Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Jones, Sir George (1896–1992)

by Peter Helson

This article was published online in 2017

Sir George Jones (1896–1992), motor mechanic, soldier, air force officer, and company director, was registered as having been born on 22 November 1896 at Rushworth, Victoria, youngest of eight surviving children of Victorian-born parents Henry Jones, farmer and miner, and his wife Jane, née Smith. The family bible recorded George’s birth as 18 October and he would adopt that date. His father died in a mining accident three months before his birth. Thereafter the family lived in poverty and there were no opportunities for the children to have anything more than a basic education. Having attended Rushworth and Gobarup State Schools, in 1910 he began a carpentry apprenticeship. He then moved to Melbourne where he studied engineering at the Working Men’s College and worked as a motor mechanic. A part- time soldier, he was serving with the 29th (Port Phillip) Light Horse when World War I broke out. On 21 June 1915 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and on 25 October joined the 9th Light Horse Regiment at Gallipoli, Turkey. Following evacuation of the Australian forces to Egypt in December, he served with the Imperial Camel Corps before transferring to the Australian Flying Corps on 26 October 1916. Established in 1912, the AFC was a branch of the Australian army until 1921, when the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) was founded.

With his background as a motor mechanic, Jones had the skills and experience that the AFC was seeking.  After successfully completing a trade test, he was posted to No. 67 Squadron as a 2nd class air mechanic and then to No. 68 Squadron. In January 1917 the unit was sent to England, where squadron personnel commenced training for combat in France. Promoted to 1st class air mechanic in April, he began training as a pilot and, having completed the course, was commissioned in October. He was posted in January 1918 to No. 71 Squadron with the rank of lieutenant. The unit (later renamed No. 4 Squadron, AFC) was based at Bruay, France, and equipped with Sopwith Camel fighter aircraft.

Jones flew his first offensive patrol with the squadron on 10 February and fifteen days later scored his initial air combat victory when he shot down a German Albatross fighter near Lille. His fortunes were reversed on 15 March when his plane’s engine failed and he was forced to glide back towards the allied lines pursued by a German fighter. He crashed in no man’s land but suffered minimal physical injuries. Later that month the German army launched its final major offensive of the war and Jones’s squadron was involved in operations to counter it. Several sorties were flown each day by every available aircraft. On 24 March, while on an escort and reconnaissance flight, he received a serious gunshot wound to his back. After recovering in Britain, he rejoined his squadron in July. Between then and the Armistice, he shot down six more aircraft, bringing his tally to seven and qualifying as an ace. He was to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in April 1919 for his daring and gallant leadership, and display of marked ability in all his duties. Promoted to captain, he was appointed as commander of `B’ Flight on 4 November 1918. After serving briefly with his squadron as part of the British army of occupation in Germany, he was repatriated in May 1919 and his AIF appointment terminated on 8 August.

Back in Melbourne Jones worked as a motor mechanic, except for a month in 1920 when he was employed as a pilot at Mildura. On 15 November 1919 at the Church of St Paul, Malvern, he married Muriel Agnes Cronan (d.1959), a typiste, in a Church of England ceremony. Following the establishment of the RAAF, he applied for, and was granted, a short service (later permanent) commission on 24 August 1921. At first he was employed on flying duties. From 1925 he served at the Flying Training School, Point Cook, where he commanded the Workshops Squadron (1925–26 and 1928) and the Flying Squadron (1927–28), and was promoted to squadron leader (1927).  

Recognised by his superiors as a capable and hard-working officer, Jones was selected to attend the Royal Air Force Staff College at Andover, Hampshire, Britain, in 1929. Although he passed the course, he acknowledged that he found it difficult owing to his lack of formal education. He spent the following twelve months attached to RAF units in Britain. At the Central Flying School, Wittering, Cambridgeshire, he qualified as a category A.1 flying instructor and on his return to Australia was posted as officer-in-command of the Training Squadron at Point Cook. His expertise in this field was acknowledged with his appointment in November 1931 as director of training at RAAF Headquarters, Melbourne. In 1934 he commenced a six-year appointment as an honorary aide-de-camp to the governor-general. During September and October 1935 he skilfully piloted and navigated a de Havilland DH 89 aircraft to remote locations in the Northern Territory and the north of Western Australia as part of the North Australian Aerial Geographical and Geophysical Survey. It was a considerable feat of airmanship.

