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John Foster was born in Sydney on 25 November 1935. The only child of Harold Bede and Winifred Lillian Foster, John was raised in Sydney and Bowral. At the start of High School he was sent to Newington College and encouraged by his parents to become a lawyer. It was in Newington that he met his life long friend Ian Barker, who studied law and became one of Australia’s most prominent QC’s.
At the age of 16 John shunned a legal career and joined the Navy as a Cadet Midshipman in 1952. As one of 16 young gentlemen of ‘Waller Year’ he trained for two tough years in HMAS Cerberus near Melbourne. Over the next 7 years training was spread among Australian naval ships and Royal Navy bases in England. John became a specialist in Torpedo and Anti Submarine Warfare, more commonly known as a TAS Officer with skills ranging from detecting and destroying enemy submarines to clearing mines and diving.
John met and married Deirdre in the late 1950’s and had two children. In 1961 John was posted to England where he would take up his first two commands HMS Repton and HMS Shoulton. They were Ton Class Coastal Minesweepers which were the equivalent of the modern day Patrol Boat combined with mine retrieval capabilities.
After 3 years in Portsmouth the family moved back to Australia where John took up his third command, HMAS Hawk.
In was as the CO of Hawk that John Foster saw active service in Borneo in 1965. The newly formed nation of Malaysia was harassed by Indonesia, which refused to recognise the new country. Indonesian troops and light vessels continually harassed Malaysian national territory. Australia joined with Britain in defending Malaysian sovereign territory.
The RAN sent in the 16th Minesweeping Squadron consisting of HMAS Hawk, Snipe, Ibis, Curlew and Gull. These Ton Class Minesweepers were used as large patrol boats to intercept and fire on insurgents. Tropical diseases were an additional risk to the small fleet. At one point one of Hawk’s sailors who was ravaged by tropical disease got hold of a machine gun and fired upon the crew. With acts of bravery evident the man was apprehended without severe injury. John Foster was to take a fragment in his hand from this melee which would stay with him until his death.
In 1966 he was promoted to Lieutenant Commander and was posted to the Destroyer Escort HMAS Yarra. During the Vietnam War the Yarra would accompany the Majestic Class Aircraft Carrier HMAS Sydney on several voyages to Vung Tau to drop off troops and supplies. Sydney’s many trips to Vietnam would earn her the nickname ‘Vung Tau Ferry’. John’s TAS and diving expertise would be called upon to search for mines in the harbour. In the 60’s ships were frequently called away on duty for several months at a time which was tough on young families.
Promoted to Commander In 1968 John Foster was posted to the United States as Anti Submarine Warfare Officer at the Australian Embassy in Washington DC. It was a tumultuous time in the US with men landing on the moon, social upheaval and cold war tensions with the USSR. John was noted for his pride and passion for Australia and was a sought after entertainer at social engagements. His sharp sense of humour and ability to whip out a guitar at the right moment left a lasting impression on many American dignitaries and diplomats. John and Deirdre’s third child was born in the US during this time.
Returning to Australia Commander Foster took up his fourth command on the Destroyer Escort HMAS Parramatta. Built as a Type 12 Frigate and later reclassified a River Class Destroyer Escort (DE) the Parramatta was capable of steaming at over 30 knots and was equipped with the Ikara anti submarine missiles, torpedos and the Seacat surface to air missiles. Parramatta served in the RAN for 30 years making her the longest serving DE in the Navy.
Further time in Navy office was interrupted by a two year posting (1976-7) to Papua New Guinea in the Defence Advisory Group which was established to hand over facilities to the newly independent PNG government. It was in PNG that John Foster learnt of the story of the loss of Australia’s first submarine AE1. The sub and her sister AE2 were commissioned in 1913 and delivered to Australia to complement our new fleet. When World War 1 broke out in 1914 the AE1 was sent to Rabaul as part of the effort to clear the region of German naval presence. On September 14, 1914 the AE1 and HMAS Parramatta were on patrol
when AE1 disappeared. Her loss was briefly investigated but the greater war effort took focus away. The mystery was left untouched until John’s interest was piqued while in Port Moresby. Securing assistance from HMAS Flinders a search using sonar and magnetometers identified possible locations for the sub. Over the next 33 years John Foster would revisit Rabaul on several occasions on a variety of missions to find
AE1. He formed the AE1 Association which is now known as AE1 Incorporated and has as its members serving and retired naval experts.
Commander John Foster’s final posting was as the Executive Officer on the Aircraft Carrier HMAS Melbourne. The 15,000 ton ship was equipped with 8 Skyhawk fighters, 6 Grumman trackers and a variety of helicopters. The carrier had previously been involved in two collisions, one with HMAS Voyager and the other with the USS Evans. Melbourne was the pinnacle of a remarkable career for John particularly when he was given command of her for a period of time.
John Foster retired from the Navy after 30 years of service. He moved to the Gold Coast where he worked as a marine consultant and later in travel agencies he and his wife Elizabeth owned on the Gold Coast and in Murwillumbah.
In 2009 Commander John Foster RAN Retired was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for his contribution to naval history and the search for submarine AE1.They moved to Cairns for full retirement at the start of 2010 when lung cancer struck.
John Douglas Foster died peacefully on 10/10/10 at Cairns Base Hospital Queensland.
HMAS Melbourne - Aircraft carrier
Tribute to Commander John D Foster
Australia's first Submarine, AE1 with HMAS Australia, september 9th, 1914.
In October 2010, The RAN lost one of its leading lights and best officers.
Commander John Foster was without a doubt one of the very best Australia had to offer the world, he stands today as one of the best loved of all the RAN 16th Minesweeping Squadron Commanding Officers.
Johns illustrious and varied career is documented below in this touching tribute by his son Michael. Whatever John did in life, he never went far from his first love of the sea and his family.
We would like to Thank Michael Foster for kindly sharing his tribute to his late father and say a gentle farewell to one of our own.
Cmdr John D Foster, RAN Rtd
1935 - 2010
|Victoria Cross Inquiry|
|Minesweepers to Minehunters|
|Timeline of the 16th MSS|
|RNZN- Jim Warren- Konfontasi|
|WW1 - 100|
|WW1 - 100 - Galipolli|
|Tributes - Non forces|
|Tribute to Cmdr JD Foster|
|Memorial to Cmdr. John D Foster|
|Tribute to Lt-Cmdr Keith Murray|
|Tribute to Allen T. Jones|
|Canberra Dedication Address|
|Canberra Plaque Dedication|
|Allan T Jones' RNZN Visit|
|RNZN Pinga Jasa Malaysia Medal Ceremony|
|Yamba Reunion 2004|
|Noosa March 2008|
|Noosa Reunion Dinner|