By John Smith
John Clement McFarlane was born in Melbourne in 1887, his forebears having arrived there in 1838. At some stage, he joined the Royal Navy as a sailor and by 1912 was an Acting Gunner (T). As he was only 25 at this stage, this was quite a speedy promotion. In 1912, he transferred to the Royal Australian Navy and was posted to the newly commissioned HMAS Sydney. He was serving onboard her during the Sydney/Emden action.
His career in the RAN progressed steadily and in 1931 he was promoted to Commander, which at the time was very unusual for an ex-Warrant Officer. He was appointed as ADC to His Excellency the Governor General in 1934, once again not a normal appointment with his background. He transferred to the Emergency List in1942 and the Retired List in 1947 after an unprecedented naval career.
However, the family naval tradition continued. Having married, in June 1919 he fathered twin sons, Brian Mahoney and Alan Gibb. Brian joined the RAN in 1933 as a Cadet Midshipman at the Royal Australian Naval College. After normal naval training progression, he was promoted to Lieutenant in 1940, having served in HMAS Canberra and HM Ships Hood, Queen Elizabeth and Cleopatra. Although his first choice for specialisation was gunnery, before he commenced training he volunteered for dangerous service.
This turned out to be service in X Craft (midget submarines) and he was posted to the training establishment and operational base HMS Varbel in Scotland. He qualified as an X Craft commanding officer and in February 1944 was Captain of X22. In tragic circumstances on 7 February, in the course of a towing exercise that continued through the height of a gale, X22‘s parent submarine, Syrtis, turned suddenly to rescue her officer of the watch, who had been washed out of the conning tower platform by heavy seas, and ramming her small charge. X22 sank immediately, with the loss of the four members of her operational crew. Brian’s service record states: ‘Missing presumed killed on Active Service 7-2-44.’
Meanwhile Brian’s twin brother Alan had joined the RANR at some stage, presumably as a sailor. However, on 15 September 1939 he was promoted Paymaster Sub Lieutenant (on probation) rank on mobilisation. He also steadily progressed in his naval career, being transferred to permanent service in 1947, in spite of being seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident at HMAS Ladava in April 1944. This put him out of action for well over a year.
He was promoted to Captain (S) in 1960, having served in a variety of ships and establishments. Following his father, he was also appointed as Honorary ADC to His Excellency the Governor General in 1960. Two years later, he was posted as Fourth Naval Member and Chief of Supply and was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1973. He eventually retired in 1976, thereby completing 64 years of distinguished family service in the RAN.