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Hippolyte Ferdinand De La Rue (1891–1977)

by Chris Clark

This article was published:

Hippolyte Ferdinand De La Rue (1891-1977), merchant seaman and air force officer, was born on 13 March 1891 at Auburn, Sydney, second son of Edmond Emile De La Rue, jeweller, and his wife Ellen Georgina, née Brown, both native-born. Known as 'Bill' in his youth, he received a limited education. In 1908 he went to sea in the merchant navy and by 1914 was a second officer.

Soon after World War I broke out, De La Rue was engaged in transporting soldiers and equipment from England to France. As navigator of the troop-ship, Huntsgreen, he was present at the Gallipoli landing on 25 April 1915 and served off the peninsula until the evacuation in December. In London on 30 July 1916 he was appointed temporary flight sub-lieutenant in the Royal Naval Air Service. He gained his pilot's wings at Cranwell, Lincolnshire, in November, undertook seaplane training at Calshot, Hampshire, and in February 1917 was sent to Fishguard, Wales. While patrolling coastal waters, he attacked and apparently destroyed a German submarine in St Georges Channel, but the sinking could not be confirmed.

In January 1918 De La Rue was promoted flight lieutenant (honorary captain, Royal Air Force, from April) and joined No.6 Wing at Otranto, Italy. A member and later commander of No.223 Squadron, he took part in long-distance bombing, sea patrols and escort duties. On a raid against the Austrian-held port of Durazzo (Durrës, Albania), he piloted one of two Short torpedo-carrying seaplanes protecting the bombers. Both escorts were fired upon and the second was forced to put down in the enemy harbour. De La Rue rescued the pilot and observer, and returned to base, though it had been 'extremely doubtful if his machine would rise from the water with four on board'. For this action he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (1918). He also received the Italian Silver Medal for Military Valour (1919). In January 1919 he joined No.64 Wing, R.A.F., at Alexandria, Egypt, where he commanded No.270 (Seaplane) Squadron. Despite being granted a permanent commission in August, he decided to return to Australia and seek employment as a naval aviator.

Appointed captain in the Australian Air Corps in May 1920, De La Rue transferred as flight lieutenant to the (Royal) Australian Air Force on its formation in March 1921; he was the service's only experienced seaplane pilot. His early postings (1921-29) were to units at Point Cook, Victoria, and to R.A.A.F. Headquarters, Melbourne. On 1 October 1923 he married Clara Constance Stone with Presbyterian forms at Scots Church, Melbourne. Sent to England on exchange in 1929 to familiarize himself with aircraft-carrier work, he also performed administrative duties in No.201 (Flying-Boat) Squadron at Calshot. Back home, he commanded the Seaplane Squadron at Point Cook (1931-33) and No.1 Flying Training School (from 1933). Promoted wing commander in December 1932, he advanced to group captain in January 1937. Twelve months later he took command of the R.A.A.F. station at Richmond, New South Wales.

With the onset of World War II, on 9 October 1939 De La Rue was chosen to lead an air expeditionary force abroad. The plan was cancelled, however, in favour of Australia's participation in the Empire Air Training Scheme. In October 1940 he became senior air staff officer at headquarters, Central Area. Next month it was decided that a R.A.A.F. base depot should be established overseas and De La Rue was chosen to take a nucleus staff to England. This scheme was also abandoned, and the Australian authorities rejected a British suggestion that De La Rue proceed to the Middle East instead. On 9 January 1941 he was promoted acting air commodore and made air officer commanding, Western Area, with headquarters in Perth. He took the post of inspector of administration at Air Force Headquarters in January 1943, and was appointed C.B.E. in 1944.

Stocky in build and energetic in temperament, 'Kanga' De La Rue was a rigid disciplinarian with a short temper; he ended telephone conversations which displeased him by throwing the handset out of the window. Yet, there was another side to his nature, revealed in his kindness, generosity and reticence, and also in his work as a water-colourist. He retired on 1 April 1946 and was granted the honorary rank of air commodore in 1956. Survived by his daughter, he died on 18 May 1977 in his home at Kew, Melbourne, and was cremated; his estate was sworn for probate at $148,104.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Herington, Air War Against Germany and Italy 1939-1943 (Canb, 1954)
  • D. Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force 1939-1942 (Canb, 1962)
  • C. D. Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother (Syd, 1991)
  • A. W. Stephens, Power Plus Attitude (Canb, 1992)
  • Reveille (Sydney), July 1937, Nov 1939
  • Herald (Melbourne), 10 Oct 1939
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Chris Clark, 'De La Rue, Hippolyte Ferdinand (1891–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 21 February 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

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