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Bruce Douglas (Doug) Bancroft (1916–2000)

by Meghan Adams

This article was published online in 2023

Bruce Douglas Bancroft (1916–2000), air force officer and compositor, was born on 29 October 1916 at Rockdale, Sydney, eldest son of Sydney-born parents Charles Bancroft, compositor, and his wife Ruby Camelia, née Varney. Doug grew up in the suburbs of Sydney and was educated at Fort Street Boys’ High School, Petersham. He later studied at Ultimo Technical College and worked at various jobs before gaining an apprenticeship with the printing firm Jno. Evans & Son as a compositor in September 1933. On 18 December 1937 he married Gladys McCannes, a domestic servant, at St Columb’s Church of England, West Ryde.

Following the outbreak of World War II, Bancroft enlisted for active service in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) on 28 February 1942 and was selected for aircrew. He qualified as a pilot on 5 March 1943 at the Royal Canadian Air Force station Claresholm, Alberta, under the Empire Air Training Scheme. In February 1944 in England, he joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command, and his first operational unit, No. 158 Squadron based at the RAF station Lissett, East Riding of Yorkshire, which operated Halifax heavy bombers in raids over Europe. He was commissioned the following month and in September promoted to flying officer. In June 1944 he carried out a successful attack on the railway yards at Trappes, near Paris. On the return journey his aircraft was attacked by German night fighters, setting fire to the fuselage and rendering the navigation and communication instruments useless. While his comrades tackled the blaze, Bancroft flew the badly damaged Halifax back to England, landing it safely near the village of Hurn, north-east of Bournemouth. The bomber was reputed to be the most heavily damaged Commonwealth aircraft to return from a sortie. For his actions, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

In January 1945 Bancroft joined No. 96 Squadron, RAF, a unit of Transport Command based at Leconfield, East Riding of Yorkshire. He travelled with the squadron to Cairo in March, where it was equipped with Dakota transport aircraft before relocating in May to the RAF Base Bilaspur (India) in the South-East Asia theatre. On 13 June he took off in a Dakota carrying freight from Bikram in northern India to Meiktila in Burma (Myanmar). Thirty minutes into the flight, the port engine exploded, forcing an emergency landing. The aircraft crashed into a rice field and burst into flames. Bancroft and his navigator escaped the aircraft and pulled four others from the wreckage. Although badly burned, he immediately sought help, refusing medical attention until he had secured assistance for his companions. Despite his efforts, all who survived the crash, except him, died of their injuries, and he spent several months in hospital undergoing treatment for burns to most of his body. For displaying ‘conspicuous gallantry’ (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette 1946) he was awarded the George Medal.

Bancroft returned to Australia and was demobilised on 8 February 1946. That year, he was divorced by Gladys, and returned to England where he married Barbara White, a divorcee, on 20 September 1947 at the General Register Office, Mere, Wiltshire. The couple had started a relationship during the war and were to have three children, one of them adopted. He worked as a farm labourer before returning to Australia with his family in 1948. An infant son died later that year after being badly scalded by a bucket of hot water. Having settled at Pennant Hills, Bancroft took on various jobs, including poultry farming with his father, and rejoined the RAAF Reserve. In 1954 he was appointed manager of a printing firm in Adelaide, and then started his own printing business which he operated until he retired in 1976. His second marriage having ended in divorce, he married Pauline Cotter, née Gibbs, in November 1963. In 1992 he and Pauline attended a reunion of the air crew who survived the return from the bombing mission over France in 1944. He died in Modbury Hospital, Adelaide, on 29 September 2000, and was cremated. The instrument panel from the Halifax he flew during the raid on Trappes is held in the collection of the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Research edited by Peter Woodley

Select Bibliography

  • Australian War Memorial. AWM65, 179, Bancroft, Bruce Douglas
  • Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 11 July 1946 (No. 124), 1887
  • Cottrell, Leonard, ed. ‘The Night the Chain Broke.’ Unpublished manuscript, n.d. MSS1892, Australian War Memorial
  • National Archives of Australia. A9300, Bancroft, Bruce Douglas
  • New South Wales State Archives. NRS-13495, 18-145-769/1946, Divorce papers Gladys Bancroft-Bruce Douglas Bancroft
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘George Cross to Airman.’ 10 July 1946, 7

Additional Resources

Citation details

Meghan Adams, 'Bancroft, Bruce Douglas (Doug) (1916–2000)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2023, accessed online 21 July 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


29 October, 1916
Rockdale, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


29 September, 2000 (aged 83)
Modbury, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Military Service