Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Robertson, Kenneth Victor (1915–1994)

by Chris Clark

This article was published online in 2019

Kenneth Victor Robertson (1915–1994), air force officer, was born on 28 March 1915 at Brighton, Victoria, second of four children and eldest son of Scottish-born Charles Victor Robertson, accountant, and his second wife Ida, née Caron. Kenneth attended Geelong Church of England Grammar School and, while his family was in England (1929–30), Berkhamstead Grammar School. He won Geelong Grammar’s school cup for house athletics in 1934 and completed his Leaving certificate that year. Demonstrating an early interest in aviation, in 1935 he was one of six applicants selected to try out for the Public Schools’ Flying Scholarship run under the auspices of the Royal Victorian Aero Club, though he was not the eventual winner. In 1938, while employed as a clerk, later a tutor, at his father’s business education institution, Hemingway & Robertson Pty Ltd, he passed the intermediate examinations of the Commonwealth and Federal institutes of accountants.

Robertson participated in Light Car Club trials in 1938 and 1939. He also undertook private flying lessons. Enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) on 5 February 1940, he completed flying training and was appointed a pilot officer on 28 June. On becoming a flying instructor in December, he was promoted to flying officer. Further promoted to flight lieutenant in April 1941, he was soon after selected to test Professor Frank Cotton’s prototype anti-G flying suit, designed to help fighter pilots remain conscious when subjected to high levels of centrifugal force. Robertson was awarded the Air Force Cross (1943) for courageously pushing himself ‘to the limit of human endurance’ in the air (NAA A12372). On 24 August 1943 at Christ Church, South Yarra, he married Jean Douglas Keys, a private in the Australian Army Medical Women’s Service.

Posted in November 1943 to No. 452 Squadron, a Spitfire unit, Robertson gained his first experience of operational flying in the defence of Darwin. After being promoted to squadron leader in July 1944, he was posted in October to No. 1 Aircraft Performance Unit, Laverton, where he returned to test flying, which duty largely came to define his RAAF career. In March 1946 he attended No. 5 Empire Test Pilots’ School, England. He learned to fly the Sikorsky R-4 helicopter, the first rotary wing aircraft in the Royal Air Force, before being sent to the Sikorsky factory in the United States of America, where he took delivery of an S-51 helicopter for the RAAF. For his work as a test pilot he was awarded a Bar to the Air Force Cross in 1951. In November that year he went to Woomera, South Australia, where he became officer commanding the Aircraft Research and Development Unit.

On completing RAAF Staff College in 1953, Robertson joined Home Command headquarters at Penrith, New South Wales. Though displaying no aptitude for staff work, he was promoted to wing commander on 1 January 1954. He was sent to Singapore in January 1956 to take command of No. 1 Squadron, an RAAF Lincoln bomber unit assigned to the Malayan Emergency. The commander-in-chief of the British Far East Air Force, Air Marshal Sir Francis Fressanges, blamed him for the accidental loss of a Lincoln on 9 January 1957 and criticised his leadership. Nevertheless, Air Marshal (Sir) Frederick Scherger supported him and he retained his command. By the time the squadron was ordered home in July 1958, he had led 113 operational sorties, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Appointed base commander at Point Cook in September, he was subsequently selected to set up an aviation section for the Australian Army. In 1960 he became the commanding officer of the newly raised No. 16 Army Light Aircraft Squadron, an integrated RAAF and Army unit based at Amberley, Queensland.

Robertson was posted to a staff position at the headquarters of RAAF Support Command in Melbourne in 1962. He elected to take twelve months leave without pay in March 1964 to pursue civilian employment with International Helicopters (Aust.) Pty Ltd, officially retiring from the RAAF on 28 March 1965. His superiors had consistently reported him to be a pleasant, cheerful, and cooperative officer. Of average height, he had fair hair and blue eyes. During his RAAF service he logged nearly 4,677 flying hours on some 105 aircraft types. He continued to work as a flight instructor, making his last flight on 14 November 1970. Survived by his wife, and their daughter and son, he died on 5 September 1994 at East Brighton and was cremated.

Research edited by Rani Kerin

Select Bibliography

  • Age. ‘Kenneth Victor Robertson, 79.’ 19 September 1994, 19
  • National Archives of Australia. A12372, O33013
  • National Archives of Australia. A471, 86507
  • Rolland, Derrick. Airmen I Have Met: Their Stories. Bright, Vic.: D. Rolland, 1999

Additional Resources

Citation details

Chris Clark, 'Robertson, Kenneth Victor (1915–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/robertson-kenneth-victor-27660/text35191, published online 2019, accessed online 16 June 2019.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

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