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Goble, Stanley James (1891–1948)

by John McCarthy

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Stanley James Goble (1891-1948), air vice marshal, was born on 21 August 1891 at Croydon, Victoria, son of George Albert William Goble, a Victorian-born stationmaster, and his wife Ann Elizabeth, née Walton, from England. At 16 he joined the transportation branch of the Victorian Railways and by 1914 was working as a relieving stationmaster. On the outbreak of war he tried to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force but was twice rejected on minor medical grounds. Determined, however, to follow his three brothers into active service, he paid his own passage to England. On 13 July 1915 he was accepted as a trainee airman with the rank of temporary flight sub-lieutenant in the Royal Naval Air Service. After training at Chingford Air Station, Essex, he was confirmed in rank on 20 October and posted to Dover Air Station where he was employed in test-flying new aircraft and in carrying out brief anti-submarine patrols over the English Channel. He was then moved to the Royal Naval Air Service Base at Dunkirk from which he flew the single-seater Sopwith Pup. From Dunkirk he shot down a German L.V.G. two-seater in September 1916.

The battle of the Somme in 1916 led to the formation, with the most experienced pilots available, of No.8 Squadron, R.N.A.S. Goble, a foundation member, flew the Pup and the French Nieuport fighter, combating not only German aircraft but the appalling westerly gales which blew throughout most of the battle. On 1 October he was promoted flight lieutenant and later that month was awarded the Croix de Guerre, and won the Distinguished Service Cross for attacking two enemy aircraft near Ghistelles, France, bringing one down in flames.

On 1 February 1917 Goble was posted to No.5 Squadron, R.N.A.S., which, newly equipped with the D.H.4 day and night bomber, was operating from Petite Synthe, France. He was appointed acting flight commander and on 17 February was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for 'conspicuous bravery and skill in attacking hostile aircraft on numerous occasions'. On 30 June his appointment as flight commander was confirmed and from July he was acting squadron commander; this rank became substantive on 1 January 1918. The potentially difficult transition from flying single-seater fighter sorties to leading two-seater bombing raids was carried out successfully. With No.5 Squadron Goble planned and led, in the first instance, attacks mainly aimed at German naval targets and aerodromes. When General Ludendorff launched his offensive in March 1918, Goble's squadron was committed in front of General Gough's Fifth Army and its targets shifted to bridges, railway sidings and columns of advancing enemy infantry. Such objectives were attacked from heights of between 15,000 feet (4572 m) and 800 feet (244 m) in the face of intense German land and air opposition. The rapid German advance once brought Goble's aerodrome under shell-fire from medium-range artillery and he was forced to conduct a hurried evacuation. When the R.N.A.S. lost its separate identity on 1 April 1918 and merged with the Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Air Force, Goble was appointed major in the new service. He returned with his squadron to England on 15 May. He was appointed M.B.E. in 1917, O.B.E. in 1918 and was twice mentioned in dispatches.

The experience of war had proved Goble to be a gallant and distinguished leader. He had also been fortunate in that, although twice shot down, he escaped the war unwounded. In 1919 his prospects as a regular officer in the Royal Air Force were most satisfactory. He returned to Australia with the rank of lieutenant-colonel and was asked by the chief of the Australian Naval Staff to act as adviser on the formation of the Australian air force. Thus, although he received a permanent commission in the Royal Air Force as a squadron leader on 1 August 1919, he was at once made an honorary wing commander and seconded for service with the Royal Australian Navy. The navy, anxious to gain control of a substantial portion of Australia's air resources and defence vote, nominated Goble for the position of chief of the air staff. This fact, together with the inter-service disputes which marked the creation of the air force, led Goble into serious conflict with the ultimately successful candidate, Wing Commander (Sir) Richard Williams. When the (Royal) Australian Air Force officially came into existence on 31 March 1921 Goble resigned his R.A.F. commission, was appointed to the Australian Air Force and next November was made second member of the Air Board and director of personnel and training under Williams. It quickly became an established practice to ensure that these two officers served as little together as possible. Goble was sent to the United Kingdom in October 1921 to undertake a marine observer's course. On 25 April 1922, at the Church of St Martin in the Fields, London, he married Kathleen Doris Latitia Wodehouse, and soon returned to Australia. Williams then attended the British Army Staff College, Camberley, while Goble was appointed acting chief of the air staff. While holding this position he advocated the creation of a fleet air arm, a project which Williams was quick to discredit.

