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Leslie Redford Clisby (1914–1940)

by Lex McAulay

This article was published:

Leslie Redford Clisby (1914-1940), by unknown photographer

Leslie Redford Clisby (1914-1940), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 044617

Leslie Redford Clisby (1914-1940), air force officer, was born on 29 June 1914 at McLaren Vale, South Australia, second of four children of native-born parents Albert Edward Clisby, carpenter, and his wife Mabel Eliza, née Chapman. The Clisbys were a music-loving, Methodist family. Educated at Nailsworth Junior Technical School, Les attended night-classes in engineering at the South Australian School of Mines and Industries, Adelaide; earnest and thorough, he gained reasonable results. In 1935 he enlisted as a mechanic in the Royal Australian Air Force and was soon accepted for flying training at Point Cook, Victoria. A good sportsman, he was 5 ft 9 ins (175 cm) tall, slim in build, with light-brown hair.

Convinced that his aircraft was out of control while practising formation flying on 24 April 1936, Clisby parachuted safely. His plane was destroyed. A court of inquiry attributed the mishap to his inexperience. Graduating in 1937, he was one of twenty-five pilots immediately sent to England. On 26 August he was granted a five-year commission in the Royal Air Force. Clisby was posted to No.1 Squadron, based at Tangmere, Sussex. There he gained a thorough knowledge of the workings of a fighter unit as part of a larger air force; he also enjoyed the sporting and social life open to an officer in the R.A.F. He informed his family that he had become engaged to a young woman in Adelaide, though he had not seen her since leaving home.

The squadron was equipped with new Hawker Hurricanes, armed with eight .303-inch (7.70 mm) machine-guns; its commanding officer, Squadron Leader Patrick Halahan, defied regulations and ordered the guns to be sighted so that the eight streams of bullets converged at 250 yards (228.6 m), increasing their effectiveness. Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939 and five days later No.1 Squadron flew to Le Havre, France. During the 'phoney war' in Western Europe, the airmen engaged in a series of small clashes with the Luftwaffe and endured the harsh winter of 1939-40. Well trained and confident, Clisby wrote reassuring letters to his parents.

On 1 April 1940 he experienced his first aerial conflict and more action followed that month. The German blitzkrieg began on 10 May. Outnumbered, the R.A.F. and French squadrons were rapidly overwhelmed, although the modification to the guns of No.1 Squadron's aircraft ensured that its pilots had considerable success. Clisby flew each day and was credited with destroying fourteen enemy aeroplanes; the number may have been twenty, but insufficient records survived for the true figure to be known. In one exploit he shot down a German bomber, landed beside it in a field and captured its crew at pistol-point. The squadron diarist quipped: 'He wanted their autographs!'

To maintain his national identity, Flying Officer Clisby wore a R.A.A.F. uniform on operations and was Australia's first fighter ace of World War II. On 14 or 15 May 1940 he was killed in combat with Messerschmitt 11Os in the vicinity of Reims. Clisby was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross while listed as missing. He was buried in Choloy war cemetery, near Nancy.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Monks, Squadrons Up! (Lond, 1940)
  • P. Richey, Fighter Pilot (Lond, 1941)
  • M. Shaw, Twice Vertical (Lond, 1971)
  • V. Bingham, 'Blitzed' (New Malden, Surrey, Eng, 1990)
  • L. McAulay, Six Aces (Melb, 1991).

Citation details

Lex McAulay, 'Clisby, Leslie Redford (1914–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 16 June 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

Leslie Redford Clisby (1914-1940), by unknown photographer

Leslie Redford Clisby (1914-1940), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 044617

Life Summary [details]


29 June, 1914
McLaren Vale, South Australia, Australia


14 May, 1940 (aged 25)
Reims, France

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.