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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Rhodes, Ian Desmond Laurie (1912–1967)

by Mike Fogarty

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Ian Desmond Laurie Rhodes (1912-1967), by unknown photographer, 1943

Ian Desmond Laurie Rhodes (1912-1967), by unknown photographer, 1943

Australian War Memorial, 305301

Ian Desmond Laurie Rhodes (1912-1967), naval officer, was born on 19 August 1912 at Ongaonga, near Waipawa, New Zealand, younger son of Albert Victor Laurie-Rhodes, a sheep-farmer from Victoria, and his New Zealand-born wife Agnes, née McKay. In 1920 the family settled in Victoria. Ian was educated at Geelong Church of England Grammar School where he did well in sport, especially Australian Rules football. He turned to farming before working as a salesman. On 1 April 1939 at Christ Church, South Yarra, he married with Anglican rites June Phillips Allan, a dress designer; they were to have one child before being divorced on 7 November 1947.

Using the surname Rhodes, he attempted to enlist in the army, navy and air force on the outbreak of World War II, but was rejected because of a stomach ulcer. A sympathetic medical examiner cleared him on 17 September 1940 to enter the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve as an ordinary seaman under the British Admiralty's yachtsmen scheme. Immediately posted to Britain for further training, he joined the destroyer H.M.S. Kashmir on 1 April 1941 and in the following month took part in the Royal Navy's attempt to prevent a German seaborne landing on Crete.

On 23 May Kashmir came under air-attack while returning to Egypt to refuel. Hit amidships by a bomb, she broke in two and began to sink rapidly. When a German bomber machine-gunned both the rear section of the ship and members of her crew who were struggling in the sea, Rhodes left the port Oerlikon gun (on which he was the gunlayer) as the water rose around it and climbed to the nearby starboard gun. Turning this weapon against the attacking aeroplane, he shot it down in flames. Rhodes was taken to Alexandria in H.M.S. Kipling, his only possessions a pair of shorts and a borrowed cap. He won the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, the highest decoration—next to the Victoria Cross—which could be awarded to naval ratings. No other Australian sailor received this decoration in World War I or II.

Rhodes was commissioned on 22 January 1942 and promoted provisional lieutenant in August. Joining the cruiser H.M.S. Sheffield on 10 April, he served in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, escorting convoys en route to Russia. In March 1943 he was transferred to the cruiser H.M.A.S. Shropshire which was then being commissioned in England. He remained with that ship until July 1944, winning favourable regard as a 'keen and capable' officer, 'well above average'. Back with the R.N., he served in H.M.S. Mount Stewart and on shore in Colombo. By the end of the war he was performing shore duties in Port Moresby.

Demobilized on 26 April 1946, Rhodes became a farmer at Labertouche, Victoria. On 27 November 1947 at the Collins Street Independent Church, Melbourne, he married with Congregational forms Patricia May Worboys, née Huxtable, a divorcee. He joined the United Linen Co. Pty Ltd, importers and wholesalers of Irish manchester, and became a director. Survived by his wife, and by the son of his first marriage, he died of cirrhosis of the liver on 3 January 1967 in Fairfield Hospital and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Navy (Sydney), Feb 1948, p 32
  • Journal of Australian Naval Institute, Feb 1988, p 43
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Oct 1943.

Citation details

Mike Fogarty, 'Rhodes, Ian Desmond Laurie (1912–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Ian Desmond Laurie Rhodes (1912-1967), by unknown photographer, 1943

Ian Desmond Laurie Rhodes (1912-1967), by unknown photographer, 1943

Australian War Memorial, 305301