Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Drummond, Sir Peter Roy Maxwell (1894–1945)

by John McCarthy

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Peter Roy Maxwell Drummond (1894-1945), by unknown photographer, c1942

Peter Roy Maxwell Drummond (1894-1945), by unknown photographer, c1942

Australian War Memorial, MED0261

Sir Peter Roy Maxwell Drummond (1894-1945), air force officer, was born on 2 June 1894 in Perth and registered as Roy Maxwell, son of John Maxwell Drummond, merchant, and his wife Caroline, née Lockhart. Educated at Scotch College, Perth, young Drummond served in the cadets and passed the senior and higher public examinations set by the University of Adelaide. On 10 September 1914 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force, giving his occupation as bank clerk. His slight build was deemed to preclude active service and in November he was posted to the 2nd Australian Stationary Hospital as a medical orderly. In December he embarked for the Middle East and by April 1915 was in a hospital ship off Gallipoli. He assisted surgeons who operated by candlelight in primitive conditions, and was struck by 'the ghastly sight' of the wounded. Suffering from dysentery and debility, he was evacuated to England where he was hospitalized.

In December Drummond applied for a commission in the Royal Flying Corps. He had 'mixed feelings' when he was discharged from the A.I.F. on 14 April 1916 and appointed temporary second lieutenant. After flying-training at Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex, in September he was attached as a pilot to No.1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, based in Egypt. While serving with this unit, he won the Military Cross for an action in which he was engaged against six enemy aircraft; the citation noted his 'skill and courage on all occasions'.

Promoted temporary captain, in October 1917 Drummond joined No.111 Squadron, R.F.C., which was equipped with Nieuports and S.E.5a's. In December he and his observer engaged three German fighters over Tul Keram, Palestine, and destroyed them all. Drummond was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. His single-handed fight against six enemy scouts in March 1918 resulted in the destruction of two and the award of a Bar to his D.S.O. From July he commanded No.145 Squadron, Royal Air Force. He was promoted acting major in September and mentioned in dispatches for the attacks he made on Turkish infantry next month. His seven-and-a-half confirmed 'kills' included six of the Albatros DV type. In August 1919 he received a permanent commission in the R.A.F.

As acting squadron leader, in 1920 Drummond commanded 'H' Unit which accompanied a punitive expedition against the Garjak Nuers in south-eastern Sudan. Following four weeks of bombing and machine-gunning, the rebels capitulated. Drummond returned to England and was appointed O.B.E. (1921). He graduated from the R.A.F. Staff College, Andover, in 1923, then worked directly to Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh (Viscount) Trenchard at the Air Ministry. Between 1925 and 1929 Drummond was on loan to the Royal Australian Air Force, and was director of operations and intelligence at Headquarters in Melbourne. He acted as aide to Air Marshal Sir John Salmond who visited Australia in 1928 to report on the R.A.A.F. On 17 July 1929 Drummond married Isabel Rachael Mary Drake-Brockman at St John's Anglican Church, Toorak; they were to have a son and two daughters.

Back in England, in 1930 Drummond attended the Imperial Defence College, London. Next year he was promoted wing commander and given command of Tangmere, Sussex, an important fighter station in Britain's air-defence system. In 1933-36 he was again at the Air Ministry. While commanding R.A.F. Station, Northolt, Middlesex, in January 1937 he was promoted group captain.

He returned to the Middle East in November as senior air staff officer in the R.A.F. Middle East Command. There, he built the infrastructure for a modern air force. The task was almost completed when Italy entered the war (10 June 1940) and the region became an operational theatre. Drummond had risen to air commodore and in January 1941 was promoted air vice marshal. On 1 June Air Chief Marshal (Sir) Arthur (Baron) Tedder took over as air commander-in-chief, Middle East, and Drummond was appointed his deputy, as acting (temporary June 1943) air marshal. Together they developed the concept of a mobile strike-force capable of co-operating fully with the other two services.

In 1942 Drummond rejected the post of chief of the Air Staff, R.A.A.F. which had been offered to him in an attempt to solve the crisis in the service's higher command arrangements in the South-West Pacific Area. The Australian government raised the matter once more in April 1943, but the Air Ministry refused to release Drummond who had been selected to become air member for training on the Air Council. In Tedder's opinion, the Air Ministry's decision was wise; he later referred to Drummond's ability and support as important factors in winning the war in North Africa.

Drummond was responsible for managing part of the Empire Air Training Scheme. He contributed to the bungling which led to a massive surplus of aircrew receiving instruction. By May 1944 he thought that only high casualty rates in the planned invasion of Europe would take up the over-supply. Appointed C.B. in 1941, he was elevated to K.C.B. in 1943. He then formally took his nickname Peter—which he had acquired at Scotch College—as an additional Christian name.

Five ft 7¼ ins (171 cm) tall, with a fair complexion, brown eyes and brown hair, Drummond had a pleasant, unaffected manner which made him popular among all ranks. On 27 March 1945, en route to Canada, the Liberator in which he was travelling was lost near the Azores. The aircraft was never found: Drummond and its other occupants were presumed to have died that day. The Imperial War Museum holds a portrait of Sir Peter by Eric Kennington and the Air Ministry another by Cuthbert Orde.

Select Bibliography

  • Dictionary of National Biography, 1941-1950
  • P. Firkins, The Golden Eagles (Perth, 1980)
  • Times (London), 17 Aug 1917, 27 Mar, 27 July, 26 Aug 1918
  • PRO Air 2/5943 (National Archives of the United Kingdom)
  • Australian War Memorial records.

Citation details

John McCarthy, 'Drummond, Sir Peter Roy Maxwell (1894–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/drummond-sir-peter-roy-maxwell-10052/text17729, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 27 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Peter Roy Maxwell Drummond (1894-1945), by unknown photographer, c1942

Peter Roy Maxwell Drummond (1894-1945), by unknown photographer, c1942

Australian War Memorial, MED0261