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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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King, Elwyn Roy (1894–1941)

by Alan Fraser

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Elwyn Roy King (1894-1941), by unknown photographer

Elwyn Roy King (1894-1941), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial

Elwyn Roy King (1894-1941), airman and engineer, was born on 13 May 1894 at The Grove, near Bathurst, New South Wales, eldest child of Richard King, a native-born labourer, and his English-born wife Elizabeth Mary, née Miller. Educated at public schools, Roy studied mechanical engineering by correspondence. He found work repairing bicycles, shearing machinery and motorcars. Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 20 July 1915, he sailed for Egypt in October and served with the 12th Light Horse Regiment from February 1916.

In December King transferred as an air mechanic to the Australian Flying Corps. Sent to England in the following month and selected for pilot training, he was commissioned in October 1917 and joined No.4 Squadron, A.F.C., in France on 21 March 1918. The squadron was then engaged in the difficult and dangerous work of attacking targets on the ground, and it was not until 20 May that King gained his first victory in aerial combat. His flying had at first displeased his commanding officer Major W. A. McCloughry. Due to King's height (6 ft 3 ins, 191 cm) and bulk, he had difficulty in bringing the control column of his Sopwith Camel far enough back to effect a good landing. The problem diminished when the squadron converted to the roomier Sopwith Snipe.

Promoted captain and appointed flight commander in September, King proved a brilliant patrol leader. His aerial combat record of twenty-six victories, and his tactical skill and daring in attacking ground targets at low level, earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross (1918), the Distinguished Service Order (1919) and a mention in dispatches (1919). Firm and energetic, he was conspicuous in wartime photographs for his broad smile which reflected his genial nature. His colleagues called him 'Bo' or 'Beau', and held him in high regard.

After his A.I.F. appointment terminated in Melbourne on 11 August 1919, King engaged in civil aviation, chiefly with the Larkin-Sopwith Aviation Co. of Australasia Ltd. He made a number of notable commercial flights, including many 'firsts' in the transport of mail, newspapers and photographs for the press. In 1920 he indignantly declined an invitation to join the Australian Air Corps (later the Royal Australian Air Force) because, at that stage, the authorities had failed to offer an appointment to Frank McNamara, a Victoria Cross winner.

In the early 1920s King left aviation. He and another pilot formed Shipman, King & Co. Pty Ltd which manufactured and imported machinery at its Port Melbourne and Sydney premises. The business suited Roy's engineering talents, and it prospered. He spent much of his time restoring and racing motorcars. On 31 March 1925 he married 20-year-old Josephine Vida Livingston at St John's Anglican Church, Camberwell, Melbourne. Called up for R.A.A.F. service in December 1939, he was initially designated a pilot, but was transferred to the Administrative and Special Duties Branch in 1940. He commanded three flying training schools before taking charge of the R.A.A.F. Base, Point Cook, in October 1941 as acting group captain. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, he died of cerebral oedema on 28 November 1941 at Point Cook and was cremated. Hundreds of mourners from military and civil aviation circles attended his funeral.

Select Bibliography

  • E. J. Richards (compiler), Australian Airmen (Melb, 1918)
  • F. M. Cutlack, The Australian Flying Corps (Syd, 1923)
  • A. H. Cobby, High Adventure (Melb, 1942)
  • C. Shores et al, Above the Trenches (Lond, 1990)
  • embarkation roll, 12th Light Horse Regiment (Australian War Memorial)
  • war diary, 4th Squadron, Australian Flying Corps (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Alan Fraser, 'King, Elwyn Roy (1894–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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