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Woods, James (1893–1975)

by Julie Lewis

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

James Woods (1893-1975), aviator, was born on 14 November 1893 at Udny, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, fourth son of Charles Wood, journeyman shoemaker, and his wife Elizabeth, née Anderson. Educated at the local village school and at Robert Gordon's College, Aberdeen, at 14 Jimmy was apprenticed with a firm of automotive engineers and later became a chauffeur. He migrated in 1914 to New Zealand where he learned to fly. In England in 1918, he was commissioned in the Royal Air Force as an observer officer. He then worked in New Zealand and Scotland before joining Western Australian Airways in 1924. He flew passengers and cargo between Perth and the north-west ports. Well-groomed, genial, painstaking and imperturbable in a crisis, 'Woodsie' was seldom seen without his pipe, though it was rarely lit. On 5 June 1928 he married Mary (Mollie) Elizabeth Hadwiger at the registry office, Port Hedland; they were to remain childless.

Flying The Spirit of Western Australia, a De Havilland 60 Moth with a Gipsy II engine, in 1933 Woods—as he had long styled himself—attempted to break J. A. Mollison's record eight-day flight from Australia to England. Fierce monsoons and a damaged aircraft delayed his progress, causing him to take more than six weeks to complete the journey. Upon landing in England, he said: 'My name is Woods and I've just flown from Australia'. Next year he entered the Melbourne centenary air race: with D. C. Bennett, he flew a Lockheed Vega for London, but crash-landed at Aleppo, Syria. Returning home in November 1934, Woods became route manager for MacRobertson-Miller Aviation Co. Ltd.

Responsible for several remarkable rescue operations, in 1942 he air-lifted survivors of the Japanese bombing at Broome and later rescued the passengers and crew of a beached Dutch Navy plane. Woods was appointed chevalier to the Order of Orange-Nassau (1943). On 1 January 1944 he was attached to the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve as a temporary squadron leader. An original 'seat of the pants' airman, he was happiest flying small planes by backing his own judgement and even effected repairs to his aircraft in flight. Increasing instrumentation, however, made his methods outmoded. In 1946, while taking off in a Lockheed Electra from Broome in fog, he crashed into mangroves. No one was seriously injured, but the plane was irreparably damaged. Woods's licence was suspended and his services with M.M.A. were terminated.

In 1948 he began the Woods Airways service which provided regular flights in two Avro Ansons from Perth to Rottnest Island: 'It's just a hop'. In constant conflict with the Department of Civil Aviation over minor infringements of regulations, Woods Airways was wound up in 1962 when Ansons were declared unsafe for carrying passengers and for flights over water. Woods was appointed M.B.E. in 1963. The Jimmy Woods [Air] Terminal at Rottnest Island was later named after him. At 70, he began Woods Helicopters Pty Ltd which undertook aerial spraying operations, charter flights for oil and mineral companies, advertising and joy rides. He sold the business in 1971 and returned to Albany. Survived by his wife, he died there on 9 May 1975 and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • E. P. Wixted, The North-West Aerial Frontier 1919-1934 (Brisb, 1985)
  • J. Lewis, Jimmy Woods, Flying Pioneer (Perth, 1989), and for bibliography.

Citation details

Julie Lewis, 'Woods, James (1893–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/woods-james-9177/text16205, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 23 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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