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Cyril Arthur (Cy) Greenwood (1915–1999)

by Chris Clark

This article was published online in 2024

Cyril Arthur Greenwood (1915–1999), air force officer, was born on 8 December 1915 at Richmond, Victoria, younger child and only son of locally born John James Greenwood, builder’s labourer, and his English-born wife, Harriet Alice, née Taverner-Walker. Cyril (‘Cy’) attended Yarra Park Primary School, Richmond Technical School (1926–29), where he obtained his Intermediate certificate (1929), and Melbourne Technical College (1930). He was a clerk and storeman with the Dunlop Perdriau Rubber Company Ltd, before becoming a valuer and assistant sales manager for the Sydney Motor Finance Company. Joining the Citizen Military Forces in February 1934, he served three years in the ordnance corps.

With the outbreak of World War II, Greenwood enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) on 7 September 1939, initially working as a stores clerk in the records section of RAAF Headquarters, Melbourne. Already in the process of obtaining a pilot’s licence, he was accepted for aircrew training in March 1940. After initial training at Essendon, he undertook a flying course at Point Cook, Victoria, and was commissioned as a pilot officer on 24 September.

Having qualified as a flying instructor, Greenwood taught at Point Cook and at Geraldton, Western Australia, where he was promoted to flying officer in June 1941. In August 1942 he was posted to No. 31 Squadron, a newly formed Beaufighter unit at Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. He was promoted to flight lieutenant in October, the same month that his squadron moved to the Northern Territory, where it occupied an operational base at Coomalie Creek.

Greenwood had already flown twenty-five operational sorties when, on 26 April 1943, he was sent to strike targets at the Aru Islands, Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia). Attacked by eight Japanese fighters, he was shot down into the sea and injured, with his navigator being killed. After eighteen hours in the water he swam ashore and was captured the next day. He was flown to Japan, where he was interrogated and mistreated until recovered by American forces following Japan’s surrender. On release he weighed less than half his normal body weight.

Repatriated in September 1945, Greenwood was posted in May 1946 to No. 37 (Transport) Squadron at Essendon, Victoria, and flew courier missions to Japan. He was given the temporary rank of squadron leader in January 1947 (permanent September 1950). In March he was posted to Richmond, New South Wales, to command a newly formed target towing and special duties unit. A year later he became commanding officer of No. 36 Squadron at Schofields outside Sydney, operating Douglas C-47 Dakota transports as part of No. 86 Transport Wing.

Of medium height, with black hair and green eyes, Greenwood at age thirty-three was described in the Australian Women’s Weekly as ‘good looking [and] moustached’ (Powe 1948, 17). In August 1948 he was appointed to command an unnumbered squadron comprising ten crews (forty men) drawn from across 86 Wing to be sent to England to subsequently join the Berlin airlift. On 23 December 1948, at St Thomas of Canterbury’s Roman Catholic Church, West Hill, Wandsworth, London, he married Mary Agnes Simmons, a civilian air hostess and former RAAF nurse.

On arrival at Lübeck, West Germany, Greenwood led by example, personally flying the first and last RAAF sorties along the narrow air corridor into Berlin. He shrewdly handled disciplinary matters with leniency in recognition that his crews were engaged in constant rigorous flying, completing a combined 2,062 round trips from Lübeck. As the squadron prepared to go home, he relinquished command on 8 October 1949 but was sent to England to study long-range Royal Air Force transport operations, and so was present for the airlift commemorative parade in London on 7 December. Returning to Melbourne in March 1950, the next month he commenced as staff officer in the Directorate of Operations at Air Force Headquarters. He was appointed OBE in June.

In July 1952 Greenwood was promoted to wing commander, before attending the RAAF Staff College in May 1953. The next January he was sent on a two-year exchange with the United States Air Force, attached to the Military Air Transport Service Headquarters at Andrews Air Force base in Maryland. Returning home in March 1956, he was appointed deputy director of operational requirements at Air Force Headquarters. In June 1959 he was appointed to command No. 10 Squadron, a maritime unit based at Townsville, Queensland.

The following February Greenwood accompanied a procurement team sent to the United States to manage acquisition of twelve Lockheed SP-2H (later renamed P2V-7) Neptune patrol aircraft. He personally led the flight of the first three aircraft to Townsville in March 1962: the Neptunes transformed the RAAF’s anti-submarine arm. In January 1964 he was awarded the Air Force Cross in recognition of his service in No. 10 Squadron, despite superiors’ reservations that skills he had developed in wartime were not meeting new technical and leadership requirements. The citation included mention of his role on 10 October 1962 in locating and rescuing twenty-five Japanese seamen shipwrecked on Mellish Reef. He was appointed second-in-command of RAAF Base Richmond in March 1964. In October he was given the acting rank of group captain until reaching retiring age on 8 December 1965.

Joining Trans-Australia Airlines, Greenwood ran the company’s flight training centre at Essendon airport and was president of the Australian Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators. On retiring a second time in 1980, he turned his interest to ocean sailing and competed in bluewater events. He died at Fitzroy, Melbourne, on 10 April 1999, survived by his wife and their two sons, and was cremated. Charismatic and a great raconteur, he refused to be embittered by his wartime imprisonment. He remained cheerful and friendly throughout his life, able to mix with all ranks, but was not well-equipped for the postwar challenges of professionalising the air force.

Research edited by Stephen Wilks

Select Bibliography

  • Clark, Chris. Operation Pelican: The Royal Australian Air Force in the Berlin Airlift, 1948–1949. Canberra: Air Power Development Centre, 2008
  • Greenwood, Cyril Arthur. Interview by Fred A. Morton, 1980. Imperial War Museum
  • Macaulay, Ron. ‘Obituary: Cyril Arthur Greenwood.’ Age (Melbourne), 5 May 1999, 26
  • McDonald, Kenneth Neal. Coomalie Charlie’s Commandos: 31 Squadron RAAF Beaufighters at Darwin 1942–43. Maryborough, Qld: Banner Books, 1996
  • National Archives of Australia. A12372, R/3110/H
  • National Archives of Australia. A12372, R/3110/P
  • Powe, Joan. ‘R.A.A.F. Veterans Will Help in Berlin Air Lift.’ Australian Women's Weekly (Sydney), 4 September 1948, 17

Additional Resources

Citation details

Chris Clark, 'Greenwood, Cyril Arthur (Cy) (1915–1999)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/greenwood-cyril-arthur-cy-32447/text40244, published online 2024, accessed online 22 February 2024.

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