Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Allen, Arthur Denis Wigram (1894–1967)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Arthur Denis Wigram Allen (1894-1967), solicitor and aviator, was born on 19 August 1894 at Burwood, Sydney, second of four children of native-born parents Arthur Wigram Allen, solicitor, and his wife Ethel Grace, née Lamb. Belonging to one of Sydney's oldest and most respected families, Denis was educated at Tudor House school, Moss Vale, and from 1906 in England at Summer Fields school, Oxford, and St Peter's College, Radley, Berkshire (1908-12). From boyhood, he was a close friend of his cousins Dundas Allen (later his partner) and (Sir) George ('Gubby') Allen who was to captain the 1936-37 English cricket team.

Back home, Denis was articled on 16 July 1913 to Alfred Macartney Hemsley, a solicitor in the family firm. Denis was a skilled horseman and a successful amateur rider at picnic race meetings. When he joined the Royal Naval Air Service in England in June 1916, he brought 'the same delicate touch to an aeroplane'. Cool and courageous as an acting flight commander, he served in France and won the Distinguished Service Cross that year. Transferring to the Royal Air Force as an 'aeroplane and seaplane officer', he was promoted captain in April 1918. He was appointed technical officer on the staff of the director-general of aircraft production, flew as a test-pilot and was awarded the Air Force Cross in November. Later he did similar work for Thomas Sopwith; Allen's British commercial flying licence was No.2.

Returning to Sydney in 1919 to carry on the family tradition, he resumed his articles on 12 December, was admitted as a solicitor on 21 October 1922 and became a partner in Allen, Allen & Hemsley. He would have preferred to continue flying. At All Saints Anglican Church, Singleton, on 9 November that year he married Mary Beatrice Dangar, a grand-daughter of H. C. Dangar. Molly had worked with a voluntary aid detachment in London. She died on 4 April 1934, leaving three sons.

Allen was chairman of New England Airways Ltd and from 1935 of its succesor, Airlines of Australia Ltd. He served on a committee of veteran airmen appointed in 1940 to recruit 50,000 men for the Empire Air Training Scheme and was a founder of Air Force House in Sydney. During World War II he drove his father's 1916 Detroit electric brougham which he was to present to the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in 1947. Allen did much to hold the law firm together while many of its partners were on active service. He won the confidence of clients by his common sense and meticulous attention to detail. Modest about his own ability as a lawyer among more gifted men, after the war he restructured the firm to divide the equity among all the partners. He retired late in 1963. Allen was chairman of Mount Kembla Collieries Ltd, and a director of Australian Mutual Fire Insurance Society Ltd and of Butler Air Transport Ltd; he strongly opposed B.A.T.'s takeover by Ansett Transport Industries Ltd.

Tall and rather loose-limbed, with the pale-blue eyes of his family, Allen was extremely conservative in his habits. He belonged to the Union, Royal Sydney Golf and Australian Jockey clubs. On 20 February 1943 at St Mark's Church, Darling Point, he had married Philippa Nancy, daughter of Sir Colin Stephen. She shared Denis's love of horses and owned Advocate, winner of the 1952 Victoria Derby. Survived by his wife, and by the sons of his first marriage, Allen died on 4 June 1967 at his Double Bay home and was cremated. His youngest son Patrick, deputy fleet training manager with the British Overseas Airways Corporation, was to pilot the supersonic Concorde on her early development flights.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Gifford, I Can Hear the Horses (Lond, 1975)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 June 1967
  • Maj-Gen the Rev C. A. Osborne, Funeral oration (typescript, copy on ADB file)
  • private information.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Allen, Arthur Denis Wigram (1894–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/allen-arthur-denis-wigram-9335/text16347, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 17 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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