Page 1: Biography
Hardware merchant, swimmer, naval officer, farmer
This biography, written by P. Y. Dennerly, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.
Gordon Bridson was born on 2 December 1909 in Wellington, the son of Agnes Jessie Gordon and her husband, William John Bridson, a company manager. The family later moved to Auckland, where Gordon attended Auckland Grammar School. Leaving after the sixth form, he worked as a sales representative for his father’s firm, Duthie, Bridson and Company, iron, steel and hardware merchants. In 1927 he also joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (New Zealand Division) at Auckland. The tall 17-year-old fitted in well with the Volunteer Reserve and in February 1928 was promoted to commissioned rank. An excellent swimmer, he won several national championships between 1929 and 1932, and represented New Zealand at the 1930 British Empire Games in Canada, winning two silver medals.
At the outbreak of war in 1939 there was no immediate need for the majority of the Volunteer Reserve to be mobilised, and Bridson remained in his usual employment. On 21 March 1940, perhaps anticipating overseas service, he married Ada Gilchrist in Auckland. The following month he was mobilised and promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander. In May he left with the first draft of Volunteer Reserve personnel for service with the Royal Navy.
In England Bridson was given command of the Walnut , part of the 24th and 25th minesweeping and anti-submarine groups, which comprised 10 ships, all commanded by New Zealanders. Over the following year the groups escorted convoys along the east coast of Britain and through the English Channel, where they were frequently subjected to German attack from air and sea. Bridson was awarded the DSC for his time in command of the Walnut .
Prior to the war New Zealand had decided to build three corvettes in Britain. However, their construction was delayed because of other war work and the second, the Kiwi , was not commissioned until October 1941. Having demonstrated his ability in the Walnut , Gordon Bridson was appointed to the new command. In early 1942 he escorted a convoy across the North Atlantic, where the Kiwi suffered considerable damage in a fierce storm, then continued on to New Zealand.
The Royal New Zealand Navy’s 25th Minesweeping Flotilla, which comprised the three corvettes Kiwi , Tui and Moa and the converted merchant ship Matai , was deployed to the Solomon Islands in December 1942. On the night of 14 January 1943 the Kiwi had a narrow escape when an American PT boat mistakenly fired two torpedoes at her. The New Zealanders were furious, but Bridson and the PT commander later became firm friends.
Two weeks later, on the night of 29–30 January, the Kiwi and the Moa were on patrol near Guadalcanal Island, with Bridson as senior officer, when they encountered the Japanese submarine I-1. The Kiwi made several depth-charge attacks before the submarine surfaced to engage them with its five-inch gun. I-1 was more than twice as large as the corvettes and more heavily armed. Nevertheless, the New Zealanders continued the attack and the Kiwi rammed the submarine three times, firing at point-blank range with its main four-inch gun and a bow-mounted 20-millimetre Oerlikon (which had been acquired unofficially at Noumea for two bottles of gin). Pursued by the Moa , I-1 ran onto a reef and sank. One seaman on the Kiwi was killed, and the badly damaged ship had to return to New Zealand for repairs.
For his expertise and perseverance in this engagement Bridson was made a DSO and received the United States Navy Cross. After a further 16 months in command of the Kiwi he was promoted to the acting rank of commander and appointed naval officer in charge at Dunedin in May 1944. Six months later he was confirmed in the rank and became naval officer in charge at Lyttelton. He also became an aide de camp to the governor general, holding both positions until he was demobilised in 1946.
Bridson settled with his family in Te Aroha, where he became a partner in a hardware business. In the late 1950s he moved to a farm at Horahora, near Cambridge. He died there on 6 December 1972, survived by his wife, Ada, two sons and a daughter.