Friday, April 24, 2009

In Memoriam - 12 March 1945 - Lieut Robert Maclagan GORRIE, SX210, 2/14th Field Regiment, 2nd A.I.F.

"KALAI. 12 March 1945: Infantry during the day changed around a little. The hard worn 'C' Coy was withdrawn and 'B' Coy moved through 'D' Coy on Perry's Knoll, and commenced patrol east. The end of the day found them a few hundred yards east of 'D' Coy. They had a hard day without very much opposition, and at no stage were quite sure where they were.
"The weather closed down in the afternoon and visibility was restricted to a few yards. The rain was torrential and persisted from early afternoon until late evening.
"During the morning an Air Strike was carried out by RAAF Beauforts on the suspected mortar position. The target was indicated by smoke shells from our guns. In spite of this strike at 1100h the mortar continued to engage 'D' Coy position. During this mortaring Lt GORRIE was killed by a splinter. He had almost reached Lt SLATER's O.P. as relief when this unfortunate incident occurred. Lt GORRIE was an original member of this unit and his death has been keenly felt by both officers and men."
[Unit War Diary, 2/14th Field Regiment, 8th Division, 2nd A.I.F., Research Section of the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.]

The location was the Waitavolo Plateau, New Britain, on the north side of Wide Bay, and just across the Wulwut River, north of the Kalai Plantation, where the 2/14th guns were emplaced.

Bob GORRIE's body was brought down by Bombardier FREEMAN and a party of men from 'D' Coy of the 19th Infantry Battalion, and buried by a detachment of the 14/32nd Infantry Battalion, between the Mevelo and Wulwut Rivers, at 1630h the same day (Waitavolo - Grid Ref 1:25000, 611519).

His sister, Betty PIGOTT, still in Adelaide, was to receive her third major piece of personal bad news of the war, in a letter written by Bob's widow, Judy GORRIE formerly THOMPSON (Betty's close friend from their days at the Invergowrie Homecrafts Hostel in Hawthorn):
"What can I say - we are both feeling too much at present to think straight... I had been feeling worried about Bob as I've heard nothing from him for 10 days, the last letter being written on 25th February..."
And again, a few days later:
"Rod NICHOL wrote to me and also to his mother, and she came to see me this afternoon. It appears that Rod had been up the front and being relieved, spoke to Bob at his staging camp on the night of the 11th. The following morning, Bob went up and soon after he arrived, was hit by a mortar bomb and killed instantaneously, so thank goodness he didn't suffer. Rod says they got the news by lunchtime, so it was all very quick. He also said that Bob was well, but very quiet, so it looks as though he had some idea of what was ahead of him..."

Bob was aged 32, and was survived by his widow Judy (later Mrs MORLEY), and by their daughter Alison Janet (Jan) GORRIE (later SMITH), whom Bob had never seen.
His remains were re-interred, firstly in Tol War Cemetery (grave No CA13), and finally in the Rabaul War Cemetery, Bitapaka, (Plot E, Row B, Grave 15).

Siblings Bob, Betty and Peter GORRIE, in Adelaide, 1941.

For Betty PIGOTT, the news was hard - she had now lost the three men-folk of her family - her younger brother Pete was shot down and killed over Kema Bay, North Celebes Island, in January 1942 (see his separate blog on this blog-page), just a couple of weeks before their father, Dr Peter GORRIE, was killed at his action-station, the Surgery of the British Merchant Ship "Madura," in Dempu Strait, off the coast of Sumatra.

With Bob, in Rabaul War Cemetery, Bitapaka, also lie the remains of his Regimental Comrades who fell at Waitavolo:
VX53536, Lance Bombardier R.A. BOSTOCK; SX10416, Lance Sergeant D.G. MATTHEWS; QX26019, Gunner R.D. O'CONNOR; NX58632, Lieutenant J.G.A. ROACHE; and VX25782, Gunner D.K. RUTHERFORD.

Detail from 2nd World War Cloister, Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Detail from the Adelaide War memorial, North Terrace.

Grave in the Bita Paka War Cemetery, near Rabaul:

[Photo by Bob BOSTON.
 Image courtesy of the Findagrave web-site.]

From "The War Dead of the Commonwealth," Compiled and Published by The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, London, 1960, at page 11:

The layout of the Bita Paka War Cemetery, near Rabaul, published at page xii, facing page 2 of the Register:

Bob GORRIE's final resting place is located immediately under the letter "E", an over the word "AUSTRALIAN."

