Flight Lieutenant John Grey Gorton

Service number 400793
Birth Date 1911-09-09
Birth Place Australia: Victoria, Melbourne
Death Date 2002-05-19
Death Place Australia: New South Wales, Sydney
Final Rank Flight Lieutenant
  • Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Vietnam, 1962-1975
Gazettes Biographical information The Oxford companion to Australian military history in 1995

A fighter-pilot who became Prime Minister. Gorton had a distinguished war record; his craggy looks were partly the result of a crash when his aircraft was shot down in 1942.

John Gorton was 29, married, and had completed an MA at Oxford when he joined the RAAF in late 1940. He trained as a pilot and served in Britain before being posted to Singapore with No. 232 Squadron RAF. On 21 January 1942, flying a Hawker Hurricane which had only been unloaded a week earlier, he was shot down by a Japanese fighter. He crash-landed and was thrown heavily into his instrument panel, causing severe facial injuries.

Just two days before the surrender of Singapore Gorton was evacuated on the transport Derrymore, but his problems were far from over; the ship was torpedoed and he only survived after being rescued by the corvette HMAS Ballarat. Later that year, once healed, he was posted to No. 77 Squadron RAAF, flying Kittyhawks. On 7 September, operating out of Darwin, he had to make a forced landing. It was days before he and the aircraft were recovered.

Gorton took part in No. 77 Squadron’s operations against the Japanese out of Milne Bay. There he was involved in a serious accident when his aircraft crashed during take-off. In March 1944 he returned to Australia to become a flying instructor. He was discharged in December 1944.

Entering politics after the war, Gorton was elected as a Liberal Party senator in 1949 and became a minister in 1958. When Prime Minister Holt drowned in 1967 Gorton was selected to take his place. He was a controversial and progressive leader: “A knockabout bloke with the larrikin streak, his scarred features and crumpled suits, his candid approach and laconic air, jaunty grin, tousled hair and ever-present cigarette.”

For the Prime Minister, it was a politically tumultuous time, not the least because of growing opposition to the Vietnam War. But his strongest critics seemed to have been in his own party. He was replaced as leader in 1971 after casting the deciding vote against himself. In 1975 he quit politics. It was only in retirement during his later years that he was recognised as a party elder.


Date of birth 09 September 1911
Date of death 09 September 1911
Other 1935 Married Bettina Brown (died 1983).
Date and unit at enlistment (ORs) 08 November 1940 Enlisted in the RAAF, and served in the United Kingdom, Singapore, Darwin and Milne Bay.
Other units 1942 232 Squadron RAF
Other units 1943-1944 77 Squadron RAAF
Date of discharge 05 December 1944 Discharged with rank of Flight Lieutenant.
Other 10 January 1968 Start of Prime Ministerial term.
Other 10 March 1971 End of Prime Ministerial term.
Date of honour or award 12 June 1971 The Order of the Companion of Honour.
Date of honour or award 11 June 1977 Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George.
Date of honour or award 13 June 1988 Companion of the Order of Australia.
Other 1993 Married Nancy Home.