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Bladin, Francis Masson (1898–1978)

by R. N. Dalkin

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

Francis Masson Bladin (1898-1978), by William Dargie

Francis Masson Bladin (1898-1978), by William Dargie

Australian War Memorial, ART27507

Francis Masson Bladin (1898-1978), air force officer, was born on 26 August 1898 at Korumburra, Victoria, son of Frederick William Bladin, engineering contractor, and his wife Ellen, née Douglas, both Victorian born. Educated at Melbourne High School, Francis attempted to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force, but his parents refused their consent. In February 1917 he entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Federal Capital Territory; having graduated in December 1920, he went to England for a sixteen-month attachment to the British Army. Meanwhile, the Royal Australian Air Force was seeking applications from naval and army officers to undertake flying training. Seconded to the R.A.A.F. and made flying officer on 30 January 1923, Bladin completed the course that year at No.1 Flying Training School, Point Cook, Victoria. Postings to the school's staff followed. On 20 December 1927 at Jeir station, near Yass, New South Wales, he married Patricia Mary Magennis.

In 1929 he was sent to England and attended the Royal Air Force Staff College, Andover. Returning to Australia, he commanded several units in Victoria in 1931-39. He had been promoted wing commander on 12 March 1937 and was one of the small coterie of R.A.A.F. officers who, by age and experience, were ready to assume the responsibilities of higher rank in war. From March 1940 to August 1941 Bladin was director of operations and intelligence at R.A.A.F. Headquarters, Melbourne. He was granted the acting rank of air commodore in September 1941. Briefly air officer commanding, Southern Area, and assistant chief of the Air Staff, on 25 March 1942 he became A.O.C., North-Western Area, with headquarters near Darwin. Allied reverses and the recent experience of Japanese bombing raids on Darwin and Broome had reduced morale; an invasion of northern Australia seemed imminent.

Counter-attacking with his meagre force of Hudson bombers from No.2 and No.13 squadrons, Bladin reorganized his command and began to rectify deficiencies in equipment, communications and training. On 20 June he led a flight of five bombers in a strike against Kendari aerodrome, Celebes, Netherlands East Indies, destroying three enemy fighters on the ground and causing widespread damage. While returning to base, his aircraft drove off nine attacking fighters without loss to their own numbers. For his part in the action he was awarded the United States of America's Silver Star. He was appointed C.B.E. in 1943. Bladin's forces were steadily augmented: by April he controlled five bomber and four fighter squadrons, with personnel from Australia, the U.S.A., Britain and the N.E.I. In a theatre where the war was being fought mainly in the air, his principal task was to defend the flank of the concentrated allied forces to the east. The last Japanese raid in strength over the Darwin region took place on 6 July. Acting Air Vice Marshal A. T. Cole relieved Bladin on the 21st and reported that the command was 'well organized, keen and in good shape'.

In August 1943 Bladin was posted to Britain and appointed senior air staff officer of the R.A.F.'s No.38 Group which had been formed to plan and co-ordinate British airborne operations in the projected Allied invasion of Europe. Flying to France on D-Day (6 June 1944) to drop glider-borne troops, he returned to the Continent three days later for service with the invading forces. He was repatriated in October, having been mentioned in dispatches for his work in Britain. His appointment that month as deputy chief of the Air Staff, R.A.A.F., gave him respite from the rigours of operational duties, but negotiations were well advanced for him to assume command of No.238 Group, R.A.F., when the war ended in August 1945. From January 1946 to June 1947 he was chief of staff at the headquarters of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, Kure, Japan; he had become acting air vice marshal on 1 March 1946.

During his next appointment as A.O.C., Eastern Area, Sydney, on 1 October 1948 Bladin was promoted substantive air vice marshal, three weeks before he took office as air member for personnel in Canberra. He was appointed C.B. in 1950 and retired in October 1953. Tall, strongly built and deliberate in his actions, Bladin was a thoughtful man who weighed decisions carefully. There was little that was harsh about him, yet he had an inner toughness, could be firm when necessary and was respected. Loyal, courteous and gentlemanly, with a slow but ready smile, he was fond of his pipe and abstemious in his drinking habits. Golf was his favourite recreation. Even in his younger air force days he possessed an aura of responsibility, a characteristic which almost from the start earned him the nicknames of 'Dad' and 'Pop'—usually the former—by which he was known throughout the service. There was no self-seeking strain or thrusting ambition in his nature; he did not become a controversial figure and was seldom in the public eye until after his retirement. Australia and the R.A.A.F. could have done with more of his kind.

Although kept busy on his property, Adastra, near Yass, Bladin found time to be a spokesman for and national treasurer (1951-54 and 1956-69) of the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia (Returned Services League from 1965). He recorded his religious affiliation as Presbyterian in 1917, married with Catholic rites in 1927 and in 1963 became secretary of the national committee which collected funds for building the multi-denominational Anzac Memorial Chapel of St Paul, Duntroon. His wife was involved in community service and assisted needy families of former air force personnel. Predeceased by her, and survived by their son and two daughters, Bladin died on 2 February 1978 at Box Hill, Melbourne; after an air force funeral at the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel, Deepdene, he was buried in Springvale cemetery. His portrait (1956) by (Sir) William Dargie is in the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Odgers, Air War Against Japan 1943-1945 (Canb, 1957)
  • D. N. Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force 1939-1942 (Canb, 1962)
  • J. Herington, Air Power Over Europe 1944-45 (Canb, 1963)
  • People (Sydney), 24 Feb 1954
  • F. M. Bladin, autobiographical memoir (typescript, 1953, Australian War Memorial)
  • Australian War Memorial records
  • Bladin family papers (privately held).

Citation details

R. N. Dalkin, 'Bladin, Francis Masson (1898–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bladin-francis-masson-9519/text16759, published in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 31 October 2014.

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

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