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Cole, Adrian Lindley Trevor (1895–1966)

by Brian Eaton

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

Adrian Lindley Trevor Cole (1895-1966), air force officer, was born on 19 June 1895 at Glen Iris, Melbourne, fourth child of Robert Hodgson Cole, barrister and medical practitioner, and his wife Helen Helmsley, née Hake, both native-born. Educated at Geelong and Melbourne Church of England grammar schools, Adrian excelled at rowing and was a member of the contingent of cadets from Victorian public schools which went to London in 1911 for the coronation of King George V. Cole obtained a commission in the Australian Military Forces in August 1914, but resigned in order to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force on 28 January 1916. As he wanted to become a pilot, he was posted to No.1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, and in March embarked with it for Egypt; he was promoted second lieutenant in June and began flying training in August.

Operating in support of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force's advance to Palestine, on 20 April 1917 Cole and another pilot attacked and disorganized six enemy aircraft about to bomb a cavalry formation near Gaza; for his skill and courage, Cole was to be awarded the Military Cross. Next day, while he was reconnoitring Tel el Sheria, the motor of his Martinsyde was hit by anti-aircraft fire and he came down behind Turkish lines: Captain (Sir) Richard Williams was able to land and rescue him. In June, when returning from a strike against Turkish Fourth Army headquarters on the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, Cole landed in hostile territory near Beersheba to help stricken comrades. Because the undercarriage of his aircraft broke during his attempted take off, he and his companions had to walk across no man's land to safety. In December Captain Cole was posted to England.

In May 1918 he was sent to No.2 Squadron, A.F.C., one of three squadrons of an elite British offensive force which had been formed on the Western Front in April. On 17 July Cole helped to destroy a Fokker triplane in aerial combat over Armentières, France, and in August shot down two Fokkers in the Lys region. In the 7 October mass raid on roads and railway stations at Lille, he led his flight with initiative and determination, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his part in the action. Having downed another enemy aircraft later that month, Cole returned to Melbourne where his A.I.F. appointment terminated on 20 June 1919. He briefly entered business as an importer, before taking a permanent commission on 31 March 1921 in the (Royal) Australian Air Force. On 30 November at St Peter's Chapel, Melbourne Grammar School, he married a cousin Katherine Shaw Cole. Completing studies at the Royal Air Force Staff College, Andover, England, in 1923, he commanded No.1 Flying Training School, Point Cook, Victoria, in 1926-29, and was air member for supply on the Air Board in 1933-36. Wing Commander Cole had been deputy-chairman of the sub-committee that planned the international air race (conducted for the 1934 Victorian centenary celebrations) and did much of the organizing for the event. He was promoted group captain on 1 January 1935 and appointed C.B.E. in 1937.

Commanding officer (1936-37) of R.A.A.F. Station, Richmond, New South Wales, Cole attended the Imperial Defence College, London, in 1938, and was in command of the base at Laverton, Victoria, on the outbreak of World War II. His promotion to temporary air commodore in December 1939 complemented his increasingly important postings to staff and operational duties in New South Wales and Victoria. In September 1941 Cole was attached to the R.A.F.'s Western Desert Air Force, North Africa, where he briefly commanded No.235 Wing. Transferring to headquarters, No.11 Group, England, in May 1942, he sailed in the destroyer H.M.S. Calpe to co-ordinate air support for the 19 August raid on Dieppe, France. Cole was on the bridge of the Calpe when German fighters strafed the ship; fragments from an exploding cannon-shell lodged in his jaw, neck and back, and he underwent facial plastic surgery. On 15 October he became air officer commanding, Northern Ireland, with the rank of acting air vice marshal. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his performance during the assault against Dieppe.

Repatriated in May 1943, Cole was posted as A.O.C., North-Western Area, on 21 July. From his headquarters in Darwin he organized the air defence of the region and launched strikes against Japanese shipping and shore facilities. Later in the year his forces bolstered the Allies' offensive in New Guinea by reducing enemy strength in the Netherlands East Indies. Appointed air member for personnel on the Air Board in October 1944, he left for India in January 1945 to assume the post of R.A.A.F. liaison officer on the staff of the supreme allied commander, South East Asia. Cole was at Rangoon on 26-27 August for peace negotiations and was senior Australian representative when the Japanese formally surrendered in Singapore on 12 September. Retiring on 17 April 1946, he was promoted substantive air commodore and granted the rank of honorary air vice marshal that day. He stood as a Liberal candidate in the 1946 Federal election, unsuccessfully contesting the Victorian seat of Maribyrnong against A. S. Drakeford, his former minister.

Athletic in build and 6 ft 4½ ins (194 cm) tall, 'King' Cole enjoyed company, convivial occasions and playing golf; he was a director of Pacific Insurance Co. Ltd and Guinea Airways Ltd. He died of chronic respiratory disease on 14 February 1966 in Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital; after an air force funeral in the Anglican chapel, R.A.A.F. Station, Laverton, his body was interred in the family vault at Camperdown cemetery. His wife, two sons and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • F. M. Cutlack, The Australian Flying Corps (Syd, 1923)
  • J. Herington, Air War Against Germany and Italy 1939-1943 (Canb, 1954)
  • G. Odgers, Air War Against Japan 1943-1945 (Canb, 1957)
  • D. N. Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force 1939-1942 (Canb, 1962)
  • C. D. Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother (Syd, 1991)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 21 Apr 1934
  • Cole papers (Australian War Memorial)
  • Australian War Memorial records.

Citation details

Brian Eaton, 'Cole, Adrian Lindley Trevor (1895–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cole-adrian-lindley-trevor-9780/text17283, published in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 3 September 2014.

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

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