The Artists

Sir William Dargie


Born 1912

oil on canvas
76.2 x 55.8 cm
Collection: Australian War Memorial (26993)

File: 206/2/7 Parts 1 and 2; 205/2/26 Part 4.
Remarks: Corporal Jim Gordon VC.
VC won at Merjayoun.
Comments by artist - 'not the smiling, happy-go lucky "Digger" of legend but the slightly older-than-young man with a definite sense of responsibility.'
Second World War; 1941; Aley, Syria; portrait; 2nd Australian Imperial Force
2/31st Infantry Battalion; Corporal James Heather Gordon, VC; Jezzine, Syria

This work was awarded the Archibald Prize for 1942

Illustrated in colour on page 93 of 'Soldiering On: The Australian Army at Home and Overseas'. The caption with the illustration reads: 'CPL. JIM GORDON V.C. By B3/59'. 'Cpl. Gordon, a Western Australian, was awarded the V.C. for taking single-handed a machine-gun post obstructing the Australians' advance in Syria on July 10, 1941.'

The work is also illustrated in colour, Plate 36 in the exhibition catalogue 'Dargie: 50 Years of Portraits' published in 1985. The entry in this catalogue notes that the work is part of the 'Collection of the Australian War Memorial, Canberra 26993, and that Corporal Jim Gordon V.C. belonged to the 2/31st Australian Infantry Battalion and was awarded the V.C. July 1941. Jezzine Syria.'

In 'The Archibald Prize' article by Anna Waldmann in the Summer 1982 edition of Art and Australia the work is again illustrated and the following comments are made about the work.
'Dargie won the 1942 competition with a painting of Corporal Jim Gordon V.C. At the time he was official war artist and was stationed in the Middle East and in New Guinea for part of the twelve months preceding the award. Furthermore, the work was painted in Syria, where Gordon won his V.C. by silencing a Vichy machine-gun post. The ship bringing the portrait back to Sydney was sunk and the painting spent some time under water.
As much as the press would have liked to question Dargie's right to the Archibald Prize, it quickly fell silent under the pressure of the patriotic feelings of the public, who enjoyed the portrait of a "typical Digger".'

In the Peter Ross book 'Let's Face It', published in 1999, the work is Illustrated, and Ross notes that the work was 'one of 111 works submitted for the Archibald Prize by 74 artists, and that the prize money for that year was 441 pounds 11 shillings and 11 pence.' The exhibition dates were from 23 January to 28 February 1943.

Ross further notes that " William Dargie told the press that he chose the subject of his second winning portrait, Victoria Cross winner Corporal Jim Gordon, as 'the perfect model for a typical Digger'."

Faced with a challenge from a fellow competitor, the Gallery ruled that Dargie's absence of up to six months during the preceding year as an official war artist in the Middle East and New Guinea did not legally contravene the condition of entry that an artist must be resident in Australia during the twelve months preceding the date fixed by the trustees for submitting pictures to the competition.

In the 1944 edition of 'Who's Who in Australia' the entry for Corporal Jim Gordon V.C. is recorded thus:

'GORDON, James Heather, V.C., private, A.I.F., won V.C. at Greenhill, north of Djezzine, July 10, 1941, when, under intense machine-gun fire he crept forward on his own initiative, approached enemy machine-gun post, charged it from front and killed four machine-gunners with bayonet, this action completely demoralised enemy in this sector and Private Gordon's coy. advanced and took the position; during remainder of action that night and following day Private Gordon, who had throughout the operations shown a rare degree of courage, fought with equal gallantry.
Address, c/- Department of the Army, Victoria Barracks, Melb. Vic.'

In the 1950 edition of 'Who's Who in Australia', this further information on Gordon was provided. That James Heather Gordon was born on March 7, 1909 in Rockingham, Western Australia, that he was a private in 2nd A.I.F., when awarded the V.C. That he was married with one son and that his address was now given as c/- Sergeants' Mess, Karrakatta Camp, Western Australia.

Still further information is provided in the 1959 edition of 'Who's Who in Australia', where we are informed that he is now Warrant Officer Class 2 A.R.A. That he married on March 11, 1940, Myrtle Anzac daughter of L.Troy. That his recreations are football and cricket, and that he is a member of the W.A. Naturalists Club.
His address was given as 1 Zarnia Street, Claremont, Western Australia.

In the 1980 edition of 'Who's Who in Australia' it is noted that he retired from his position of Warrant-Officer Class 2 A.R.A. in 1968.

Andrew Mackenzie

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