lieutenant-commander and posted to the naval air base at Nowra. He was sent again to Britain, in 1954, this time to fly in a Gannet squadron in Ireland. The following year he returned to Australia in the newly commissioned carrier HMAS Melbourne, participated in SEATO exercises in south-east Asia, and in 1956, promoted to commander, headed air operations at Nowra.

In 1958, Gledhill was assigned to Australia House in London. In 1960, he went to the RN Staff College at Greenwich, then returned to Canberra as director of air warfare, organisation and training. He took a stand against moves within the Defence Department to scrap naval fixed-wing squadrons but helped in the introduction of new helicopters and re-equiping of the Fleet Air Arm. In 1964, Gledhill was promoted to captain and became the naval officer-in-charge, Northern Australia. This was followed by assignments to the Defence Planning Group, Canberra, the shore installation, HMAS Penguin, at Balmoral, and as aid-de-camp to the Governor-General Lord Casey.

In 1968, Gledhill was appointed to the high commission in Wellington as Australian defence representative and in 1972 returned to Canberra for his final appointment, director of naval intelligence. He retired in 1975 but that was not the end of his sailing career. He was a commodore in the RAN Sailing Association and was made a life vice-commodore of the Sydney RAN Sailing Association. His last racing was done at Pittwater, near Mona Vale, where he had his last home. He was still racing at 88. Jeffrey Gledhill is survived by Margaret and daughters Diana and Rosali.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 December 2011

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Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Gledhill, Jeffrey Allan (1921–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/gledhill-jeffrey-allan-16735/text28631, accessed 22 November 2017.

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