*  *  *  *  *  LEST WE FORGET  *  *  *  *  *


"No 4. Tom again. Is it the enemy or a PUB!"

Not annotated.

Not annotated.



Robert Maclagan (Bob) GORRIE was born in Port Elliston, South Australia, 21 January 1913, first born child of Peter GORRIE, M.D., and Janet Howatson YOUNG. His parents, both from Scotland, had been in Australia only a couple of years. He was named for his father's younger brother, who had himself been named for his and Peter's maternal grandfather, Robert MACLAGAN, Station Master of Perth General Station.

Bob was only six months old when his parents moved to Petersburg, and 2 and a half when his mother took him and sister Betty to stay with their aunt in India while their father went to war.

He was five and a half when his family moved to Port Augusta, and began his formal education at the State School there. He was nearly ten when the move to Mount Lofty was made, and it is possible that his parents thoughts had turned to his further education, which was completed at Scotch College, Mitcham.
Bob went to work as a Jackeroo, beginning at Yardea, a McTAGGART property managed by Jim BRODIE, a good friend of the GORRIE family from Peter's days in Port Augusta. Bob was enrolled there as Station Hand in Electoral Rolls from 1933 until 1936, although his sister Jan PAY recalled that he may have gone there as early as 1929, aged 16.

From Yardea, in 1934-35, Bob went to Eremeran Station, a Goldsborough Mort and Company property, lying between Condobolin and Nymagee.
He transferred to another G-M Coy property, Canonbar Station, near Nyngan, in N.S.W., in 1936.
And in late 1937, he went to Thurlagonia Station, at Cunnamula, Qld, owned by the Squathling Investment Company.
It was from here that Bob returned Adelaide to enlist in 1939.


When war broke out, he was at Cunumulla, in Queensland, and immediately returned to Adelaide to enlist. Had the queue at the Recruitment Office been handled from the front, Bob's service number might have been lower. As it was, to his indignation, it was processed from the rear, and Bob was enlisted at Keswick on 20 October 1939 for service in the 2nd A.I.F. as SX 210.

His first posting was as a Driver, with the rank of Gunner, 2/3rd Field Regiment, with their H.Q. in Gramp's Wine Pavilion, Adelaide Showgrounds, Wayville, and initial camp established by 7 November at Woodside.

The Regiment, joined with its W.A. contingent, marched through Adelaide on 11 December and were entrained for Holsworthy Camp, Liverpool. Whilst training for war, the Regiment were called upon to fight bushfires, and to help control riots at Central Station, perhaps associated with a looming national coal strike. Bivouacs were held in the area between Windsor and Penrith (when a flag from the Log Cabin Hotel was souvenired by one of Bob's Regimental colleagues). 
Gunner Bob was promoted Lance Bombardier, 8 April, and Bombardier, 22 April.
On 4 May, the Regiment was marched out, and embarked on H.M.T. X1, otherwise know as the Queen Mary, for service in Europe.


But Bob had been detached and was attending an A.I.F. Special Field Artillery Course, conducted at the School of Artillery, Holsworthy. He did not sail with his Regiment, nor was he ever re-joined with it overseas.

Instead he was posted to Sydney Showgrounds as an instructor, and there he was part of 9 Troop, 3rd Battery, 1st Field Training Regiment; on 5 July he was promoted Sergeant. On 23 September he was marched out to Victoria, and posted to 2/2nd Field Training Regiment, firstly at Geelong, and then, from 11 November, at Colac.

On 2 November 1940, Bob, on a brief spell of Leave, and probably in-between Regimental postings again, was married in the Presbyterian Church in Castlemaine, to Ilma Beatrice Leviny (Judy) THOMPSON, a great friend of Bob's sister Betty, whom Bob notified by telegram:



Bob was recruited into the newly created 2/14th Field Regiment, formed as the third Artillery Regiment of the 8th Division, although within three months, with the losses on Ambon, Rabaul and Timor, and the surrender in Singapore, they remained the sole major combat unit of the 8th Division still on the Australian Order of Battle.

The 2/14th was jointly recruited in Victoria (27th Battery) and S.A. (28th Battery); its first commander was Lieutenant Colonel Jan ("God") SEWELL, and his 2-I.C. was Major R.B. ("Wimpy") HONE; Battery Commanders G.H. CRAWFORD and Arthur RYLAH reported for duty at Keswick 17 November, and by 25 November, they had established the Regiment at Woodside Camp. Bob probably joined them there on 28 November.

