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Boyd, John à Beckett Penleigh (Pat) (1915–1981)

by Brenda Niall

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

John à Beckett Penleigh (Pat) Boyd (1915-1981), air force officer and airline pilot, was born on 1 February 1915 at Brighton, Melbourne, first surviving child of Theodore Penleigh Boyd, an English-born landscape painter, and his Brisbane-born wife Edith Susan, an artist and daughter of John Anderson. He was the first grandson of Arthur Merric and Emma Minnie Boyd. Martin Boyd was his uncle and Robin his younger brother. `Pat’ seemed destined for a career as a painter. After leaving Melbourne Church of England Grammar School in 1931, he studied at the National Gallery schools, where he won prizes in 1932-36. However, growing up in the Depression on the small income left after their father’s early death, Pat and Robin knew that they had to enter the workforce. Pat, who loved and understood machinery of every kind, worked for a firm which made office equipment, but continued to paint with his grandfather and his cousin Arthur on the Mornington Peninsula. He exhibited landscapes with the Victorian Artists Society in 1939 and 1940.

On 13 October 1940 Boyd enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force. After initial training in New South Wales, he was sent to Ontario, Canada, where he gained his wings and was commissioned on 29 May 1941. He arrived in England in July and in September joined No.125 (Newfoundland) Squadron, Royal Air Force, a night-fighter unit. Flying Defiants and Beaufighters, he was promoted to flying officer in November and temporary flight lieutenant in May 1943. He returned to Australia in January 1944 and in March was posted to No.31 Squadron, RAAF, based at Coomalie Creek, Northern Territory. In July he was made acting squadron leader. He was reserved and unassuming, and some thought him remote. Yet his friends appreciated his inventiveness and quiet humour. Five ft 9 ins (175 cm) tall and handsome, with dark hair and blue eyes, he was admired as well as liked. In war he found the gift of leadership.

Boyd’s courage and organising ability were demonstrated in July 1944 when he led four Beaufighters on a long-range mission to Maumere, Flores, Netherlands East Indies. He destroyed two Japanese aircraft on an airstrip and made a single-handed attack on four twin-engined fighters in the air. Disregarding heavy anti-aircraft fire, he then attacked and damaged a 1500-ton ship in the harbour before leading his force safely home. He won the Distinguished Flying Cross, to which a Bar was added for an action over Timor in October.

Leading eight aircraft on a coastal sweep, he was at treetop height when his starboard motor was hit by enemy fire. With his aeroplane enveloped in smoke, he climbed out of the valley, cutting out the motor to prevent it catching fire. The port engine then gave trouble. Boyd dumped petrol to lighten the aeroplane, and when he landed after the 450-mile (724 km) return flight he had only enough fuel for a few more minutes in the air. He left the squadron in January 1945 and trained as a test pilot. From September he served with No.1 Aircraft Performance Unit. He had been mentioned in despatches.

Demobilised on 4 July 1946, Boyd joined the newly established Trans-Australia Airlines and later became senior captain of its test and performance unit. On 15 December 1947 at St John’s Church of England, Toorak, Melbourne, he married Anne, daughter of Thomas Davy. They settled at Balwyn in a modernist house designed by Robin. For Boyd, flying had become almost as essential as breathing, and when his age and health reduced him to a desk job, he hated the routine and endured it for less than a year before resigning in March 1973.

In 1974 Boyd and his wife joined their daughter Annabel at Penleigh Farm, a small property near Perth. He enjoyed using his mechanical skills in outdoor tasks. Although he did some painting, he was dissatisfied with the results: he had been away from it too long. After a long period of ill health, he died from bronchopneumonia on 8 March 1981 in the Midland Convalescent Hospital, Perth, and was cremated. His wife and their two daughters and son survived him. He is commemorated by a plaque at Springvale war cemetery, Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Odgers, Air War Against Japan 1943-1945 (1957)
  • G. Serle, Robin Boyd (1995)
  • B. Niall, The Boyds (2002)
  • series A9300, item Boyd J A P (National Archives of Australia)
  • AWM 88, items RAAF I/26, and RAAF I/32 (Australian War Memorial)
  • National Gallery of Victoria Archives
  • private information.

Citation details

Brenda Niall, 'Boyd, John à Beckett Penleigh (Pat) (1915–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/boyd-john-a-beckett-penleigh-pat-12241/text21961, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 24 January 2018.

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

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