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Roberts, Roy Patrick (1916–1990)

by Mary Anne Whiting

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Roy Patrick Roberts (1916-1990), air force officer, was born on 25 February 1916 at Galong, New South Wales, second surviving child of New South Wales-born Walter Patrick Roberts, labourer, and his Victorian-born wife Wilhelmina Mary, née Kiss.  Educated at Towamba Public School, Roy worked on the family farm near Eden before enlisting as an aircraftman in the Citizen Air Force on 26 February 1940.  Described as 'big in every way, tall, well built, rugged with an expansive personality and a light and infectious sense of humour', he served on bases in New South Wales and Victoria where he rose to leading aircraftman.  He married Constance Elaine Jennings, a stenographer, on 14 January 1943 at St Raphael’s Catholic Church, South Hurstville, Sydney.

After flying training under the Empire Air Training Scheme, Roberts was commissioned as a pilot officer on 20 May 1943.  Sent to England in August, he undertook courses in operational flying and heavy bomber conversion.  He was promoted to flying officer in November and in May 1944 was posted to the Royal Air Force’s No.35 Squadron, Pathfinder Force, where he completed fifty-eight operations in Wellington and Lancaster bombers.  During the night of 19-20 September 1944 on a mission to Calais, France, his Lancaster was badly damaged by anti-aircraft fire; he finished his bombing run and returned to base, flying on only two engines.  He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross the next year.

Roberts was promoted to flight lieutenant in May 1945 and in November returned to Australia.  Appointed squadron leader in March 1950, he completed a tour, flying Lincoln bombers with No.1 (Bomber) Squadron, Amberley, Queensland, in 1951.  From December he commanded the squadron at Tengah, Malaya; he was awarded a Bar to his DFC in 1953, after undertaking eighty-two missions in anti-communist operations.

In October 1953, while commanding No.6 (Bomber) Squadron, Amberley, Roberts was ordered to relocate to Woomera, South Australia, to carry out air sampling in connection with atomic explosions conducted at Emu Field.  He flew two missions—the on-board Geiger counter recording maximum contamination readings both times.  Decontamination facilities were not available at Woomera and there is evidence that Roberts’s health deteriorated thereafter.

Having been promoted to wing commander in January 1956, Roberts commanded (1956-57) Base Squadron, Laverton, Victoria, where he was reported to be 'an outstanding officer who while not enjoying good health was . . . always in good heart, cheerful and an inspiration to those who serve under him'.  In 1958-60 he was posted to RAAF Element Far East Air Force, Singapore, where his proficiency in operational planning was assessed as outstanding.  His last posting was with the Directorate of Operations, Canberra.

Recurring bouts of hepatitis combined with spinal damage made it difficult for Roberts to maintain aircrew fitness standard and on 22 December 1962 he was placed on the Retired List.  For the next twenty years he was the managing director in Australia for the Office Français d’Exploitation de Matériel Aéronautique, which acted for the French aircraft industry.

A keen fisherman, on 30 April 1990 he enjoyed hauling in a good catch at Vincentia, New South Wales.  He collapsed and died later that day at Nowra.  Survived by his wife and their five children, he was buried in Gungahlin cemetery, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Herrington, Air Power Over Europe 1944-1945, 1963
  • J. R. McClelland, Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia, 1985
  • A12372, item R/237/P (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information

Citation details

Mary Anne Whiting, 'Roberts, Roy Patrick (1916–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/roberts-roy-patrick-14454/text25544, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 16 June 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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