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Douglas, Roger (Dodger) (1894–1919)

by Kevin J. Fewster

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Roger Douglas (left) with James Ross

Roger Douglas (left) with James Ross

Ross family archives, State Library of New South Wales

Roger Douglas (1894-1919), printer, soldier and aviator, was born on 5 June 1894 at Charters Towers, Queensland, son of Walter Douglas, miner, and his wife Alice, née Grattan. He was educated at a state school before commencing work on the Northern Miner, Charters Towers. Later he joined the Townsville Daily Bulletin as a linotype operator. A keen boxer, Douglas had been the lightweight and welterweight champion of Queensland. His mates acknowledged his prowess by nicknaming him 'Dodger'.

Before World War I Douglas served as a citizen soldier in the 1st Australian Garrison Artillery, then, after war broke out, spent six months on garrison duty at Thursday Island. On 11 May 1915 he enlisted in Brisbane as a private in the Australian Imperial Force, embarking late in June as a machine-gunner in the 25th Battalion. The 25th saw action on Gallipoli from 11 July 1915 until the evacuation; Douglas was promoted corporal, then sergeant in October.

In March 1916 the battalion was shipped to France and Douglas transferred to the 7th Machine-Gun Company. In an action at Pozières in early August, he 'rallied part of the infantry and guided them over the captured positions under heavy fire when they were without leaders and disorganized. He [then] helped materially to repel counter-attacks'. His bravery was rewarded with a second lieutenant's commission and a Distinguished Conduct Medal. On 25 November he was promoted lieutenant.

On 28 December 1917 Douglas was awarded the Military Cross in recognition of his gallantry at Polygon Wood in September. He had left the Machine-Gun Company on 26 November to join the Australian Flying Corps. He began his training at Reading, England, in March 1918 and graduated as a pilot on 5 May. He never flew in combat but was appointed an instructor with the 5th Australian Training Squadron in England.

Douglas was still in England when the Australian government announced in March 1919 that it would award a £10,000 prize to the first Australian aviator to fly from Britain to Australia. He resolved to enter the contest. Lieutenant J. S. L. Ross from Moruya, New South Wales, was to be navigator and co-pilot of their 450 h.p. Alliance aircraft named 'Endeavour'. On 30 October, the day they hoped to set off, the plane suffered a minor crash which necessitated repairs to the chassis and body. That day Douglas had been cautious but confident about the flight when he stated that 'only a mishap … will prevent us landing in Australia'. They finally took off from Hounslow near London, at 11.30 a.m. on 13 November after bad weather had delayed the departure. The plane had flown only six miles (9.6 km) when it appeared to fall out of a cloud over Surbiton, enter a spin, then crash into an orchard and explode. Both men were killed. A verdict of accidental death was returned; the coroner refused to consider claims by Douglas's fiancée Mabel Woolley that the aircraft was not fully repaired until the night before departure, thus restricting Douglas's test flying in the rebuilt machine to a mere five minutes. Douglas and Ross were buried with full military honours in Brookwood cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • F. M. Cutlack, The Australian Flying Corps in the Western and Eastern Theatres of War, 1914-1918 (Syd, 1923)
  • W. A. Carne, In Good Company: An Account of the 6th Machine Gun Company A.I.F. in Search of Peace 1915-19 (Melb, 1937)
  • London Gazette, 28 Dec 1917, 1 Jan 1918 (supplement)
  • Sea, Land and Air, Dec 1919
  • Reveille (Sydney), May 1931
  • Argus (Melbourne), 11 Oct, 3, 15, 17, 21 Nov 1919
  • Times (London), 17 Oct 1919, p 12, 14 Nov 1919, p 9, 18 Nov 1919, p 9
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1, 15, 21, 22 Nov 1919, 1 Jan, 13 Mar 1920
  • Sun (Sydney), 14, 16 Nov 1919
  • North Queensland Register, 17 Nov 1919
  • file 12/11/4085 (Australian War Memorial).

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Kevin J. Fewster, 'Douglas, Roger (Dodger) (1894–1919)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/douglas-roger-dodger-6004/text10255, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 27 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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