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Walters, Allan Leslie (1905–1968)

by Ray Funnell

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

Allan Leslie Walters (1905-1968), by unknown photographer, 1942

Allan Leslie Walters (1905-1968), by unknown photographer, 1942

Australian War Memorial, 012246

Allan Leslie Walters (1905-1968), air force officer, was born on 2 November 1905 at Ascot Vale, Melbourne, second child of Victorian-born parents Arthur Ferdinand Walters, schoolteacher, and his wife Edith Mary, née Russell. Allan moved with his parents to Perth at an early age and was educated at Perth Modern School. He spent four years in the senior cadets and eight months in the Citizen Military Forces before entering (in February 1924) the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Federal Capital Territory. In December 1927 he graduated as lieutenant, but he transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force on 1 February 1928.

Promoted flying officer in February 1929, 'Wally' Walters completed his initial pilot training next month. He undertook a number of specialist courses with particular emphasis on flying instruction, at which he excelled, eventually achieving the seldom-awarded grading of 'A1'. A member of No.3 Squadron based at Richmond, New South Wales, he earned a reputation as an aerobatics pilot, participating in the air shows that were such a feature of aviation in the 1930s. Fair, slim and blue-eyed, he cut a dashing figure. While courting his future wife Jean Grace Belford, daughter of Rev. G. F. B. Manning, rector of All Saints Church, North Parramatta, he performed stunts over the church. Manning married Wally and Jean with Anglican rites at that church on 30 June 1930.

In 1936 Flight Lieutenant Walters graduated from the Royal Air Force Staff College, Andover, England. Promoted squadron leader in March 1937, he returned to Australia in June and was appointed commanding officer of No.22 Squadron at Richmond, where he flew Hawker Demon and Avro Anson aircraft. He commanded No.3 Squadron in 1938-39 before serving at Air Force Headquarters, Melbourne, as director of staff duties.

To counter the emerging Japanese threat in South East Asia, Australia began deploying forces to support the British in Malaya. In July 1940 Walters took No.1 Squadron, newly equipped with Lockheed Hudson aircraft, to Singapore. Commanding the squadron as a temporary wing commander, he led it until May 1941, when he became commanding officer, R.A.A.F. Station, Laverton, Victoria. For training No.1 Squadron 'to a particularly high standard' and himself taking 'a very active part in all operations', he was awarded the Air Force Cross. He was promoted temporary group captain in April 1942.

The remainder of Walters' war service alternated between staff appointments and operational commands. His commands were No.1 (Fighter) Wing, Darwin (1942-43), No.72 Wing, Merauke, Netherlands New Guinea (1943-44), and Northern Command (1945-46). He was mentioned in dispatches and, for his 'leadership and resource' during operations in New Guinea, New Britain and Bougainville, was appointed C.B.E. (1946). In his flying appointments he proclaimed himself to be Australia's oldest fighter pilot. Although probably inaccurate, the claim illustrated his eagerness to be as personally involved in the action as any of the pilots under his command. For example, on 20 June 1943 he had taken part in a major engagement over Darwin between his three Spitfire squadrons and a force of Japanese bombers and fighters, shooting down one enemy fighter. Promoted acting air commodore in February 1945, he represented the R.A.A.F. at the Japanese surrender at Wewak, New Guinea, in September.

After serving at Air Force Headquarters as director of air staff plans and policy, Walters attended the 1947 course at the Imperial Defence College, London. Promoted acting air vice marshal in October 1952 (substantive in January 1954), he held three major commands: Southern Area (1948-50), Home Command (1954-57) and Support Command (1959-62). He also occupied key overseas posts as air officer commanding, R.A.A.F. Overseas Headquarters, London (1951-52), and head of the Australian Joint Services Staff in Washington (1952-53). From 1957 to 1959 he was air member for personnel on the Air Board. In May-June 1956 he took a flight of five Canberra bombers on a goodwill visit to the United States of America. He was appointed C.B. that year.

Walters retired from the R.A.A.F. on 16 May 1962 in Melbourne. He was one of a small group of air force officers who had trained at R.M.C. in the 1920s and subsequently led the R.A.A.F. from the late 1930s to the early 1960s through successive periods of major expansion, great operational demand, demobilization and contraction, and finally reconstruction and modernization. In retirement he enjoyed horse-racing and maintained his membership of the Melbourne Club. He died of cardiorenal failure on 19 October 1968 at Heidelberg and was cremated with full air force honours. His wife and their daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Odgers, Air War Against Japan 1943-1945 (Canb, 1957)
  • D. Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force 1939-1942 (Canb, 1962)
  • C. D. Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother (Syd, 1991)
  • A. Stephens, Going Solo (Canb, 1995)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 17 May, 2 June 1962
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

Ray Funnell, 'Walters, Allan Leslie (1905–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/walters-allan-leslie-11954/text21425, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 26 October 2014.

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

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