Australian Dictionary of Biography

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George, Sir Robert Allingham (1896–1967)

by P. A. Howell

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

Robert Allingham George (1896-1967), by unknown photographer, c1960

Robert Allingham George (1896-1967), by unknown photographer, c1960

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 38972

Sir Robert Allingham George (1896-1967), air force officer and governor, was born on 25 July 1896 at Cromarty in the County of Ross and Cromarty, Scotland, twin child of William George, inspector of the poor, and his wife Mary, née Allingham. Educated at Invergordon and Inverness, in 1914 he enlisted in the Seaforth Highlanders. He was sent to France and commissioned in 1916 in the Gordon Highlanders. Next year he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps as a pilot and in 1918 was awarded the Military Cross for his night bombing and strafing exploits. Appointed to a permanent commission in the Royal Air Force in 1919, he served in India until 1924, then at the Cadet College, Cranwell, Lincolnshire. At the parish church, Caythorpe, on 3 May 1927 he married 18-year-old Sybil Elizabeth Baldwin.

On graduating from the R.A.F. Staff College in 1931, George took command of No.33 Squadron at Bicester, Oxfordshire, and won acclaim for developing the new technique of dive-bombing. He was senior air staff officer, Singapore, 1934-37, air attaché, Ankara (1939-44) and Athens (1939-41), air officer commanding, Iraq and Persia, 1944-45, and air attaché, Paris, from 1945. Appointed C.B.E. (1944) and C.B. (1948), he was promoted substantive air vice-marshal in 1950 and elevated to K.B.E. on his retirement from the R.A.F. in 1952.

In August that year Sir Robert was appointed governor of South Australia. He and Lady George arrived in Adelaide on 22 February 1953. In a speech of welcome Premier (Sir) Thomas Playford noted that governors were expected to be 'an inspiration in times of danger'. George rose to the challenge after Adelaide's worst earthquake damaged Government House and many other buildings in March 1954, a fortnight before Queen Elizabeth II made her first visit to the city. He did so again in January 1955 when bushfires destroyed fifty homes, including the vice-regal summer residence, Marble Hill. Trapped by the flames for two hours, the Georges and their staff lost their personal effects and were lucky to escape with their lives.

George was admired for his bravery, but his impatience, polo-playing and habit of carrying a fly-whisk as well as a cane on parade did not endear him to the masses. He was appointed K.St.J. (1953), K.C.V.O. (1954), grand master of the Grand Lodge of Freemasons (1956) and K.C.M.G. (1958). Lady George encouraged charity workers, but upset educationists and feminists. Opening laboratories and classrooms at a girls' college, she claimed: 'the most important thing for a girl is to learn how to run a home well' and suggested that 'many wars might have been prevented' if women had 'kept their menfolk better fed and more contented'. Although annoyed by Sir Robert's demands for a swimming pool and a personal helicopter, the premier upheld the dignity of the governor's office. When a cook's action for the recovery of her wages appeared in the Supreme Court lists as Badcock v. Air Vice-Marshal Sir Robert Allingham George, Playford funded an out-of-court settlement by inserting a line for £500 in the 1956-57 budget on condition that Badcock's solicitor D. A. Dunstan and his Australian Labor Party colleagues in parliament gave an undertaking not to debate that item during the budget's passage through the legislature. Conservatives were enraged when an A.L.P. maverick S. J. Lawn reneged and tried to raise a public outcry about the governor's treatment of his staff. Playford showed his contempt for the Opposition by extending George's term.

Sir Robert retired to England in 1959 and became a director in London of the Bank of Adelaide and the Australian Estates Co. Ltd. Survived by his wife, daughter and three sons, he died on 13 September 1967 at St Marylebone after being struck by a motorcar.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (South Australia), 3 Oct 1956, p 865
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 26, 27 Aug 1952, 19, 21, 24 Feb, 1 Apr, 4 June 1953, 3, 4 Jan 1955, 15 Feb 1956, 11 Mar, 5 Nov 1957, 8 Mar 1960
  • News (Adelaide), 28 Aug 1952, 23 Feb 1953, 1 Mar 1954, 25 Jan, 4 Oct 1956
  • Sunday Mail (Adelaide), 28 Apr 1956
  • Herald (Melbourne), 14 Sept, 17 Nov 1967
  • private information.

Citation details

P. A. Howell, 'George, Sir Robert Allingham (1896–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/george-sir-robert-allingham-10292/text18209, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 25 July 2014.

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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Robert Allingham George (1896-1967), by unknown photographer, c1960

Robert Allingham George (1896-1967), by unknown photographer, c1960

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 38972