The Regiment was ordered to concentrate at Puckapunyal, and traveled there in two stages - 186 personnel traveled by road convoy, departing Woodside on 21 February, the remainder going by train.

Bob was promoted to W.O.II (Acting) on 15 January 1941. He was apparently then in the 28th Battery.


On 15 July 1941, the Regiment proceeded by train to Darwin, where they had been posted to replace the 2/13th Field Regiment. Number 2 Special Train left Wayville Siding, and arrived at Alice Springs on the 18th; convoyed overland to Larrimah (22 July); and then by train to Winnellie (23 July).

Originally based at Winnellie, the Regiment constructed new quarters at Knight Cliffs (now Nightcliff), and were in residence by the onset of the wet season. Christmas dinner, comprising turkey, pork, vegetables, and plum pudding, was judged as "excellent."

"Darwin, 1941."

On 12 January 1942, Bob's younger brother Peter was posted missing-in-action, presumed killed, at Kema Bay, North Celebes Islands. Bob and Peter had met up very briefly on one occasion when Peter flew through Darwin Airport. Bob was informed of the death by his Major, Wimpy HONE, who gave him an eye-witness account of Flying Officer Bill WHYTE.

And on 19 February 1942, the war finally arrived in Australia, when the Japanese first dropped bombs on Australian soil.
The 2/14th Regimental War Diary recorded the event as follows:
"0950 - Air Raid Alarms. Enemy planes and our own fighters seen in 'Dog Fight' off Nightcliff. No advice of the Raid from any other sources than our own spotters. RAAF was immediately advised, and from what could be gathered they had no knowledge of the raid.
"1030 - All Clear.
"1205 - Air raid Alarm. Enemy Bombers, 53 in number, at a considerable height. No advice from other sources than our own."

"Darwin, 1941. From his known height of 6 ft 4 in, it would appear that Bob is on the left"

As a result, the Regiment was placed on Battle Stations; moved to Knuckey's Lagoon (18 March); moved further inland to Coomallie Creek (end of April); and back to Darwin Fortress by 25 May. During this time, Major HONE took over command of the Regiment, and Bob was transferred to 27th Battery, C Troop. By 2 June, Bob had been commissioned as Lieutenant. And in August he spent some time in hospital, severally recorded with Cellulitis, and with Dengue Fever.


Bob left Darwin to attend Serial 1 Refresher Course for officers, Field Artillery, Holsworthy, from 7 December 1942 until 16 January 1943. While there, the rest of the Regiment were moved to Sydney, via Adelaide River, Mataranka, Mount Isa, Townsville and Brisbane. They marched into camp at Loftus, 9 and 10 February 1943. After 24 days Regimental Leave, they went into "hardening training" in preparation for active service overseas. This involved bivouacs in the Royal National Park, Wattamolla and Scarborough areas, and a 19-day exercise over a much wider area, and as far afield as Mittagong, Kangaroo Valley and Nowra. On 14 October 1943, in distant Melbourne, Bob's wife Judy was delivered of their only child, Alison Janet (Jan) GORRIE.
On the same day, the Regiment, including Bob, was marched out of Loftus Camp, and travelled to Brisbane and North Queensland, to undertake jungle training prior to embarkation on overseas service. Part of the Regiment remained at Kalinga, near Brisbane, and then moved to Redland Bay to conduct range practice and barge landings, and back to Kalinga, then Yeerongabilly prior to embarkation. The other part of the Regiment went to Cairns, and sailed for Lae on the Bonteko on 12 November.

Bob GORRIE in camp in 1944.


Bob appears to have been in Brisbane, and that part of the Regiment embarked on the U.S.S. Stephen Girard on 2 January 1944; in Townsville Harbour (5-10 January); Milne Bay (13 January); and Buna (14 January); they proceeded directly to Finschafen, and were assembled at Scarlet Beach.
On 25 January, the Regiment was transferred to Kelanoa; from there, they conducted "clearing" operations of the area up the coast, "mopping up" as the Japanese retreated northwards. They were operating around Kosit, Gabutamon, Malalamia, Yagomi, and Wotan.
On 20 April, 27 Battery was moved through Finschafen to Saidor on the S.S. Tradut; and then onto Madang; the rest of the Regiment went straight to Madang on the S.S. Edward Baker, arrived 7 May. Here they were to remain in camp until January 1945.

