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Bennett, William Robert (Bill) (1921–1988)

by Doug Hurst

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

William Robert (Bill) Bennett (1921-1988), air force officer and author, was born on 11 July 1921 at Durban, South Africa, son of Charles Henry Bennett, mechanical engineer, and his wife Daisy Violet, née Walters, both Queensland born. The family returned to Queensland and Bill was educated at Brisbane Grammar School and The Southport School. He became an apprentice to a fitter and turner and served as a gunner in the Militia before enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force on 17 August 1941.

After completing pilot training in Australia, Bennett was commissioned on 23 July 1942. He arrived in England in November and six months later was posted to No.286 Squadron, Royal Air Force, an army co-operation unit. From November 1943 he flew Spitfires with No.234 Squadron, conducting fighter sweeps over France, Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as anti-shipping sorties. In July 1944 he was promoted to temporary flight lieutenant. Next month he was transferred as a flight commander in No.453 Squadron, RAAF, to France, where he conducted numerous operations against varied targets. An aggressive leader, he won the Distinguished Flying Cross for his `fine fighting spirit’ and the `inspiring example’ he set by his `courage and devotion to duty’. He was shot down on 24 December while leading a Spitfire flight against a V-2 installation at The Hague.

A prisoner of war in Germany until May 1945, Bennett was repatriated in July. At St Augustine’s Church of England, Hamilton, Brisbane, on 4 August that year he married Florence June Barclay, a hairdresser; they were to have a daughter before being divorced in October 1954. Demobilised from the RAAF on 19 October 1945, he became a manager in his father’s chain factory.

On 9 October 1950 Bennett rejoined the RAAF. He was in combat again in December 1951, flying Meteor jets in Korea with No.77 Squadron. In a total of 182 sorties, his fighting qualities again came to the fore with many aggressive and effective attacks on the enemy, frequently against strong opposition and superior numbers. In February 1952 he raided the marshalling yards at Sariwon, Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea, which were protected by intense anti-aircraft fire. Next month he attacked enemy billets at Chinnamp’o at the `dangerously low altitude of fifty feet [15 m]’ in `below marginal’ weather. That year he was awarded a Bar to his DFC, and the United States’ DFC and Air Medal. His `valor, proficiency and devotion to duty’ and `outstanding leadership’ drew special comment. As an acting squadron leader (February-September), he was temporary commanding officer of No.77 from June until the end of his tour in July 1952.

With a fine performance in Korea, Bennett’s decision to rejoin the RAAF full time seemed vindicated, but this was not to be. Temperamentally unsuited to the peacetime air force, and with family distractions, he failed important training courses well within his ability to pass and eventually resigned from the RAAF on 31 January 1958. During the 1960s he drew on his wartime experiences to write twenty-eight short, action-packed novels based on flying and fighting in the air. While not great literature, the books had a ring of authenticity, taking the reader into the air battle with their technical accuracy and appealing style. Most were translated into other European languages. He also wrote two espionage novels in the early 1970s.

At the RAAF chapel, Williamtown, New South Wales, on 19 December 1955 Bennett married Moya Mahood Saunders, née Frederick, a widow. They were divorced in February 1963. He married Donal (Donna) Mary McNeill, a 24-year-old nursing sister, on 29 November 1965 at the general registry office, Brisbane; they had a son but were divorced in May 1976. Survived by his two children, he died of cirrhosis of the liver on 29 August 1988 at the Repatriation General Hospital, Greenslopes, and was cremated. His portrait (1952) by (Sir) Ivor Hele is held by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Herington, Air Power Over Europe 1944-1945 (1963)
  • R. O’Neill, Australia in the Korean War 1950-53, vol 2 (1985)
  • D. Wilson, Lion Over Korea (1994)
  • series A9300, item Bennett W R (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Doug Hurst, 'Bennett, William Robert (Bill) (1921–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bennett-william-robert-bill-12197/text21869, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 16 November 2018.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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