Promoted to wing commander on 1 January 1936, in March Jones became the RAAF's director of personnel services, a position that he held for two years, before being appointed director of recruiting. He was appointed assistant chief of the air staff on 1 July and five months later promoted to acting group captain. His friend and mentor, Group Captain William Bostock, became deputy chief.

After the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, Jones worked with Air Vice Marshal Stanley Goble, acting chief of the air staff (CAS), on plans for an expeditionary air force that would be sent to Britain as part of Australia's contribution to the war effort. The government, however, preferred participation in the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS), by which the dominions would contribute aircrew to the RAF. The terms and agreements governing the EATS were formulated in November 1939 at a conference in Ottawa. Jones attended as a member of the Australian delegation led by James Fairbairn, the minister for air.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Burnett, RAF, replaced Goble as CAS in February 1940. He retained Bostock as his deputy and Jones returned to his earlier appointment as director of training (1940–42). Jones immediately set about the immense task of establishing a training network to meet the demands of the EATS, building numerous additional schools and acquiring new trainer aircraft. This work was recognised when, on 21 February 1941, he was made acting Air Commodore and the following year appointed CBE.

When the war in the Pacific started on 7 December, Jones was in Canada, having been sent there by Burnett to resolve some EATS problems. He quickly returned to Australia where he conducted an on-site inspection of the RAAF units stationed in Darwin. Finding morale to be low and aircraft poorly maintained, he concluded that the fighting value of the three squadrons was below standard. The erratic behaviour of some RAAF staff after the first Japanese air raids on Darwin (19 February 1942) seemed to confirm his observations. In April the Australian government placed its combat forces in the region under the American commander-in-chief, South-West Pacific Area, General Douglas MacArthur. The government decided to divide command of the RAAF between the CAS, responsible for administration, and the commander of the Allied Air Forces, responsible for operations.

Burnett's term as CAS ended in May 1942 and he recommended to the government that Bostock, by then a substantive air vice marshal, succeed him. Arthur Drakeford, minister for air and civil aviation, having had a hostile relationship with Burnett, refused to appoint Bostock. The Federal cabinet selected Jones as CAS, promoting him three substantive ranks to air vice marshal ahead of eight officers senior to him. The appointment on 5 May came a surprise to everyone in the RAAF, not least, to Jones himself. Bostock was appointed air officer commanding RAAF Command—the operational element. Jones’s role was to raise, train, and sustain the RAAF, which included supporting RAAF Command by supplying it with personnel, air bases, and aircraft. While Jones would be answerable to Drakeford, Bostock was to be responsible for conducting air operations and would receive orders from the commander of the Allied Air Forces, Lieutenant Generals George Brett (until July) and thereafter George C. Kenney, both of the United States Army Air Forces.

While this was not an ideal situation, it allowed the government to have some control over the RAAF, and might have worked if different personalities had been involved. Instead, Jones and Bostock went from being friends to the most bitter of enemies. They quarrelled continually for the remainder of the war on issues that included disputed authority over support functions for operational units, appointments of officers, requirements for operational training, construction of airfields, and the supply of aircraft and materiel. Units received conflicting orders from senior officers, and hostile correspondence between Jones and Bostock continued throughout the war. There is no doubt that such disputes damaged the RAAF's war effort. Nevertheless, Jones was appointed CB in June 1943.

Both Jones and Bostock attended the Japanese surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945.  Bostock, together with several other senior officers, retired from the RAAF in April 1946. Jones remained as CAS and was promoted to air marshal on 1 January 1947. He presided over the task of demobilising the wartime RAAF, and developed plans for Australia’s postwar air force. His Plan D, adopted in 1947, was the basis of the service’s postwar organisation and requirements for the following twenty years. During this period he provided RAAF units to support Australian involvement in the Malayan Emergency (1948–60) and the Korean War (1950–53). He also supervised the acquisition of new aircraft including the Sabre jet fighter, Canberra bomber, and Winjeel trainer, and the establishment of the RAAF College (1948) and the RAAF Museum (1952), both located at Point Cook, Victoria.

