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William Norman (Bill) Gibson (1915–1982)

by David N. Rogers

This article was published:

William Norman (Bill) Gibson (1915-1982), air force officer, was born on 28 April 1915 at Petersham, Sydney, third child of London-born parents Hamilton Ross Gibson, packer, and his wife Lily Georgina, née Nesbit. His father was killed in action in World War I. Educated at Parramatta High School, where he excelled in sport, led the debating team and obtained the Intermediate certificate, Bill also gained distinction as a Boy Scout. He joined the New South Wales Government Railways and Tramways as an apprentice fitter and turner, and served for two years as a sapper in the Militia.

Enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force as a cadet on 16 July 1934, Gibson graduated as a pilot and was commissioned on 1 July 1935. Posted to Richmond, New South Wales, he spent the early years of his service on seaplane flying duties, co-operating with the Royal Australian Navy. He was promoted to flight lieutenant in 1938. On 12 March that year at St Philip’s Church of England, Sydney, he married Grace Doreen Downton. At the outbreak of World War II he was in Britain taking delivery of the RAAF’s new Sunderland flying boats as part of No.10 Squadron. The unit remained in Britain and in June 1940 Gibson was promoted to temporary squadron leader. On 1 July his aircraft sank the RAAF’s first U-boat and then directed the rescue of its crew. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Gibson, better known by his nickname `Hoot’, returned to Australia in June 1941 and converted to Catalinas, assuming command of No.20 Squadron in Port Moresby in August. A temporary wing commander from January 1942, he took command of RAAF Station, Port Moresby, next month. From July he served as a staff officer at Allied Air Forces Headquarters, South-West Pacific Area, and then RAAF Command Headquarters under Air Vice-Marshal William Bostock. He had risen to acting group captain in December. In July 1944 he was appointed senior air staff officer, No.10 (Operational) Group (First Tactical Air Force from October), at Noemfoor and later Morotai, Netherlands East Indies, under Air Commodore Arthur Cobby.

In April 1945 eight senior officers, dissatisfied with what they considered to be an operational policy that was wasteful of men and materiel, tendered their resignations. At Bostock’s request, the chief of the Air Staff, Air Vice-Marshal (Sir) George Jones, removed Gibson (and another officer) whom Bostock believed to have contributed to poor morale.

An inquiry by (Sir) John Barry found that Gibson’s attitude to operational commanders was `indifferent and on occasions high handed’. This conclusion led the Air Board to determine that as Gibson’s conduct was `a primary cause of the widespread condition of discontent and dissatisfaction’ within First Tactical Air Force, his commission was to be terminated. Postwar reviews of the Morotai affair showed that this treatment of Gibson was fair and just. He fought his dismissal, however, and the Air Board later rescinded its decision. With the concurrence of the minister for air Arthur Drakeford, it censured him while permitting him to retain his commission at temporary wing commander rank. He had been appointed to the United States Legion of Merit (1945).

Gibson then embarked on a successful postwar career in the RAAF. He commanded bases at East Sale, Victoria (1953-54), and Amberley, Queensland (1959-63), and completed staff training in Britain at the Joint Services Staff College (1951) and the Imperial Defence College (1958). In 1956 he was appointed CBE. Having been promoted to group captain in July 1951 and air commodore in July 1958, he was made acting air vice-marshal in August 1964 and appointed SASO at headquarters, Far East Air Force, Singapore, during `Confrontation’. Illness led to his early repatriation. He retired from the air force on 14 July 1967 on medical grounds with the honorary rank of air vice-marshal and settled at Newport, Sydney. His recreations included golf, swimming and boating. Survived by his wife and their daughter, he died of myocardial infarction on 31 July 1982 at Mona Vale and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Herington, Air War Against Germany and Italy 1939-1943 (1954)
  • G. Odgers, Air War Against Japan 1943-1945 (1957)
  • D. Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force 1939-1942 (1962)
  • A. Stephens, Power Plus Attitude (1992)
  • AWM65, item 2290 (Australian War Memorial)
  • W. N. Gibson RAAF service record (Office of Air Force History, Dept of Defence, Canberra).

Citation details

David N. Rogers, 'Gibson, William Norman (Bill) (1915–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 5 December 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2023

Life Summary [details]


28 April, 1915
Petersham, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


31 July, 1982 (aged 67)
Mona Vale, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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