Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Truscott, Keith William (Bluey) (1916–1943)

by Alan Stephens

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Keith William Truscott (1916-1943), by unknown photographer, 1942

Keith William Truscott (1916-1943), by unknown photographer, 1942

Australian War Memorial, 013061

Keith William (Bluey) Truscott (1916-1943), Australian Rules footballer and air force officer, was born on 17 May 1916 at Prahran, Melbourne, second child of William Edward Truscott, wickerworker, and his wife Maude Mabel, née Powell, both Victorian born. Keith was educated at Melbourne High School, where he captained the first XI and the first XVIII, and proved a good scholar. He practised as a student-teacher at Spensley Street State School, Clifton Hill, in 1935-36 before working as a clerk with W. Angliss & Co. Pty Ltd, at Footscray. A powerfully built man, 5 ft 9 ins (175 cm) tall and 12 st. 13 lb. (82 kg) in weight, he had auburn hair and dark grey eyes.

From 1937 'Bluey' Truscott played for the Melbourne Football Club. A half-forward flanker in Melbourne's premiership team in 1939, he kicked two goals and was among the best players. His decision to enlist in the Royal Australian Air Force on 21 July 1940 attracted much publicity. Curiously, for someone of his mental and physical ability, he struggled with flying lessons; had he not been a prominent sportsman he would have been suspended from pilot training. Given extra time denied to others, he began to demonstrate the qualities of co-ordination, anticipation, judgement and determination which had made him a champion footballer. Yet he never fully came to terms with landing and persistently levelled out about 20 ft (6 m) too high. Granted leave by the air force in September 1940, he again played in Melbourne's winning grand-final side.

In November that year Truscott reached Canada under the Empire Air Training Scheme. He was commissioned in February 1941 and sent to England where he joined No.452 Squadron in May. Flying Spitfires, he took part in offensive patrols and escorted bombers. He was promoted acting flight lieutenant in September. Next month he won the Distinguished Flying Cross for destroying six enemy aircraft. In January 1942 he rose to acting squadron leader (substantive October) and became commanding officer of No.452. By March, when he was awarded a Bar to his D.F.C., he had shot down eleven German aircraft, probably destroyed another three, and damaged two. He was, by then, the best-known pilot in the R.A.A.F., with a reputation that rested as much on his appealing personality as it did on his considerable achievements. Such was his popularity in England that the Marquess of Donegall organized a public fund to which red-headed Britons paid £5000 to 'buy' Bluey his own Spitfire.

Returning to Australia on leave in May 1942, Truscott turned out one last time for the Melbourne Football Club. He was unfit and out of touch, and struggled to keep up with the play, but he was given a hero's reception by thousands of supporters. Several days later he encountered his former teacher, Bill Woodfull, who asked him how he had enjoyed his return to football. 'Not for me. Too dangerous', Truscott answered.

Truscott's talent for being in the thick of the action saw him posted to No.76 Squadron. Its members reached Papua in July 1942, only weeks before a Japanese force landed at Milne Bay. The Kittyhawk fighter-bombers of No.75 and No.76 squadrons played a decisive role in driving back the enemy: for the first time in World War II a Japanese land offensive was defeated. On 27 August, when No.76 Squadron's commanding officer was killed at a critical stage of the battle, Truscott took command. For several days, while the outcome hung in the balance, he led from the front as the Kittyhawk pilots strafed and bombed enemy land and sea forces, and repelled occasional air-attacks. Conditions were appalling, with near-constant rain, mist and low cloud, a perilously slippery airstrip, and often intense anti-aircraft fire. Truscott was mentioned in dispatches (1943).

After the battle of Milne Bay, No.76 Squadron performed a relatively routine, sometimes tedious, garrison role in north-west Australia, though Truscott did manage to shoot down a Japanese bomber, increasing his tally to fourteen enemy aircraft destroyed, three probables and three damaged. On 28 March 1943, while carrying out mock attacks over Exmouth Gulf, Western Australia, he misjudged his height, struck the water and was killed. He was buried with Anglican rites and full air force honours in Karrakatta cemetery, Perth. Alfred Cook's portrait of Truscott is held by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Herington, Air War Against Germany and Italy 1939-1943 (Canb, 1954)
  • I. Southall, Bluey Truscott (Syd, 1958)
  • D. Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force 1939-1942 (Canb, 1962)
  • C. Shores and C. Williams, Aces High (Lond, 1994)
  • A. Stephens, High Fliers (Canb, 1996)
  • A. D. Garrison, Australian Fighter Aces 1914-1953 (Canb, 1999).

Citation details

Alan Stephens, 'Truscott, Keith William (Bluey) (1916–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/truscott-keith-william-bluey-11886/text21285, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 23 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Keith William Truscott (1916-1943), by unknown photographer, 1942

Keith William Truscott (1916-1943), by unknown photographer, 1942

Australian War Memorial, 013061