Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Emslie, Alexander Ronald (1916–1993)

by Mark Lax

This article was published online in 2017

Alexander Ronald Emslie (1916–1993), air force officer, was born on 4 September 1916 at Wangaratta, Victoria, younger son of Arthur Alan Emslie, farmer, and his wife Blanche, née Stephenson. Alexander attended Wangaratta South and Wangaratta Technical schools, but after his father died in 1928 he left school to manage the family farm. To finish his schooling he undertook night classes in electrical wiring and when his elder brother took over the farm, he applied to join the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) as a pilot. Although unsuccessful, on 8 June 1936, after reapplying to the RAAF for a radio apprenticeship, he was accepted and enlisted.

Following wireless operator and observer training at Laverton, Victoria, Emslie graduated in December 1937 as an observer with the rank of corporal and was posted to No. 22 Squadron at RAAF Richmond, New South Wales. As war clouds gathered, he participated in reconnaissance flights off the east coast of Australia to report any German shipping movements. After much persistence, he was accepted for pilot training the day after World War II was declared. A gifted pilot, he graduated top of his course in March 1940 with special distinction. He was commissioned that month. On 22 March 1941 at Holy Trinity Church of England, Wangaratta, Victoria, he married Louisa Jane Finnis. Postings to Cootamundra and Richmond, New South Wales, and Laverton, Victoria, were followed by navigator teaching duties at Nhill and Ballarat, Victoria. Instructing was not to his liking and he pressed for an operational tour. In March 1944, now a squadron leader, he commenced conversion to Catalina maritime patrol aircraft and, in August, was posted to No. 20 Squadron, Cairns, Queensland. His duties were to bomb enemy targets and lay mines in the waters to the north of Australia as far as the coast of China.

Emslie commanded No. 20 Squadron from 19 March to 14 October 1945. During his time with the unit he flew thirty operational missions. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross having ‘displayed outstanding courage, keenness and determination’ and an ‘aggressive spirit’ (NAA, A12372). No Catalinas or personnel were lost while the squadron was under his command. After the war he remained in the RAAF. Promoted to wing commander on 1 July 1951, he was posted in August 1953 to command No. 1 Squadron at Tengah, Singapore, flying Lincoln bombers. The squadron's Lincolns attacked the jungle camps and suspected hideouts of communist insurgents during the Malayan Emergency. For his ‘exceptional zeal as a commander and his personal leadership’ (NAA, A12372), he was awarded a Bar to his DFC. After several months of combat flying in the tropics he succumbed to high blood pressure and associated heart disease, and was hospitalised in Melbourne in June 1954. He was given only a few years to live. His RAAF appointment was terminated on medical grounds on 16 March 1955, ending a distinguished career. Given his all-round ability, he would almost certainly have reached higher rank.

Although he never worked again, Emslie lived for almost another thirty-nine years, having benefited from new heart drugs at the Baker Medical Research Institute in Melbourne.  He was quiet and earnest, five feet seven inches (170 cm) tall, with a ruddy complexion and brown eyes. Residing at North Balwyn, he became involved in the administration of local sporting teams and joined the Balwyn Bowling Club, eventually playing at pennant level. He was also a life governor of the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind. Survived by his wife, a son, and a daughter, he died on 14 November 1993 at Kew and was cremated.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Dennis, Peter, and Jeffrey Grey. Emergency and Confrontation: Australian Military Operations in Malaya and Borneo 1950–1966. St Leonards, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin Pty Ltd, 1996
  • Emslie, Robert. Personal communication
  • London Gazette. 25 June 1946, 3217
  • London Gazette. 31 December 1954, 7389
  • National Archives of Australia. A12372, Emslie, Alexander Ronald
  • Odgers, George. Air War Against Japan 1943–1945. Australia in War 0f 1939–1945. Vol. II of Series 3 (Air). Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1957

Additional Resources

Citation details

Mark Lax, 'Emslie, Alexander Ronald (1916–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/emslie-alexander-ronald-18059/text29636, published online 2017, accessed online 13 December 2019.

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