b. 28/02/1903 Melbourne, Australia. d. 07/11/1965 Melbourne, Australia.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 19/05/1941 - 25/12/1942 England.
Hugh Randall Syme (1903-1965) was born on 28th February 1903 in Melbourne, Australia, the third son of John Herbert and Ethel Maud Syme (nee King). He was educated at Trinity Grammar School, Kew (suburb of Melbourne). He then attended Scotch College before entering Melbourne University. Following university, he joined the family newspaper “The Age”. In 1931 he married Olive Alyson Clark. Sadly, the marriage ended in divorce in 1940 with no children.
On 1st September 1940 he enlisted with the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve (RANVR) in Williamstown. He saw it as an obvious choice, as he was a keen amateur yachtsman. Sixteen days later, he joined John Mould (later GC), Howard Reid and James Kessack on the voyage to England. He joined the Rendering Mines Safe (RMS) of HMS Vernon.
On 24th June 1941, he was awarded the George Medal for his work in mine disposal. Also decorated were Kessack and Reid. Almost a year to the day, he was awarded the Bar to his George Medal though there is no citation for what he did to achieve this. Eventually, on 3rd August 1943, the award of the George Cross was announced in the London Gazette. His citation recognised his work over 21 months between 19th May 1941 and Christmas Day 1942, when he dealt with 19 mine recovery or disposal operations, including 5 acoustic, 8 magnetic and 2 acoustic-magnetic mines. He was also responsible for the recovery of the only Type T sinker mine. When retrieving this mine, he had to deal with it in waist deep mud. The information gained from the mine was invaluable.
In 1943, while on a period of leave back to Australia, he married for a second time, to Joan McCay. They went on to have three daughters, Ione, Eve and Belinda. Instead of returning to the UK he was required to set up a bomb disposal unit in Australia at HMAS Cerebus, Westernport, however, the unit didn’t become fully operational as the US had control of the Pacific. Hugh left the RAN at the end of the war, and returned to “The Age”, becoming the General Manager. Two years later with the advent of television he, with his uncle Oswald, formed David Syme & Co with which he remained until his death.
He was a former President of the Australian Newspapers Council, and a former Chairman of the Newspaper Proprietor’s Association of Melbourne and a Director of the Victorian Broadcasting Network Ltd. He was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal in 1953 but turned down a honorary knighthood, feeling that he had performed no more than his duty.
Hugh died on 7th November 1965 aged 62 and was cremated at Springvale Crematorium, Melbourne, and many hundreds of people attended the funeral, with representatives of the Navy and the Australian Government present. His medal group including GC, GM and Bar, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45, Australia Service Medal and 1953 QEII Coronation Medal are held and displayed at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL, CANBERRA.
BURIAL PLACE: SPRINGVALE CREMATORIUM, MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA.
Hugh Randall Syme's medals (above), cap (top right) and medal record (right) are all pictures from the Australian War Memorial website.
Syme's memorial in George Cross Park, Canberra, Australia.
AWM, Canberra (Thomas Stewart)