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Roderic Stanley Dallas (1891–1918)

by E. P. Wixted

This article was published:

Roderic Dallas, c.1916

Roderic Dallas, c.1916

Australian War Memorial, A04842

Roderic Stanley Dallas (1891-1918), airman, was born on 30 July 1891 at Mount Stanley station near Esk, Queensland, son of Peter McArthur Dallas, labourer, and his wife Honora, née Curry. The family moved to Tenterfield, New South Wales, and about 1898 to Mount Morgan, Queensland. Dallas attended the local school and in July 1907 joined the assay office of the Mount Morgan Gold Mining Co. At night he studied chemistry and technical drawing at the technical college.

Dallas led an active, mainly outdoor life. He became a sergeant in the school cadet corps and was later a lieutenant in the Mount Morgan Company of the 3rd (Port Curtis) Infantry Battalion. Other interests were gymnastics, Rugby Union and amateur theatricals. When his family moved to Brisbane in 1912, Dallas and his brother stayed at Mount Morgan.

In 1911 Lindsay Campbell, who had established the Queensland Aero Club in Brisbane, formed a similar club at Mount Morgan. Next year a visiting American aviator, Arthur Burr Stone, carried out the first powered flight in Queensland at Rockhampton. Dallas, who was already interested in flight and had studied the flight of birds for years, was inspired. He had built a frail glider but failed in an attempt to launch it. He corresponded with other enthusiasts abroad and, to raise the money required for travel, he and his brother worked as miners at the Mount Morgan Co.'s quarries on Iron Island. He built a large-scale seaplane there, but while experimenting with it at Marble Island he lost it in the sea.

By 1912 Dallas was 6 ft 2 ins (188 cm) tall and weighed 16 stone (101 kg). He did not drink and smoked rarely. His voice, said by his father to be made for a bullocky, was useful on the stage but he usually spoke quietly, and was never heard to swear. His eyesight was exceptional. He paid his own way to England in 1915 but met with difficulties in trying to become an airman. He thought of an acting career in the United States of America, but advice from an Australian aviator, Sydney Pickles, and assistance from Australia House gained him entry to the Royal Naval Air Service. At the entrance examination he topped the eighty-four students, and on 5 August won pilot's licence No.1512.

He became a flight sub-lieutenant with No.1 Squadron, R.N.A.S., remained with it in 1916-17 and finally as a lieutenant-commander became its commanding officer. After a practical joke early in his career, he was known in the squadron as 'Breguet' Dallas. The squadron did reconnaissance and fighting patrols, sometimes with French airmen. His first dogfight took place in December 1915, and his first kill came in May 1916 in circumstances that won him the Distinguished Service Cross. Dallas exchanged his Sopwith Pup for a Sopwith Triplane, the first of its type, little more than a test plane. In a later model he scored many victories against all types of enemy aircraft. With a fellow pilot he once tackled fourteen enemy planes at 18,000 ft. (5500 m); for 45 minutes the two kept the enemy formation split up, shot three of them down and forced the others to retreat.

In March 1918 Dallas was appointed major commanding No.40 Squadron in the newly formed Royal Air Force. Because of his naval background, his men sometimes called him 'the admiral'. His official tally of 30 victories soon rose to 39, though in correspondence he claimed only 32 as certain. Unofficial estimates suggested there were over 50. All types of German aircraft fell to his superior skill, but in an instructional booklet he made it clear that impetuousness was not synonymous with aggressiveness. He warned his airmen of traps set by the enemy and of the vital need to search the sky thoroughly. He frequently applied his dexterity to protect inexperienced pilots, and won some of his victories by manoeuvres based on a knowledge of structural flaws in enemy planes.

On 1 June 1918, while patrolling over the lines near Liévin, Dallas went to the assistance of another pilot though aware of enemy planes in positions of vantage. Thus pinioned, he was shot down by three triplanes. He was buried in the British cemetery at Pernes. At his death he was sixteenth on the list of allied aces and second only to R. A. Little among the Australians.

His awards included the Distinguished Service Order, a Bar to his D.S.C., the Croix de Guerre avec Palme and a mention in dispatches. He also won non-military recognition: the gold medal of the Aero Club de France (1918) and the medal of merit and honor of the Aero Club of America (1917).

An obituary notice in Aeroplane acknowledged not only his extraordinary skill and gallantry, but also his sense of humour and ability as a black and white artist; it revealed the opinion of his comrades that he was a great leader of men.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Raleigh, The War in the Air, vol 3, H. A. Jones ed (Oxford, 1931)
  • G. H. Lewis, Wings over the Somme, 1916-1918, C. Bowyer ed (Lond, 1976)
  • E. P. Wixted, Search the Sky (Brisb, 1978)
  • Aeroplane, 3 July 1918
  • Reveille (Sydney), 1 May 1935
  • Brisbane Courier, 7 June 1918
  • Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 20 Nov 1977.

Citation details

E. P. Wixted, 'Dallas, Roderic Stanley (1891–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 26 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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