John Gillies was born in 1911, in West Maitland, New South Wales, the son of Wallace John Secundus and Elsie Dora Gillies. He had a sister named Yvonne. In 1936 he married Betty Bannerman of Mosman, New South Wales and their son John was born on 27 July 1939. Gillies joined the Merchant Navy on 23 July 1941 and served in Singapore. He was the First Mate on the Neptuna, aged thirty, when he was killed on 19 February 1942.
The MV Neptuna was crewed by eighteen Australian Officers, four Cadets, and over one hundred Chinese sailors. She arrived in Darwin Harbour loaded with two hundred depth charges and a very large quantity of anti-aircraft shells for the Navy and Army. When the Japanese air attack began the Neptuna was berthed alongside the main wharf awaiting maintenance. The first bomb hit the ship below the waterline and she began taking on water; she then received a direct hit causing her to catch on fire. When the fire entered No. 3 and No. 4 hatches, the Neptuna blew apart, creating a huge mushroom cloud caused by the explosion of the ammunition she was carrying.
Most of the surviving ship’s company were rescued from the wharf and the harbour and taken aboard HMAS Platypus, a depot ship being used as a casualty clearing station. Thirty-six of the ship’s crew were killed, including the Master, Captain William Michie.
John Gillies is commemorated at The Northern Territory Memorial, which stands in the Adelaide River War Cemetery.
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