Reader JQ remembers former Prime Minister the late Sir John Grey Gorton, GCMG AC CH and the late Lady Gorton on the occasion of their visit to Nui Dat, South Vietnam, 1968
Reader JQ writes:
The below report is on Sky News & other news outlets.
“But the bigger surprise was the presence of Therese Rein - the first wife of a PM ever to visit a war zone”.
In June 1968 Mrs Gorton visited Vietnam with Mr Gorton & that included a visit to Nui Dat.
I must go through my old photos & see if I can find one of her.
Here's Prime Minister Gorton with members of the 1st Australian Task Force, South Vietnam, 1968
John Gorton in Vietnam again
Nui Dat, South Vietnam. 1968-06. Bettina Gorton, wife of the Prime Minister, signs the visitors book of the Sergeants' Mess at the 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR), during a five hour visit to South Vietnam's Phuoc Tuy Province. With her is Sergeant Brian Tobin of Holsworthy, NSW. Mrs Gorton accompanied her husband on a tour of Australian units serving in Vietnam.
Here's Sir John's war service, a precis from Wikipedia - it really is worthwhile to follow the link back to Wikipedia to learn more about this great man, his childhood and the way he came to meet Bettina who showed a lifelong love of languages. Here's Lady Gorton with her Indonesian Language teacher Mrs Johns in The Lodge.
On 31 May 1940, following the outbreak of World War II, Gorton enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve. At the age of 29, Gorton was considered too old for pilot training, but he re-applied in September after this rule was relaxed. Gorton was accepted and commissioned into the RAAF on 8 November 1940. He trained as a fighter pilot at Somers, Victoria and Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, before being sent to the UK. Gorton completed his training at RAF Heston and RAF Honiley, with No. 61 Operational Training Unit RAF, flying Supermarine Spitfires. He was disappointed when his first operational posting was No. 135 Squadron RAF, a Hawker Hurricane unit, as he considered the type greatly inferior to Spitfires.
During late 1941, Gorton and other members of his squadron became part of the cadre of a Hurricane wing being formed for service in the Middle East. They were sent by sea, with 50 Hurricanes in crates, travelling around Africa to reduce the risk of attack. In December, when the ship was at Durban, South Africa, it was diverted to Singapore, after Japan entered the war. As it approached its destination in mid-January, Japanese forces were advancing down the Malayan Peninsula. The ship was attacked on at least one occasion by Japanese aircraft, but arrived and unloaded safely after tropical storms made enemy air raids impossible. As the Hurricanes were assembled, the pilots were formed into a composite operational squadron, No. 232 Squadron RAF.
In late January 1942, the squadron became operational and joined the remnants of several others that had been in Malaya, operating out of RAF Seletar and RAF Kallang. During one of his first sorties, Gorton was involved in a brief dogfight over the South China Sea, after which he suffered engine failure and was forced to land on Bintan island, 40 km (25 mi) south east of Singapore. As he landed, one of the Hurricane's wheels hit an embankment and flipped over. Gorton was not properly strapped in and his face hit the gun sight and windscreen, mutilating his nose and breaking both cheekbones. He also suffered severe lacerations to both arms. He made his way out of the wreck and was rescued by members of the Royal Dutch East Indies Army, who provided some medical treatment. Gorton later claimed that his face was so badly cut and bruised, that a member of the RAF sent to collect him assumed he was near death, collected his personal effects and returned to Singapore without him. By chance, one week later, Sgt Matt O'Mara of No. 453 Squadron RAAF also crash landed on Bintan, and arranged for them to be collected.
They arrived back in Singapore, on 11 February, three days after the island had been invaded. As the Allied air force units on Singapore had been destroyed or evacuated by this stage, Gorton was put on theDerrymore, an ammunition ship bound for Batavia (Jakarta). On 13 February, as it neared its destination, the ship was torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-55 Kaidai class submarine and the Derrymore was abandoned. Gorton then spent almost a day on a crowded liferaft, in shark-infested waters, with little drinking water, until the raft was spotted by HMAS Ballarat, which picked up the passengers and took them to Batavia.
Two schoolfriends, who had also been evacuated from Singapore to Batavia, heard that Gorton was in hospital, arranged for them to be put on a ship for Fremantle, which left on 23 February and treated Gorton's wounds. When the ship arrived in Fremantle, on 3 March, one of Gorton's arm wounds had become septic and needed extensive treatment. However, he was more concerned about the effect that the sight of his mutilated face would have on his wife. It is reported that Betty Gorton, who had been running the farm in his absence, was relieved to see Gorton alive.
After arriving in Australia he was posted to Darwin, Northern Territory on 12 August 1942 with No. 77 Squadron RAAF (Kittyhawks), during this time he was involved in his second air accident. While flying P-40E A29-60 on 7 September 1942, he was forced to land due to an incorrectly set fuel cock. Both Gorton and his aircraft were recovered several days later after spending time in the bush. On 21 February 1943 the squadron was relocated to Milne Bay, New Guinea.
John Gorton's final air incident came on 18 March 1943. His A29-192 Kittyhawk's engine failed on take off, causing the aircraft to flip at the end of the strip. Gorton was unhurt. In March 1944, Gorton was sent back to Australia with the rank of Flight Lieutenant. His final posting was as a Flying Instructor with No. 2 Operational Training Unit at Mildura, Victoria. He was then discharged from the RAAF on 5 December 1944.
During late 1944 Gorton went to Heidelberg hospital for surgery which could not fully repair his facial injuries.
And here's Kevin Rudd and Therese Rein in Afghanistan.