Retiring from the RAAF on 23 February 1952, Jones became director of coordination of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation and a member of the board of Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. In January 1953 he was appointed KBE for his military service. A boy scout during his youth, Sir George became Victorian branch president of the Baden Powell Scout Guild. Hoping to pursue a political career, in 1952 he had nominated for Liberal Party of Australia preselection for the Federal seat of Flinders, but was unsuccessful. Having become disenchanted with the party, he joined the Australian Labor Party in 1958 and contested the seat of Henty three years later; again he was unsuccessful. Dissatisfied with the ALP’s internal disputes and its attacks on Ansett Transport Industries Ltd, he resigned in 1965. The Liberal Reform group approached him to stand in 1967 at a by-election for the Federal seat Corio; again he was unsuccessful.

Motivated by his opposition to communism, soon after retiring from the RAAF he had joined the Moral Re-Armament movement and in 1952 attended an MRA conference in Colombo. His interest in MRA slowly waned. In 1964 he was initiated into the Peace Commemoration Lodge, eventually reaching the level of master mason. Later he became affiliated with the United Services Lodge. Since the 1930s when he saw a strange object in the sky, Jones had been fascinated with unidentified flying objects and, in retirement, became a patron of the Commonwealth Aerial Phenomena Investigation Organisation and a member of the Victorian UFO Research Society. Another of his retirement activities was building houses for his sons and himself.

In 1978 at Brighton, he married Gwendoline Claire Bauer; she died two years later. Both sons from his first marriage also predeceased him; one died from cancer and the other, who was mentally unstable, was killed in a shoot-out with police. Sir George died on 24 August 1992 at Mentone, Victoria, and was buried beside his second wife in the Cheltenham lawn cemetery. He had been Australia’s last surviving fighter ace from World War I and the last surviving commander from World War II. Douglas Gillison assessed him as `an able and particularly conscientious officer, somewhat shy and reserved’ (Gillison 1962, 477). He was a ‘good and decent man who had overcome considerable personal hardship as a youth to achieve remarkable professional success’ (Stephens, 26), but ‘was neither an inspiring leader nor a notable conceptual thinker’ (Stephens and Isaacs 1996, 96).

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Australian War Memorial. 3DRL/3414 — Jones George (Air Marshal, Director of Training and Chief of Air Staff, RAAF)
  • Coulthard-Clark, Chris. Soldiers in Politics: The Impact of the Military on Australian Political Life and Institutions. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 1996
  • Coulthard-Clark, Chris. The Third Brother: The Royal Australian Air Force 1921–39.  North Sydney: Allen & Unwin in association with The Royal Australian Air Force, 1991
  • Gillison, Douglas. Royal Australian Air Force 1939–1942.  Vol. I of Series 3 (Air) of Australia in the War of 1939–1945.  Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1962
  • Helson, Peter. The Private Air Marshal: the autobiography of Air Marshal Sir George Jones KB [sic] CB DFC. Canberra: Air Power Development Centre, 2010
  • Jones, Anne. Personal communication
  • Jones, George.  From Private to Air Marshal.  Richmond, Vic: Greenhouse Publications, 1988. McCarthy, John. Australia and Imperial Defence 1918–1939: A Study in Air and Sea Power.  St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1967
  • McCarthy, John.  A Last Call of Empire. Australian Aircrew, Britain and the Empire Training Scheme. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1988
  • National Archives of Australia. A12372, R/31/H
  • National Archives of Australia. B2455, JONES G
  • Odgers, George. Air War Against Japan. Vol. II of Series 3 (Air) of Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1957
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject
  • Ruddell, Rosemary.  Personal communication
  • Stephens, Alan. Going Solo. The Royal Australian Air Force, 1946–1971. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1995
  • Stephens, Alan and Jeff Isaacs. High Fliers: Leaders of the Royal Australian Air Force. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1996

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Peter Helson, 'Jones, Sir George (1896–1992)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jones-sir-george-23839/text32710, published online 2017, accessed online 19 March 2019.

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