Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

William Lloyd (Bill) Hely (1909–1970)

by Brian Eaton

This article was published:

William Hely, by John Harrison, 1945 [detail]

William Hely, by John Harrison, 1945 [detail]

Australian War Memorial, OG2110

William Lloyd (Bill) Hely (1909-1970), air force officer, was born on 24 August 1909 at Wellington, New South Wales, third child of Prosper Frederick Hely, storekeeper, and his wife Alice, née Lloyd, both native-born. Bill was educated in public schools at Mudgee, Wollongong and Rozelle before entering Fort Street Boys' High School where he gained his Intermediate certificate in 1926. While employed as a clerk, he studied accountancy part time.

On 16 February 1927 Hely entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Federal Capital Territory, as a staff cadet nominated by the Royal Australian Air Force. Graduating on 9 December 1930, he was appointed pilot officer in the R.A.A.F. next day. In 1931 he completed flying training at Point Cook, Victoria, qualifying with a distinguished pass. He filled junior postings at Richmond, New South Wales (1932 and 1936-37), and in Victoria at Laverton (1932-33 and 1937-38) and Point Cook (1933-36). By 1933 he had acquired specialist qualifications in aerial photography.

Promoted flight lieutenant in April 1936, Hely left that month for Western Australia to take part in the North Australian Aerial Geological and Geophysical Survey. On 13 April he lost his way in the Northern Territory and had to make an emergency landing about 90 miles (145 km) north-west of Newcastle Waters; the badly damaged plane and its uninjured crew were found nine days later. During the 1937 survey season Hely was called upon to mount three search and rescue operations in Central Australia. In May and again in September he located downed aircraft, but in November was unable to find a missing prospector. The searches were conducted under trying climatic conditions and over rough and virtually uninhabited country. For his work he was awarded the Air Force Cross.

On 29 November 1938 at St Aidan's Anglican Church, Launceston, Tasmania, Hely married Jean Adie McDonald, a secretary. Next month he embarked for England to enter the Royal Air Force Staff College, Andover. He was promoted temporary squadron leader in September 1939 and was briefly employed in the operations room at headquarters, Coastal Command. Returning to Australia in January 1940, he was posted to R.A.A.F. Headquarters, Melbourne, as staff officer, plans. In January 1941 he was made temporary wing commander and from August was director of operations.

Acting Group Captain Hely went to Darwin in May 1942 to be senior air staff officer at headquarters, North-Western Area, and was involved in planning for the evacuation of Timor. He was director of air staff policy at R.A.A.F. Headquarters from March 1943; in May 1944 he was sent to Merauke, Netherlands New Guinea, to command No.72 Wing. In September he moved to Cairns, Queensland, and formed No.84 Wing which he took to Bougainville in November to provide support for army operations.

In October 1945 he returned to Melbourne and was director of organization and staff duties (1946), director of postings (1946-47) and director of personal services (1947-48). Although the demobilization of the wartime force and the change to peacetime conditions made these posts difficult, Hely displayed 'outstanding qualities'. He sailed to England in December 1948 to attend the course at the Imperial Defence College, London. Back in Melbourne, in January 1950 he took up duty as deputy to the air member for personnel. In September 1951 he was posted to Pearce, Western Australia, as air officer commanding, Western Area, and in April 1952 was made acting air commodore. During the atomic-weapons trials at the Monte Bello Islands in 1952, he was responsible for the many operational tasks allotted to the R.A.A.F. He was appointed C.B.E. in 1953.

Promoted acting air vice marshal in October 1953 (substantive 5 September 1956), Hely became deputy chief of the Air Staff. In January-April 1955 he was acting air member for personnel; from January 1956 he was air officer commanding, Training Command; and in May 1957 he went to Washington as head of the Australian Joint Services Staff. From March 1960 he was based in Canberra as air member for personnel until his retirement on 25 August 1966. He had been appointed C.B. in 1964. Hely continued to live in the capital and was patron of the local branch of the Air Force Association. Survived by his wife and two daughters, he died of cancer on 20 May 1970 in Canberra Hospital and was cremated with R.A.A.F. honours.

Select Bibliography

  • J. E. Lee, Duntroon (Canb, 1952)
  • G. Odgers, Air War Against Japan 1943-1945 (Canb, 1957)
  • J. E. Hewitt, Adversity in Success (Melb, 1980)
  • C. D. Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother (Syd, 1991)
  • R.A.A.F. News, July 1970
  • Age (Melbourne), 9 June 1938
  • Argus (Melbourne), 9 June 1938
  • Canberra Times, 21-23 May 1970.

Citation details

Brian Eaton, 'Hely, William Lloyd (Bill) (1909–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 29 November 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2023

William Hely, by John Harrison, 1945 [detail]

William Hely, by John Harrison, 1945 [detail]

Australian War Memorial, OG2110