"Bob and W.O. II PARR. Taken at river bridge at Alexishafen, October 1944."

"Left to Right. Bob, Harry TRINNICK, Dick CLEMENTS. Taken outside Officer's Mess, Alexishafen, Nov 1944."


On 16 January 1945, the Regiment was embarked on the U.S.S. Jubal Early for transfer to Jacquinot Bay, New Britain. Some strong Japanese resistance had been mounted at the north end of Henry Reid Bay, and the 2/14th got their first whiff of real engagement ahead of them, as they pushed northward up the coast, with the 6th Brigade, and units of the 14/32nd Infantry Battalion. They had secured Kiep by 29 January, and Kalai by 17 February.

"No 5. Mid-day rest. Tom in rear." Probably in the Officer's Mess, Kalai Plantation.

And here, at Kalai, where the 2/14th guns were set up, they focussed their attentions on the Waitavolo Plateau, just north of the Wulwut River. At the top, in dug-outs in the hillside, were lodged Japanese mortars, manned by enough soldiers and ammunition to stall the advance of the Australians, and so cover the rear-guard of the retreating Japanese Army.
On 27 February, Generals STURDEE and RAMSAY gave orders for the Waitovolo-Tol area to be taken and secured. By 5 March, the assault force, comprising units of the 19th and the 14/32nd Infantry Battalions, was on the northern edge of Wide Bay, ready to cross the Wulwut River. There followed a week of heavy fighting, immediately east of the Wulwut, and around hills named for fallen Australian Field Officers (Captain KATH, Captain YOUNG and Lieutenant PERRY), with Artillery support of the Regiments 27th and 28th Batteries, joined on 10 March by the 64th Battery.

Gavin LONG, in his volume of the Official War History, "The Final Campaigns," paints the picture:
"... the direction of artillery fire was extremely difficult as the observation officers were working in dense rain forest, the fall of shot was rarely visible, and the guns had often to be registered by sound. On the other hand the narrow tracks had all been registered by the many Japanese mortars in the Waitavolo fortress area. The main role of the guns was now to silence these mortars - a difficult task as soon as it became evident that they were sheltered in caves where artillery fire became dangerous.
"It was difficult for the engineers to maintain communications with the forward infantry. After rain, the Wulwut River became a swift torrent...
"In an effort to silence the mortars which were bringing down a galling fire, the 2/14th Field Regiment sent 460 rounds over, searching an area 400 yards in depth, and eventually silenced the mortars, although only for the day. On 12th March heavy mortars (the Japanese had improvised mortars to fire 150 mm shells) rained 60 bombs on Perry's [Knoll] and Young's [Hill], killing four (footnote; including Lieut R.M. GORRIE of the 2/14th Field Regt) and wounding nine, including Lt FAUL, and temporarily disabling 12 others with bomb blast. It was a day of torrential rain which reduced visibility to a few yards."

Bob GORRIE was my uncle.


Bill Pigott said...

Thanks Chris.

We planted trees on Anzac Day near Berry and remembered our two uncles and Grandfather as we did so.

I visited Bita Paka and visited the grave of R M Gorrie in 1968, when I was working in PNG. It was such a beautiful location and standing by the graveside moved me deeply.

We speculated on another intersting link when at the funeral of Bob's daughter Jan we learned that the father of the celebrant had been the chaplain of R. M. Gorries unit and would have likely conducted his funeral. Fathers and daughters....

wallaby said...


Thank you for your well prepared account of Bob Gorrie's time with the 2/14th Field Regiment.

I am a son of Gunner D K Rutherford of the 2/14th who also died in New Britain but in June 1945. He was buried initially at Tol Plantation. I think my father was on leave in Australia or about to depart when your uncle died. He returned to the unit in May.

My father, Doug, joined the 2/14th upon its establishment but in Victoria. Some of my father's many letters to my mother were censored by your uncle in later years and bear his signature.


Chris PIGOTT said...


Thank you very much for your comments.
I have never seen my uncle's signature. I would very much like to add it to the blog, under his photo. Are you able to scan the "neatest" version of the signature that survives on your father's letters?
If so, you might send it to me direct at

Chris PIGOTT, Potts Point, N.S.W.

wallaby said...


I will gladly forward a copy of your uncle's signature when I regain access to my family memorabilia. I put most of my belongings in storage a while back pending an intended move to the country from Melbourne. Maybe later this year.