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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Letcher, Victor Frederick (1892–1968)

by Chris Clark

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

Victor Frederick Letcher (1892-1968), public servant, was born on 22 July 1892 at Prahran, Melbourne, second son of Victorian-born parents John Hosking Letcher, clerk, and his wife Annie Marie, née Dale. Educated at Prahran College, he joined the Victorian Railways in 1910. After successively serving as secretary to commissioners E. B. Jones and W. M. Shannon, in 1925 he was appointed 'special officer' on the staff of (Sir) Harold Clapp, the chairman of commissioners. On 18 April that year Letcher married Sylvia Maie Ford at All Saints Anglican Church, St Kilda; they were to remain childless. In 1926-27 he spent eight months in the United States of America studying railway administration. He was promoted chief clerk for the Victorian Railways in 1929 and manager of publicity and tourist services in 1933.

In July 1939 an aircraft construction branch was formed within the Commonwealth Department of Supply and Development to manage the local manufacture of Beaufort bombers for the Royal Australian Air Force. Clapp was appointed general manager of the new branch and he made Letcher superintendent of administration. From March 1940 aircraft manufacture was under the control of a statutory body, the Aircraft Production Commission, with Letcher as its secretary. In January 1942 the A.P.C. was replaced by the aircraft advisory committee, of which Letcher was a member in his capacity as director of administration in the Department of Aircraft Production (established June 1941).

On 3 June 1946 Letcher was promoted departmental secretary, but in November the D.A.P. became a division of the Department of Munitions (later Supply) and he reverted to the status of assistant-secretary and director of aircraft production; he was also deputy-chairman of the board of aircraft factory administration which was established to provide technical direction. In the immediate postwar period he facilitated the introduction of jet aircraft into the R.A.A.F. and helped to negotiate licences for the local manufacture of Rolls Royce Nene and Avon turbo-jet engines, and the Canberra bomber. He accompanied (Sir) Lawrence Wackett, manager of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Pty Ltd, on a visit to Britain and America in 1950. Their findings led the government to abandon the planned purchase of a British jet fighter in favour of the American Sabre, powered by Avon engines. Letcher again completed the legal and financial details to permit the aircraft's manufacture in Australia.

In 1953 he went to England to handle liaison duties for Australia's production of aircraft, munitions and guided weapons. Retiring from the public service in 1959, he founded French Aeronautics Pty Ltd which became the local representative of the Office Français D'Exportation de Matériel Aéronautique. Letcher's business interests took him on several trips to France, although travel aggravated his chronic asthma. Survived by his wife, he died on 17 April 1968 at his Toorak flat and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at $336,209. A tall, slim figure of neat and impressive appearance, Victor Letcher was remembered by those who worked with him as a remote and intensely private person.

Select Bibliography

  • D. P. Mellor, The Role of Science and Industry (Canb, 1958)
  • L. J. Wackett, Aircraft Pioneer (Syd, 1972)
  • A. T. Ross, Armed and Ready (Syd, 1995)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 26 Jan 1927, 16 May 1942, 5 June 1946
  • Argus (Melbourne), 9 Jan 1942, 31 Jan 1947
  • Age (Melbourne), 18 Apr 1968
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Chris Clark, 'Letcher, Victor Frederick (1892–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 1 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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