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Keith Macdermott Hampshire (1914–1982)

by H. N. Nelson

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Keith Macdermott Hampshire (1914-1982), air force officer, was born on 10 September 1914 at Port Macquarie, New South Wales, second son of Percy George Hampshire, dairy inspector, and his wife Gladys May, née Macdermott, both born in New South Wales. After the family moved to Perth, Keith attended Scotch College, where he obtained his junior certificate. He called himself a grazier when he joined the Royal Australian Air Force as a cadet on 18 January 1937 and entered No.1 Flying Training School, Point Cook, Victoria. Six feet (183 cm) tall and strongly built, he had represented Western Australia in surfing. Graduating with the highest flying marks, he was commissioned in December and posted to No.2 Squadron. In June 1938 he was promoted to flying officer. He attended navigation courses and in 1939 completed a specialist signals course at Cranwell, England.

Before Hampshire left England World War II had broken out, and on his return to Australia he held appointments with No.12 Squadron, and as signals officer at RAAF Station, Darwin, and Northern Command Headquarters, Townsville, Queensland. Promoted to temporary squadron leader in January 1941, he commanded No.6 Squadron at Richmond, New South Wales, from September and No.23 Squadron at Archerfield, Amberley and Lowood, Queensland, from March 1942. Much of the flying was patrolling and escorting convoys, and it was not until December, when he took over No.22 Squadron in Port Moresby, that he served in a front-line unit. He had been made temporary wing commander in October. Aggressively competitive, he was soon in action in the squadron’s twin-engined Bostons, supporting the Australian and American ground forces in their final battles in Papua. On 14 December, separated by bad weather from the rest of the formation, he sighted Japanese destroyers unloading troops and equipment and `wrought havoc’ by bombing and strafing.

In spite of often having just six or seven serviceable aircraft, Hampshire led No.22 Squadron in frequent attacks against the strongly defended Japanese airfields at Lae and Salamaua, New Guinea. A dawn strike on 2 March 1943 helped to prevent the Japanese from protecting their convoy in the battle of the Bismarck Sea. On 5 March shrapnel lodged in his leg when his aeroplane was hit as he approached Lae, but he bombed the target and led the formation back. After a brief spell in hospital, on 16 March he led seven

Bostons in a successful raid on Salamaua, one of the raids on which William Newton distinguished himself. Through the following months Hampshire flew many sorties in support of the Australians advancing from Wau. Mountainous terrain, unpredictable weather and the need for precision in attack made flying difficult and dangerous. To ease the primitive living conditions of the crews, he organised better facilities and he promoted sport to lift morale, including open-air boxing tournaments between Australians and Americans that attracted crowds of thousands. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (1943) for his leadership and bravery.

Transferred to England in July 1943, Hampshire completed a fighter conversion course and in December took command of No.456 Squadron, RAAF, then stationed at Fairwood Common, Wales, and being equipped with new Mosquitoes carrying improved radar. A demanding leader who enforced the division between the officers and non-commissioned aircrew, he drove the squadron hard, and it was well prepared when shifted to Ford, Sussex, in March 1944. In the path of German intruders, the squadron, operating as night fighters, was soon in action.

Over the next months No.456 flew in support of the D-Day (6 June) invasion, attacked trains and other targets in Europe, diverted German defences from the main bomber stream and destroyed over twenty flying bombs. The squadron, which had shot down six enemy aircraft before Hampshire arrived, was credited with thirty-eight when he left. His own score was seven. The citation for his Distinguished Flying Cross (1944) noted that twice he was so close to an enemy aircraft that its disintegration damaged his Mosquito. He was promoted to temporary group captain in July and awarded a Bar to his DSO (1945) for his `iron determination’ and the success of his squadron.

His younger brother John Maclean Hampshire (1916-1990) was born on 27 February 1916 at Port Macquarie. John followed Keith to Scotch College and then in January 1938 to Point Cook; he was commissioned in the RAAF in December. Posted to No.11 Squadron in September 1939, he piloted flying boats in the South-West Pacific Area. On 11 August 1941 at St John’s Church of England, Glebe, Sydney, he married Margaret Irene Constance Taylor (d.1969), a nurse. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for evacuating some ninety RAAF personnel from the Netherlands East Indies in January-February 1942. After commanding No.33 and No.41 squadrons and having been promoted to temporary wing commander in December 1943, he was transferred to England. There he assumed command of No.461 Squadron, RAAF, flying Sunderlands, in February 1944.

Both commanding squadrons on the south coast of England, the brothers attracted publicity, especially when selected to take part in what was said to be England’s first surf carnival. Mentioned in despatches, John returned to Australia in June 1945. After his RAAF appointment terminated in August, he worked as a pilot for Qantas Empire Airways Ltd. Survived by his three sons and daughter, he died on 21 March 1990 at Point Piper, Sydney, and was cremated.

Keith was posted to Transport Command in November 1944 and ceased combat flying. His RAAF appointment terminated in Australia on 29 April 1946. He worked in the Far East and Australia for the British Aviation Insurance Group, and tried oil prospecting, aircraft sales and importing. At Trinity College, Cambridge (BA, 1963; MA, 1970), he studied economics. His confidence, even arrogance, in decision-making, his courage, skill, competitiveness and acceptance of the loneliness of command that had served him well in the air war did not transfer easily into business.  He never married. On or about 17 November 1982 he died from injuries sustained when he fell from a beach cliff at Palos Verdes, California, United States of America; he was cremated. The coroner recorded that his death was accidental. His portrait (1957), by (Sir) William Dargie, is held by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Odgers, Air War Against Japan 1943-1945 (1957)
  • D. Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force 1939-1942 (1962)
  • J. Herington, Air Power Over Europe 1944-1945 (1963)
  • D. Vincent, Mosquito Monograph (1982)
  • B. Rice, 22 Squadron R.A.A.F. (1987)
  • J. Bennett, Fighter Nights (1995)
  • A. D. Garrisson, Australian Fighter Aces 1914-1953 (1999)
  • series A9300, items Hampshire K M and Hampshire J M, series A705, item 166/17/67, and series A9186, items 45, 48 and 142 (National Archives of Australia)
  • AWM65, items 2480 and 2481 (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

H. N. Nelson, 'Hampshire, Keith Macdermott (1914–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 18 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

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