Australian World War II VC Recipient Immortalized in Museum

PHOTO: Warrant Officer James Gordon (left) in New Guinea during WWII. (Supplied: Australian War Memorial )
PHOTO: Warrant Officer James Gordon (left) in New Guinea during WWII. (Supplied: Australian War Memorial )

Warrant Officer James Gordon, a humble farmer who spent more than 25 years in the Australian armed forces, has been immortalized in the Australian War Museum (AWM) in Canberra.

His medals, including his Victoria Cross (VC), were donated to the museum for permanent display. He was awarded the VC as a private for his courage when he single-handedly “demoralized the enemy” while under machine gun fire in Lebanon in 1941.

He was a 33-year-old farmer before he enlisted in the Second Australian Imperial Force the day after Anzac Day in 1940. In World War II, Private Gordon fought in the 2/31st Australian Infantry Battalion in Syria and Lebanon against the Vichy French.

In Lebanon, two platoons, including Gordon’s, were pinned down by enemy machine gun and grenade fire. Gordon crept forward to a machine gun nest and attacked the enemy within, using his rifle and bayonet. His action allowed the platoon to advance and continue for the next 36 hours. The next year, Gordon performed a similar action against the Japanese in Lae, New Guinea.

After the war, Gordon returned to Western Australia for two years before returning to the Army as a regular in 1947. After his retirement in 1968, he continued to work at Campbell Barracks in WA.

Gordon’s VC was one of two awarded to Australians during the Syrian campaign. His son gave the medals to the museum for safe-keeping in their Hall of Valour. “I think it’s important that they are not stuck away in a dusty safe vault,” he said. “This is a magnificent facility, so I think it’s important that they are here.”

Lindsay said that his father was a quiet, humble man who rarely discussed his wartime feats. “All I found out about Dad’s medals and his war career were from books,” he said. “It wasn’t a fact that he wasn’t proud of his medals, it was just something he did not talk about. He would only wear them on Anzac Day.”

Lindsay traveled with his family from WA for the ceremony. He said that it was startling to read about his father’s achievements.

Brendan Nelson, the AWM director, said that Gordon “wore humility much more comfortably than his medals”.

“He was awarded this Victoria Cross for what he did at Jezzine and there was some speculation Australia would award it again [to him] at Lae,” he said. “But he was actually relieved that it wasn’t because he said ‘imagine what my cobbers would have said about me if I had’. He is a man who gave more than a quarter of a century of his life to the service of our country in the Australian Army and under acts of heroism and valor he inspired his generation and ours.”

Warrant Office Gordon died in 1986 at a hospital in Perth.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE