The Australian Boer War Memorial
Anzac Parade Canberra
Lieutenant (later Commander) John Biddlecombe, A China and Boer War Veteran.
John Biddlecombe was born 1 November 1868 in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England. He was appointed a midshipman in the Royal Navy Reserve in 1884. He served in the Royal Navy for 12 months as a midshipman before becoming a Merchant Marine officer on the ‘Cluny Castle’ (a sailing ship). By the 1890s he had migrated to Victoria and if every 1894 was appointed as a sub lieutenant in the Victorian navy. He was promoted lieutenant in 1896. In 1898 he was made a gunnery lieutenant. Whilst in the Victorian navy he served on the ‘Nelson’, ‘Cerberus’, and the torpedo boats. It was with the Victorian torpedo boats that he became most closely identified.
In July 1900 both Victoria and New South Wales decided to send naval brigades to China to support the international effort in lifting the siege of the Peking legations and suppressing the Boxer Rebellion. Lieutenant Biddlecombe was selected as one of the Victorian officers in the contingent. It is not clear, but he was possibly associated with the 14 pounder QF guns taken by the Victorians. Most of the contingent's responsibilities involved land operations in particular internal security duties.
Returning to Australia in May 1901 on the SS Chingtu, Biddlecombe sought leave from the Navy to serve in South Africa. He left some time in August 1901; possibly on the SS Britannic in mid August. In South Africa he became attached to the 6th Dragoon Guards and undertook four months of operations with that unit. Whilst attached to the 6th Dragoon Guards he qualified for the Queen's South Africa metal with a clasp South Africa 1901 and Transvaal. His unit operated in a column under the command of Col Edmund Allenby. In September 1901 this column began a sweep under the command of General Plumer into the most eastern corners of the Transvaal, thence up to the high veldt about Standerton, where Allenby's column was when the news of Benson’s disaster on 30 October came to hand. The column then strengthened by some Australians and the 18th and 19th Hussars set out after the Boers and after much chasing inflicted a good deal of loss.
He departed South Africa 11 December 1901 on the SS Fortunatus.
He retired from full-time duty with the Commonwealth naval forces with the rank of commander to devote his time to his pastoral property ‘Golf Hill’ near Geelong in February 1904.
Although he had apparently retired from full-time duty it seems apparent that he had maintained service as a reservist from then on. The Argus reported in 1908 that Biddlecombe was involved in supervising torpedo boat practice over five days at Swan Island in Port Phillip Bay involving 85 sailors and for torpedo boats.
He was a contributor to the naval debate in Australia. In 1897 he had published a book entitled ‘Interdependence of the Empire in regard to Naval Defence’. (published by George Robertson in Melbourne).
In 1903 he published another work entitled ‘Independence of the Navy’. It was claimed that this book was significant in influencing public opinion for increasing that the strength and independence of the RAN. His comments were reported widely in the press in Australia and New Zealand as he advocated an independent navy.
"the cost of making an essentially Australian Navy would not exceed the proposed subsidy and existing local expenditure combined"
He seems to have had significant involvement with the Victorian branch of the Royal Humane Society
In August and September 1914 he served his country in an honorary capacity on the staff of the transport branch of the Navy office organising troop transport from Australia.
He died on 11 April 1929 and was buried at Geelong