On 7 April 1924 Goble left Melbourne with Flying Officer I. E. McIntyre in a Fairey IIID seaplane on what became the first successful attempt to fly around Australia. The flight, carried out in often hazardous conditions, covered 8500 miles (13,676 km) in some ninety hours flying time before arriving back in Melbourne on 19 May. Acclaimed as a great achievement in the history of aviation, the flight won the coveted Britannia Trophy for 1924 and Goble was appointed C.B.E. On Williams's return to Australia in 1925, Goble left for the United Kingdom to attend the Royal Air Force Staff College at Andover and the Imperial Defence College at Camberley. While in Britain he acted between May 1926 and September 1927 as air liaison officer in the high commissioner's office in London. He was promoted group captain on 1 April 1928 and temporary air commodore in 1932. During Williams's absence from Australia in 1933-34, he was acting chief of the air staff. In 1935-37 he was seconded to the R.A.F. where he served as deputy director of air operations in the Air Ministry and then commanded a bomber group based at Abingdon, Berkshire. He was promoted temporary air vice marshal on 28 February 1937.

In June 1938 Goble was back in Australia when Sir Edward Ellington, a former chief of the air staff in the Royal Air Force, arrived to carry out an inspection and report on the Australian service. He commented adversely on the causes of several flying accidents and drew the conclusion that flying training was deficient. Goble, as air member for personnel, was responsible for manning and training, but he pointed out to the minister for defence that Williams had made himself responsible for operational training. The government removed Williams from his post as chief of the air staff and on 28 February 1939 Goble was appointed to act in that capacity with the rank of air vice marshal. An R.A.F. officer, Air Commodore J. C. Russell, was seconded to fill the position of air member for personnel.

This period proved an unhappy one for Goble. His relations with Russell rapidly became strained, and once war had broken out it became necessary to plan not only for Australia's local defence but for the contribution to be made towards Imperial defence. Goble initially was unenthusiastic about the Empire Air Training Scheme and preferred to concentrate upon increasing local air power and sending overseas a self-contained Australian air expeditionary force. However, the government, without his knowledge, was negotiating with Britain's Air Ministry to secure the services of a British officer as chief of the air staff. In December 1939 Goble told the prime minister that he wished to resign not only as chief executive officer but also his commission in the Royal Australian Air Force on the grounds that Russell had been undermining his authority. When he attempted to withdraw both resignations he was unsuccessful. Although allowed to retain his commission, he was told that he would be replaced. This difficult situation was only resolved when he accepted the offer to act in Canada as Australian liaison officer to the Empire Air Training Scheme; he served in this capacity until 1945. He played a part in negotiating the Joint Air Training Plan in 1942. In April 1946 he retired from the Royal Australian Air Force with the rank of air vice marshal.

The promise shown by Goble's operational leadership in World War I was not realized in the inter-war years. Partly it was blighted by his relationship with his immediate superior, and by the suspicion held by some in earlier years that he was too eager to foster the interests of the navy to the detriment of those concerns peculiar to an independent air force. His contribution to the defence debate was marginal. His advice to the government during his tenure as acting chief of the air staff in 1939 was largely ignored and in this period of stress he clearly lacked the political skill to be an effective head of an armed service. For many years he was a member of the Institute of Aeronautical Engineers and the Athenaeum Club in Melbourne.

Goble died of hypertensive cerebro-vascular disease on 24 July 1948 in the Repatriation General Hospital, Heidelberg, Melbourne, survived by his wife and three sons. He was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • H. A. Jones, The War in the Air, vol 2 (np, 1924), vol 4 (np, 1934)
  • D. Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force 1939-1942 (Canb, 1962)
  • J. McCarthy, Australia and Imperial Defence (Brisb, 1976)
  • R. Williams, These are Facts (Canb, 1977)
  • British Australasian, 5 Aug 1915, 2 Nov 1916
  • Sea, Land and Air, 2 Oct 1922
  • Reveille (Sydney), Jan 1937, Feb 1939
  • Mufti, Mar 1939
  • Table Talk, 12 Apr 1928
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Sept 1921, 1, 7 Apr, 21 May, 3 June 1924, 10 Feb, 23 July 1925, 30 June 1926, 24 Feb 1928, 10 June 1936, 21, 22, 23, 28 Dec 1939, 3 May 1940, 3 July 1945, 25 Feb 1946, 26 July 1948
  • Argus (Melbourne), 26 July 1948
  • PRO, DO 35/1003/1.

Citation details

John McCarthy, 'Goble, Stanley James (1891–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/goble-stanley-james-6407/text10953, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 18 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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