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Davenport, Jack Napier (1920–1996)

by Kristen Alexander

This article was published online in 2021

Jack Davenport, c.1944

Jack Davenport, c.1944

Australian War Memorial, SUK12636

Jack Napier Davenport (1920–1996), air force officer, and company director and executive, was born on 9 June 1920 at Rose Bay, Sydney, second of three children of South Australian-born parents Roy Napier Davenport, hotel-keeper, and his wife Grace Elizabeth, née Hutton. Jack attended North Bondi Public School and then Sydney Boys’ High School, where he was a keen sportsman and class prefect. In March 1936 he became a clerk with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

Davenport joined the Citizen Military Forces and was posted to the 30th Battalion (New South Wales Scottish Regiment) in July 1939. Following the outbreak of war, he became a sergeant instructor training new recruits to the Australian Imperial Force, but after being denied permission to serve overseas on the grounds that he was needed in this role, he ‘quietly went and joined the air force’ (Davenport 1993) on 6 January 1941. He qualified as a pilot in Australia and Canada under the Empire Air Training Scheme and was commissioned in September 1941, followed by operational training in Britain.

Shortly after promotion to flying officer in March 1942, Davenport joined No. 455 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Initially he flew Hampden bombers in raids on Germany, but soon the squadron was transferred to Coastal Command to carry out anti-shipping strikes. In May 1942 he was promoted to acting flight lieutenant. The squadron’s Hampdens were converted to torpedo attack aircraft, and in September they were deployed to Vaenga on Russia’s Barents Sea coast to participate in Operation Orator, tasked with guarding Convoy PQ18.

Following the squadron’s return to Britain in October, Davenport was promoted to acting squadron leader. His operational and leadership skills were recognised by the award in May 1943 of the Distinguished Flying Cross. In December he was promoted to acting wing commander and appointed as commanding officer of the squadron, overseeing its conversion to Beaufighters. On 8 January 1944 he married Scottish-born Sheila Jean McDavid, a recent master of arts graduate of the University of St Andrews, at St Cuthbert’s Church, Saltcoats, Scotland.

As commanding officer, Davenport led his Beaufighters in attacks on often heavily defended shipping, using cannon and rockets. His ‘real leadership, considerable administrative ability and a genius for initiating and perfecting new tactics and services’ (Lawson 1951, 128) led to the award of a Distinguished Service Order in June 1944, and a Bar to his DFC three months later. A George Medal (1945) followed after he risked exploding ammunition and flames to rescue one of his pilots from a crashed Beaufighter in September.

In October 1944 Davenport was posted to No. 18 Group headquarters at Dunfermline, Scotland, to plan anti-shipping operations; he found his removal from close colleagues at 455 Squadron ‘very hard to take’ (Davenport 1993). Following the defeat of Germany, Coastal Command ordered him on trips into Norway and other parts of Europe to assess the effectiveness of its attacks and of sabotage by resistance groups. In January 1946 he was mentioned in dispatches for his postwar service with RAAF Overseas Headquarters, which included organising the repatriation of Australian airmen.

Davenport, his wife, and baby son arrived in Sydney in March 1946. After his RAAF appointment terminated in May, a close family friend, Clement Shaddock, offered him an executive position with Concrete Industries (Australia) Ltd, motivated partly by an expectation that Davenport’s war record would impress business colleagues and clients. His wartime leadership skills proved eminently transferable, aided by the company’s ownership of the patent rights for the pre-cast concrete building unit ‘Monocrete’, used in the postwar housing boom. He guided a successful company expansion into overseas operations, and his business career culminated in appointment as managing director of what had become Concrete Industries (Monier) Ltd (1970–82). His reputation for public service and personal integrity led to service on numerous boards, councils, and advisory committees, including with the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption’s operations review committee (1989–92), Qantas Airways Ltd (1980–91), the Australian War Memorial (1979–85), the Reserve Bank of Australia (1977–92), and The Australian Gas Light Company (1974–92, chairman 1985–92). He was federal vice-president of the Royal Australian Air Force Association (1974–96), and president of the 455 Squadron Association (1946–96).

In 1981 Davenport was appointed AO, and in 1991 was promoted to AC. Of medium height and with striking good looks, he was a keen sailor, golfer, and gardener. He died at Camperdown late on 1 January 1996, with his death officially recorded the following day. His wife and their son and daughter survived him. Davenport’s record as one of Australia’s most highly decorated and dashing World War II officers led an official war historian to suggest that in an earlier time he ‘would have been an outstanding cavalry leader’ (Herington 1963, 247). The Australian War Memorial holds portraits by Dennis Adams and Harold Freedman.

Research edited by Stephen Wilks

Select Bibliography

  • Alexander, Kristen. Jack Davenport: Beaufighter Leader. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2009
  • Davenport, Jack Napier. Interview by Ken Llewelyn, 24 March 1993. Australian War Memorial
  • Gordon, Ian. Strike and Strike Again: 455 Squadron RAAF 1944–45. Belconnen, ACT: Banner Books, 1995
  • Herington, John. Air Power Over Europe 1944–1945. Vol. 4 of Series 3 (Air) of Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1963
  • Lawson, John. Four Five Five: The Story of 455 (RAAF) Squadron. Melbourne: Wilke & Co, 1951
  • National Archives of Australia. A9300, DAVENPORT J N.
  • National Archives of Australia. B4747, DAVENPORT/JACK NAPIER
  • Raebel, Geoffrey W. The RAAF in Russia1942. Loftus, NSW: Australian Military History Publications, 1997

Additional Resources

Citation details

Kristen Alexander, 'Davenport, Jack Napier (1920–1996)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/davenport-jack-napier-31292/text38679, published online 2021, accessed online 28 November 2021.

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