Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Rankin, Ronald (Ron) (1914–1991)

by John Moremon

This article was published online in 2016

Ronald Rankin (1914-1991), teacher, rugby player, air force officer, and farmer, was born on 3 November 1914 at Majors Creek, New South Wales, second of four children of New South Wales-born parents James Daniel Rankin, butcher, and his wife Louisa May, née Keyte. Educated at Hurlstone Agricultural High School, Ron excelled academically and represented his school in swimming, boxing, athletics, cricket, and rugby union. He captained his school and the Combined High Schools rugby teams. After studying at Sydney Teachers’ College, where he won Blues for cricket, athletics, and rugby, he taught at Burnside Public School, Parramatta, and Sydney Grammar School.

A fine full-back, Rankin played first-grade rugby for Drummoyne from 1934; later he joined Randwick. Standing five feet nine inches (175 cm) tall and weighing 162 pounds (73.5 kg), he was known for his toughness, displaying ‘prodigious stamina and capacity for hard play, both in attack and defence’ (Sydney Morning Herald 1945, 6). He captained the State team and twice scored more than a hundred points in a season. Rankin represented New South Wales (capped twenty-two times) against Queensland (1935-38), Victoria (1936), South Africa (1937), and New Zealand (1938), and played for Australia (capped seven times) against New Zealand (1936, 1938) and South Africa (1937). In 1939 he was en route to Britain with a Wallabies team when World War II was declared. The tour was cancelled and he returned to Australia.

On 19 September 1940 Rankin enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). After flying training in Australia and Canada, he was presented with his wings and commissioned in April 1941. He completed further training in Britain and played for England in the combined services rugby XV. In February 1942 he joined No. 236 Squadron, Royal Air Force, flying Blenheims on shipping reconnaissance and escort missions. Four months later he was posted to No. 227 Squadron, RAF, which was absorbed that month into No. 272 Squadron, stationed in Egypt. He flew Beaufighters over Egypt and Libya and, when Malta-based from November, Tunisia and Sicily. In November he led a flight in an attack on El Aouina aerodrome in Tunisia, shooting down one aircraft and braving enemy fighters and fire from the ground to strafe the airfield. For his determination in this and other operations, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He completed his tour in January 1943 as an ace, having shot down at least five aircraft and shared two other aerial victories. His promotion to substantive flight lieutenant followed in April.

After serving in Britain as an instructor on rocket firing from Beaufighters, Rankin returned to Australia in October. He was awarded Belgium’s Croix de Guerre on 1 February 1944. In April he was posted to No. 30 Squadron, RAAF, with which he flew Beaufighters on bombing and strafing missions over New Guinea and the Netherlands East Indies. Promoted to acting squadron leader on 1 August, he commanded a flight, and the squadron for a month, and was awarded a Bar to his DFC for his outstanding courage, ability, and skilful leadership. His final sortie, on 12 December, ended with a crash landing. From February 1945 he instructed at No. 5 Operational Training Unit, Williamtown, New South Wales, until demobilised on 20 December.

Rankin briefly resumed teaching and playing rugby in Sydney, again leading the State team. On 25 October 1946 at St Jude’s Church, Brighton, Adelaide, he married Ellen Betty Bown, an ex-servicewoman. He took up farming at Braidwood, New South Wales; he later returned to teaching in Canberra, where he also bred horses and farmed. While feeding his horses he died suddenly on 7 August 1991, and was cremated. A generous and gregarious man, he was survived by his wife and two sons; another son had predeceased him.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Braidwood Review and District Advocate. ‘Ron Rankin. Famous Flyer’s Amazing Career.’ 17 April 1945, 1
  • Canberra Times. ‘Rugby Union Star to Play in Canberra.’ 16 May 1947, 2
  • Canberra Times. ‘WWII Pilot Had Love of Horses.’ 15 August 1991, 4
  • Garrison, A. D. Australian Fighter Aces. Canberra: Air Power Studies Centre, 1999
  • National Archives of Australia. A9300, Rankin, Ronald
  • National Archives of Australia. A705, Rankin, Ronald
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Sporting Personalities – Ron Rankin.’ 10 April 1945, 6
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Sport Biography of the Week.’ 31 July 1946, 1

Citation details

John Moremon, 'Rankin, Ronald (Ron) (1914–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rankin-ronald-ron-18411/text30066, published online 2016, accessed online 16 October 2019.

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