Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Drummond, Vance (1927–1967)

by Dennis Newton

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

Vance Drummond (1927-1967), by unknown photographer

Vance Drummond (1927-1967), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, JK0163

Vance Drummond (1927-1967), air force officer, was born on 22 February 1927 at Hamilton, New Zealand, third of six children of Leonard Henry Vance Drummond, office manager, and his wife Dorothy Josephine May, née McKnight, both New Zealand born. Educated at Hamilton West Public and Te Awamutu District High schools, Vance left early to help his father farm. Leonard's four sons were all interested in flying; Fred, the eldest, was killed in 1941 while serving in the Royal Australian Air Force. In May 1944 Vance joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force. His training ended in September 1945 and in October he was demobilized as sergeant navigator.

In March 1946 Drummond enlisted in the New Zealand Military Forces. He was sent to Japan in July with 'J' Force and qualified as an interpreter. Back in New Zealand in October 1948, he left the army and applied to rejoin the R.N.Z.A.F., hoping to train as a fighter pilot. When he was rejected as being too old, he moved to Australia and was accepted by the R.A.A.F. on 29 August 1949.

Graduating top of his course as sergeant pilot in February 1951, Drummond was posted to No.78 Wing at Williamtown, New South Wales, and in August to No.77 Squadron in Korea with which he flew Gloster Meteor jets against superior Soviet-built MiG-15s. He was recommended for the American Air Medal (gazetted 1953) and commissioned on 30 November 1951. Next day his aircraft was shot down and he was captured by the North Koreans. On Good Friday, 1952, he and four companions escaped from Pinchon-ni prisoner-of-war camp, but all were recaptured and punished. Drummond was repatriated in September 1953.

After completing courses in advanced navigation and fighter-combat instruction, in 1954 Drummond became an initial member of the R.A.A.F.'s Sabre Trials Flight at Williamtown. In St Peter's Anglican Church, Hamilton, Newcastle, on 9 September 1955 he married a law clerk Margaret Hope Buckham. He was posted to headquarters, Home (Operational) Command, Penrith, in 1959 and attended the R.A.A.F. Staff College, Canberra, in 1961.

By December Drummond was a flight commander in No.75 Squadron. He was promoted squadron leader in January 1962 and in October took charge of the unit's 'Black Diamonds' aerobatic team, the official R.A.A.F. squad. The team's Sabres became a familiar sight at functions around Australia. They gave displays at the Seventh British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Perth in November, the Royal Hobart Regatta, attended by Queen Elizabeth II, in February 1963 and in Port Moresby in June 1964 to celebrate the opening of Papua New Guinea's House of Assembly. Drummond was awarded the Air Force Cross (1965) for his work in No.75 Squadron and his leadership of the 'Black Diamonds'.

From December 1964 he carried out staff duties at the Department of Air, Canberra. Twelve months later he was promoted acting wing commander (substantive January 1967) and sent to the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) where he was attached to the United States Air Force. On 8 July 1966 he joined the 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron as a forward air controller. He flew in a Cessna 0-1 'Bird Dog', a two-seat observation aircraft, nicknamed 'Snoopy'.

On the night of 24-25 July Drummond and his American pilot went to the aid of an army company which was surrounded by troops of the People's Liberation Armed Forces (Viet Cong). Despite heavy anti-aircraft fire, they kept low, dropping flares, illuminating enemy positions, and calling up support from fighter-bombers and helicopter-gunships. They flew for a total of eleven hours in four sorties, in addition to the five hours which they had flown in daylight on the 24th. By dawn on the 25th the soldiers had been saved. Drummond was to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. For similar work on 27 October, he won the Republic of Vietnam's Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star. He flew a total of 381 operational missions and set a high standard for Australian F.A.C.s who followed him.

Returning home, on 20 February 1967 Drummond assumed command of No.3 Squadron at Williamtown. On 17 May that year he and three other pilots were engaged in training exercises off the New South Wales coast. At 4.20 p.m., about 50 miles (80 km) north-east of Newcastle, his Mirage went into a dive and plummeted into the sea. Neither his body nor the aircraft was recovered. Margaret took their only child, 9-year-old David, to Government House, Canberra, to receive Vance's D.F.C. on 5 April 1968.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Odgers, Across the Parallel (Melb, 1952)
  • G. Odgers, Mission Vietnam (Canb, 1974)
  • Mirage, June 1967
  • D. Newton, 'Black Diamond Leader', Australian Aviation, Dec 1982
  • Age (Melbourne), 13 Sept 1967
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 13 Sept 1967
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18, 19, 23 May 1967
  • New Zealand Herald, 23 Sept 1967
  • private information.

Citation details

Dennis Newton, 'Drummond, Vance (1927–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/drummond-vance-10054/text17733, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 December 2014.

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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Vance Drummond (1927-1967), by unknown photographer

Vance Drummond (1927-1967), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, JK0163