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Minifie, Richard Pearman (1898–1969)

by Keith Isaacs

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Richard Pearman Minifie (1898-1969), airman and company director, was born on 2 February 1898 at Alphington, Melbourne, son of James Minifie, a flour miller from Shropshire, England, and his Geelong-born wife Beatrice Kate, née Earle. He was educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School where, in 1915, he became a prefect and a cadet-lieutenant.

On 11 June 1916 Minifie joined the Royal Naval Air Service in London as a temporary probationary flight sub-lieutenant and during the next six months was posted to R.N.A.S. establishments at Eastbourne, Cranwell, East Fortune and Dover for pilot training. He was confirmed as a flight sub-lieutenant in October, was posted to No.1 Squadron, R.N.A.S., and arrived in France in December. The squadron was equipped with Sopwith Triplane fighting scouts and in February-March 1917 was continually in action on the Somme. The Triplanes also became engrossed in large aerial engagements, or dogfights, and the squadron was highly effective in ground-strafing, particularly during the battles of Bullecourt and Messines in May and June.

Between July 1917 and March 1918 Minifie was promoted acting flight lieutenant, flight lieutenant and acting flight commander and took part in the battles of Ypres and Passchendaele. He was an excellent fighter pilot and his score of victories against enemy aircraft rose rapidly. Like his Australian contemporaries in the R.N.A.S.—B. C. Bell, R. S. Dallas, S. J. Goble and R. A. Little—he found the Triplane very manoeuvrable and efficient.

In October 1917 No.1 Squadron returned to England to re-equip with Sopwith Camel scouts, and was back in France in February 1918. On 17 March, fifteen days before he was promoted captain, Minifie crash-landed his Camel, owing to engine failure, in the German lines. He was taken as a prisoner of war at Roulers, and spent the rest of the war in P.O.W. camps at Karlsruhe and Clausthal. Major Dallas, who had been Minifie's commanding officer from June 1917 to March 1918, wrote to Mrs Minifie to let her know that her son had been taken as a P.O.W. and 'that he is all right'. Referring to Minifie as 'a brilliant pilot and air fighter', Dallas added that 'his aerial victories were gained by clean, clever fighting and he was always so modest about his great achievements'.

Minifie was officially credited with destroying twenty-one enemy aircraft, mostly when aged 19, and was the seventh highest scoring Australian pilot of World War I. His prowess as a fighter pilot was exemplified in the outstanding and rapid sequence of awards of the Distinguished Service Cross on 2 November 1917, Bar to the D.S.C. on 30 November, and second Bar on 17 April 1918.

In May 1919 Minifie returned to Australia and was demobilized as a flight lieutenant, Royal Air Force, on 1 September. He decided to study mathematics and science and took up the scholarship at Trinity College, University of Melbourne, which he had won in 1915; however, he soon withdrew, feeling that his first allegiance was to the family business. He joined his father and his partner, James Gatehouse, in the flour company of James Minifie & Co. Pty Ltd.

On 19 October 1921 Minifie married Nellie Frances, daughter of W. J. Roberts at Holy Trinity Church, Kew. Next year James Minifie died and his sons Richard and James, together with Gatehouse, successfully expanded the business over three decades. During World War II Minifie was a squadron leader with the Prahran Wing of the Air Training Corps. He was appointed president of the Victorian Flour Millers' Association in 1948 and from 1949 was managing director of James Minifie & Co. Pty Ltd and associated companies. That year he became president of the Federal Council of Flour Millowners of Australia, a position he retained until his retirement in 1966. He was also the flour millowners' representative on the Australian Wheat Board in 1949-66.

Survived by his wife, son, and three daughters, he died on 31 March 1969 at Malvern and was cremated. Dick Minifie was a tall, slim, good-looking man with an engaging smile, and a courteous and patient manner. He was also modest and very few people, including his family, knew of his important wartime exploits. He enjoyed home life, had a wide circle of friends, and was highly regarded by his employees.

Select Bibliography

  • F. M. Cutlack, The Australian Flying Corps (Syd, 1934)
  • B. Robertson (ed), Air Aces of the 1914-18 War (Letchworth, Eng, 1959)
  • C. Cole (ed), Royal Air Force 1918 (Lond, 1968)
  • E. Hadingham, The Fighting Triplanes (Lond, 1968)
  • J. Rawlings, Fighter Squadrons of the R.A.F. and Their Aircraft (Lond, 1969)
  • K. Isaacs, Military Aircraft of Australia, 1909-1918 (Canb, 1971)
  • private information.

Citation details

Keith Isaacs, 'Minifie, Richard Pearman (1898–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/minifie-richard-pearman-7600/text13275, published in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 21 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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