Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gordon Donald Graham (1910–1990)

by Peter Helson

This article was published:

Gordon Donald Graham (1910-1990), bank clerk, air force officer and builder, was born on 18 January 1910 at Beaudesert, Queensland, ninth child of Thomas Graham, dairy farmer, and his wife Margaret Jane, née Mullen, both Queensland born. Educated at Beaudesert State, The Southport and Brisbane High schools, Gordon joined the Commercial Bank of Australia Ltd and worked as a clerk, first in Brisbane and then at Coolangatta and Cairns. He completed two years’ compulsory military training. A member of the Tweed Heads and Coolangatta Surf Life Saving Club in the 1930s, he saved a swimmer from a shark attack and in 1934-35 represented Queensland in surf lifesaving competitions. He was also a member of the Queensland lacrosse team in the mid-1930s. In June 1940 he joined the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve. At St John’s Church of England, Cairns, on 3 August that year he married Portia Downes, a clerk.

On 6 December 1940 Graham was called up for full-time service in the RAAF. Five ft 9½ ins (177 cm) tall and 11 st. 9 lb. (74 kg) in weight, he had a fair complexion, brown eyes and auburn hair. He trained in Australia and Canada under the Empire Air Training Scheme. In September 1941 he arrived in Britain as a sergeant pilot, and was posted in April 1942 to No.460 Squadron, RAAF, a bomber unit flying Wellington aircraft. During a raid on the city of Saarbrücken, Germany, while under heavy anti-aircraft fire, he made three runs over the target before releasing his bombs. Commissioned on 29 July, `Bluey’ Graham flew twenty-seven sorties before completing his first operational tour in August. He trained in four-engined bombers and was selected as a flying instructor to convert No.12 Squadron, RAF, from Wellingtons to Lancasters, a task that was completed in just five weeks. Made an acting flight lieutenant in January 1943, he was posted to No.1656 Conversion Unit.

In November Graham was transferred to No.550 Squadron, RAF, as an acting squadron leader. Between December and May 1944 he flew twenty operational sorties, including a raid on Nuremberg on the night of 30-31 March. In June-September he attended the RAF Staff College, Andover, where he was assessed as `a strong and sound character’ who demonstrated self-confidence, judgment and initiative in practical issues. Having been mentioned in despatches, he was awarded the Air Force Cross (1944) and, for displaying `high skill, fortitude and devotion to duty’ in completing `many successful operations against the enemy’, the Distinguished Flying Cross (1944). He returned to Australia in December. In January 1945 he was posted to headquarters, North-Eastern Area, at Townsville, Queensland, where he remained for the rest of the war.

Demobilised on 24 January 1946, Graham declined offers to remain with the Interim Air Force or to take up a career as a commercial pilot, and embarked on a new enterprise. Predicting the postwar demand for housing, he established a building company and remained in the industry until his retirement. In his spare time he enjoyed fishing. He died on 13 January 1990 at Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, and was cremated with Uniting Church forms. His wife and their two sons and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Herington, Air War Against Germany and Italy 1939-1943 (1954)
  • M. Middlebrook, The Nuremberg Raid (1986)
  • P. Firkins, Strike and Return (2000)
  • AWM65, item 2387 (Australia War Memorial)
  • series A9300, item Graham G D (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Peter Helson, 'Graham, Gordon Donald (1910–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 20 June 2024.

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, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


18 January, 1910
Beaudesert, Queensland, Australia


13 January, 1990 (aged 79)
Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.