Vale, John Carlyon OAM

Published by Peter Collins on

A life of service.
By DARBY ASHTON, President, Sandgate Sub-Section,
(with thanks to Trevor Rigby).

ABOVE: Royal Australian Navy sailor, John Carlyon OAM. This studio shot was captured not long after he entered service at HMAS Cerberus on 22 February 1951, just shy of his 18th birthday.

John Robert Carlyon OAM was born at The Entrance, in New South Wales, on 12 May 1933.

John started his schooling there until his parents sent him to the Wyong Public School where his grandfather was the headmaster.

It was here that John met the love of his life, Isobel.

When Isobel’s family sold up and moved to Sydney, after the death of her father, John lost contact with Isobel.

When he went to Sydney to join the Royal Australian Navy, John managed to track Isobel to where she was living at Punchbowl.

John made a big impression on not only Isobel, but also Isobel’s mother.

ABOVE: Sweethearts always. Wedding bells rang out for John and Isobel, at Sydney, in 1953.

On 22 February 1951, John enlisted, becoming R44204.

Meanwhile the couple’s childhood friendship blossomed again, and John and Isobel married in 1953. It was a union that was to last for 68 years.

After completing his training as a Radio Electrical Mechanic at HMAS Cerberus, John had numerous postings during his six-year-long naval career, including:

  • HMAS Cerberus, 22 February 1951
  • HMAS Australia, 14 November 1952
  • HMAS Penguin to (HMAS Condamine) 29 June 1953
  • HMAS Kuttabul to (HMAS Condamine) 1 July 1953
  • HMAS Harman, 17 August 1954
  • HMAS Penguin, 20 January 1955
  • HMAS Harman, 21 January 1955
  • HMAS Queenborough, 22 January 1956
  • HMAS Harman
  • HMAS Queenborough, 6 February 1956
  • HMAS Anzac, 14 March 1956
  • HMAS Quadrant, 28 January 1957
  • HMAS Penguin, 2 April 1957
  • HMAS Quadrant, 29 April 1957
  • HMAS Penguin, 8 May 1957

During his time on HMAS Anzac he saw active service around Malaya with the Far-East Strategic Reserve.

John’s awards for his time in RAN were:

  • Australian Active Service Medal – Clasp Malaya
  • Naval General Service Medal – Clasp Malaya
  • Australian Service Medal – Clasps FESR and Korea
  • Australian Defence Medal
  • Returned From Active Service Badge

After his discharge from the Navy in 1957, John and Isobel settled down in Sydney where John worked as a radio and television technician, and even repaired and maintained poker machines in Sydney clubs.

John joined the Naval Association of Australia (NAA) on New Year’s Day 1969 and belonged to Canterbury-Bankstown Sub-Section until 1981.

After the couple relocated to Queensland, in 1994 John transferred his NAA membership to Sandgate Sub-Section.

Thankfully for us, his trademark passion, determination and experience – honed over 25 years with the NAA “down south” – was press-ganged into advancing the interests of his new naval family here in South-East Queensland .

John was a constantly active member who cheerfully took on numerous responsibilities on behalf of the Sub-Section, among which included stints as social functions organiser, delegate to State Council, State office volunteer, Committee member, State Conference Organisation Committee member, Vice-President, publicity officer and the presidency for eight years.

In 2003 John was awarded a Diploma of Merit and in 2014 a NAA 30-Year Service Award.

With a desire to further assist the NAA and ex-Services community, in 1996 John commenced a Training and Information Program course – these days known as the Advocacy Training and Development Programin compensation and welfare, graduating as a Level 3 Advocate.

In this capacity he assisted veterans submit claims to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and represented them with their appeals at the Veterans’ Review Board.

During this time he provided welfare and assessment services to countless NAA and ex-Service personnel throughout the State.

Each month, for many years, John demonstrated his commitment to compensation and welfare by travelling to Gympie RSL (a 300km round trip) to help fellow veterans.

John was also a founding member of the Armed Services Assistance Centre, a provider of free assistance and advice on pensions, compensation, welfare and service entitlements among serving and former Australian Defence Force members, including NAA members and their families.

In 1998 John was instrumental in the fight to gain recognition for ex-RAN and other Service personnel as a founding member of the Far-East Strategic Reserve Association.

This organisation tirelessly seeks recognition for ex-Services personnel who were tasked with halting the spread of communism into South-East Asia.

Typical of his passion for achieving recognition for his fellow shipmates, he once presented himself to police as a war criminal.

Fortunately, John was not arrested and the government eventually granted the long overdue recognition for those who served in this conflict zone.

Through the staunch advocacy of the likes of John, and others, many NAA members have now received the benefits and entitlements their hard-earned Navy service in Malaya between 1950 and 1964 so richly deserved.

For John’s many years of helping veterans in this role, he had the distinction of being awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 2014.

Much more could be said of John’s contribution to the Naval Association.

However, concurrent with these activities, stretching over some 15 years, John and Isobel were Homestay Parents for many international students attending St Paul’s School at Bald Hills in Brisbane.

Although they did not have children of their own, they adopted children throughout Australia and South-East Asia and nurtured and mentored many adolescent, teenage children through their challenging secondary school years at the collegel.

They looked after the girls as if they were their own. As a result, they became very good friends, not only with the students, but also the students’ parents.

They were able to travel to China and Hong Kong on several occasions to meet up with the parents of students and lifelong friendships were established.

Although John was unable to travel in his later years for medical reasons, they were still in close contact with their friends across the seas.

Health issues with John were the reason he and Isobel decided to move to Melbourne to where the couple could be close to the specialist medical services that they wanted.

For some time, treatment for John’s ailments seemed to be having a positive effect and life was looking much rosier.

Then came the day that John’s landlord decided to sell up. It was then that John and Isobel decided to head north to Wodonga.

They moved into a brand-new house and life was good for some time, but John’s ongoing medical issues reared their ugly heads, and his health started to deteriorate.

I had the privilege of spending Christmas 2019 with John and Isobel, but unfortunately the dreaded COVID-19 outbreak precludes me from visiting Wodonga as much as I would like to.

Unfortunately, John’s condition started to deteriorate as the year progressed and, in the end, John had to be admitted to hospital at Albury, where he passed away peacefully on Sunday, 11 July last.

A photo I have of John from Christmas Day 2020 is heartbreaking. In it, Isobel’s “Guardian Angel” – Ana, who has been taking good care of Isobel – hovers close-by.

I have other later photos of John, taken just prior to his “Crossing the Bar,” but I prefer to remember him as my old mate who I used to enjoy sharing a yarn and a beer or two with.


ABOVE: A former Royal Australian Navy sailor, now at rest. I prefer to remember him just like he looks in this photo: Lively, amiable, a loyal mate and always great company. Vale, John Carlyon OAM. You will be missed.