Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Coate, Edward Ernest (Ern) (1908–1995)

by David Wilson

This article was published online in 2019

Edward Ernest (Ern) Coate (1908–1995), air force officer and garage proprietor, was born on 13 August 1908 at Cunningham, Victoria, elder son of Victorian-born parents David Coate, contractor, and his wife Rubeena Ellen, née Peterson. Registered at birth as Ernest Edward, he preferred to be known as Edward Ernest. He was educated at Bairnsdale School of Mines where he received a Diploma of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering.

At the time he enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) on 13 October 1940, Coate owned a garage at Bairnsdale.  He was recorded as being 5 feet 7 inches (170 cm) tall, weighing 155 pounds (70 kg), and having grey eyes and a fresh complexion. After training as a pilot in Australia and Canada, he was commissioned in May 1941 and sent to Britain two months later. His entire operational service would be in the Mediterranean theatre where, from March 1942 to March 1943, he flew long-range Beaufighters on air-combat and ground-attack missions with Royal Air Force squadrons, 252, 227, and 272. He was based in Egypt until November 1942, when his unit moved to Malta.

Between September 1942 and January 1943 Coate became one of the eighty Australian air aces of World War II: fighter pilots who destroyed five or more enemy aircraft in the air. He shot down eight planes by himself while he and another pilot shared the credit for a ninth. Additionally, he damaged fifteen aircraft and destroyed one on the ground. On 24 November he downed a German BV 222 flying boat and severely damaged a Dornier 24, despite being attacked by three enemy fighters. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his 'courage, fearlessness and determination' (NAA A9300).  Promoted to acting flight lieutenant in December (substantive, May 1945), he was made a flight commander. In March 1943 he earned commendation for his part in strikes against enemy ground forces in Tunisia. In one raid he set three tanks on fire at Ksar Rhilane (Ghilane). 'Some days later he pressed home an attack’ at El Hamma (Al-Hammah), in the face of anti-aircraft fire that seriously damaged his plane (NAA A9300). He was awarded a Bar to his DFC.

Returning to Australia in June 1943, Coate was posted as an instructor at No. 5 Operational Training Unit, Wagga Wagga (later Tocumwal), New South Wales. From July 1944 he was a staff officer at RAAF Headquarters, Melbourne, completing a short course at the RAAF Staff School later in the year. His superiors praised his efficiency and his pleasant personality. On 16 May 1945 his appointment was terminated on compassionate grounds.

At St John’s Church of England, Toorak, on 18 October he married Dianna Errol Forster Woods. The couple moved to Bairnsdale where he was employed as a manager and transport operator until the late 1960s. They then resided in Melbourne where he worked as an engineer. He was an enthusiastic golfer, having been a member of the Lakes Entrance and Bairnsdale golf clubs. Survived by his wife and two daughters he died on 18 March 1995 at East St Kilda and was cremated.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Garrison, A. D. Australian Fighter Aces 1914-1953. Fairbairn, ACT: Air Power Studies Centre, 1999
  • Herington, J. Air War against Germany and Italy 1939–1943, Australia in the War of 1939–1945.  Vol.III of Series 3, (Air) III. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1962
  • London Gazette. 5 February 1943,  Supplement 653
  • London Gazette. 20 April 1943,  Supplement 1855
  • Maton, M. The Distinguished Flying Cross to Australians. St Ives, NSW: privately published, 2000
  • Newton, Dennis. Australian Air Aces. Canberra: Aerospace Publications, 1996
  • National Archives of Australia. A9300, Coate, Edward Ernest
  • National Archives of Australia. AWM65, Coate, Ernest Edward 400695
  • RAAF Historical Section, comp. Units of the Royal Australian Air Force. A Concise History. Vol. 8 Training Units. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1995

Additional Resources

Citation details

David Wilson, 'Coate, Edward Ernest (Ern) (1908–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/coate-edward-ernest-ern-27061/text34536, published online 2019, accessed online 18 September 2019.

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