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William Hopton Anderson (1891–1975)

by Chris Clark

This article was published:

William Anderson, by Darge Photographic Company, c.1916

William Anderson, by Darge Photographic Company, c.1916

Australian War Memorial, DAAV00020

William Hopton Anderson (1891-1975), air force officer, was born on 30 December 1891 at Kew, Melbourne, third son of Edward Anderson, a surveyor from England, and his Victorian-born wife Florence, née Handfield. Educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, William played football, joined the cadets and was a member of the school's rifle team. He gained first-class honours and an exhibition in Greek and Latin at the 1910 senior public examinations. In December he was given a permanent commission in the Royal Australian (Garrison) Artillery; he served the next four years in Sydney. Transferring to the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force in March 1915, he proceeded to Rabaul, German New Guinea, and took charge of the battery on Matupi Island in Simpson Harbour.

Having taken home leave, Anderson was appointed captain in the Australian Flying Corps, Australian Imperial Force, on 14 January 1916, and embarked for Egypt with No.1 Squadron. In May he was sent to England for pilot training; service with the Royal Flying Corps followed. He left for France in August 1917 as a flight commander in No.3 Squadron, A.F.C. (No.69 Squadron, R.F.C.), a corps reconnaissance unit. On 21 October, when he was spotting for the artillery near Lens, his aircraft was attacked by German scouts. Anderson's 'gallant and skilful' flying enabled his observer to return fire and to keep the enemy at bay until help arrived. Ten days later Anderson piloted one of two R.E.8s which beat off four Albatross scouts. He completed his mission on each occasion. During an artillery-ranging flight near Messines Ridge, Belgium, on 6 December, he engaged an enemy reconnaissance two-seater plane which his observer shot down.

Promoted temporary major in January 1918, Anderson transferred to England in command of No.7 Training Squadron. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in June and the Belgian Croix de Guerre next month. In October he returned to No.3 Squadron as commanding officer, but was hospitalized in January 1919. After his repatriation in May, he was mentioned in dispatches as further recognition of his war service. On the inauguration of the (Royal) Australian Air Force on 31 March 1921, he was appointed squadron leader and the R.A.A.F.'s third most senior officer. For most of 1921-26 he performed the personnel duties of the second air member of the Air Board and concurrently commanded No.1 Flying Training School, Point Cook, Victoria, in 1925-26; he had previously been in charge of the school in 1920-21. Promoted wing commander on 23 March 1927 while studying at the Royal Air Force Staff College, Andover, England, he spent the next two years as R.A.A.F. liaison officer at the Air Ministry in London.

Anderson briefly commanded No.1 Aircraft Depot, Laverton, Victoria, in 1929, before holding a series of appointments to the Air Board as air member for supply (1929-33 and 1936-40), air member for personnel (1933-34, 1940 and 1943-44) and air member for organization and equipment (1941-42). He had attended the Imperial Defence College in England in 1935 and was acting chief of the Air Staff from 9 January to 10 February 1940. Interspersed with his Headquarters appointments were postings as air officer commanding, Central Area (1940-41) and Eastern Area (1942-43), and commandant, R.A.A.F. Staff School, Mount Martha, Victoria (July to November 1943 and from October 1944). His promotions had been steady: group captain in December 1932, air commodore on 1 January 1938 and acting air vice marshal in September 1941. He retired in April 1946 with the honorary rank of air vice marshal.

Despite his seniority, Anderson had never been one of the R.A.A.F.'s forceful figures. Known throughout the service as 'Andy' or 'Mucker', he had a long, sorrowful face which complemented his normally silent and retiring manner. Joseph Hewitt remembered him as 'an admirable man but . . . slow and so immersed in the minutiae of administration that some important policy matters languished . . . one of the nicest persons . . . although courageous he was indecisive and loath to take disciplinary action'. Honorary chairman (1947-71) of the Victorian committee of the Services Canteens Trust Fund, Anderson had been appointed O.B.E. in 1933 and C.B.E. in 1934. He was a member of the Naval and Military Club, Melbourne, and listed his only recreation as tennis. A bachelor, he lived with his unmarried sister Isabelle in Jolimont Terrace, East Melbourne. There he died on 30 December 1975, his birthday. He was buried in Boroondara cemetery, Kew, after a service at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, East Melbourne, where his sister later endowed a stained-glass window in his memory.

Select Bibliography

  • F. M. Cutlack, The Australian Flying Corps (Syd, 1923)
  • S. S. Mackenzie, The Australians at Rabaul (Syd, 1927)
  • G. Odgers, Air War Against Japan 1943-1945 (Canb, 1957)
  • D. N. Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force 1939-1942 (Canb, 1962)
  • K. Isaacs, Military Aircraft of Australia 1909-1918 (Canb, 1971)
  • J. E. Hewitt, Adversity in Success (Melb, 1980)
  • W. Perry, The Naval and Military Club, Melbourne (Melb, 1981)
  • R. Williams, These are Facts (Canb, 1977)
  • C. D. Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother (Syd, 1991)
  • Age (Melbourne), 3 Jan 1976
  • private information.

Citation details

Chris Clark, 'Anderson, William Hopton (1891–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 26 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

William Anderson, by Darge Photographic Company, c.1916

William Anderson, by Darge Photographic Company, c.1916

Australian War Memorial, DAAV00020

Life Summary [details]


30 December, 1891
Kew, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


30 December, 1975 (aged 84)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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