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James Robert (Bob) Henderson (1916–1991)

by John Moremon

This article was published:

James Robert Henderson (1916-1991), air force officer and business executive, was born on 24 September 1916 at Mosman, Sydney, son of English-born James Henderson, company managing director, and his German-born (of Australian parentage) wife Ella Madeline, née Maurice. Educated at Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore), in 1934 Bob became a factory student (intern) with W. D. & H. O. Wills (Australia) Ltd, a subsidiary of the British Tobacco Co. (Australia) Ltd. He played first-grade cricket for Mosman, which won the Sydney competition in the 1938-39 season.

After World War II broke out in September 1939, Henderson joined the Citizen Military Forces and soldiered part time with the 1st Anti-Aircraft Brigade, Sydney. In November 1940 he volunteered for service under the Empire Air Training Scheme and on 20 July 1941 enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force. He was recorded as being 5 feet 6 inches (168 cm) tall and having blue eyes and brown hair. Awarded his pilot’s badge (‘wings’) on 27 February 1942 and commissioned in April, he sailed for Britain in June. He became the skipper and only Australian member of a seven-man crew training for the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command. In April 1943 the airmen were posted to No. 460 Squadron, RAAF, based at Breighton, Yorkshire, and shortly afterwards, Binbrook, Lincolnshire.

Henderson aborted two sorties because of mechanical failures before he undertook his first mission, bombing Dortmund, Germany, on the night of 4-5 May 1943. Being allotted a ‘lucky’ aircraft, the famous Lancaster G for George, proved a mixed blessing, as he considered the battle-worn George a ‘dreadful bloody aircraft’ (Henderson 1988), difficult to handle . In July, following seventeen sorties, including twelve in George, he was selected to play services cricket. He was saddened to learn that, during his absence, two of his crew members were shot down while on loan to another crew. At month’s end he resumed operations, in time for the bombing of Hamburg, and encountered the strongest searchlight, anti-aircraft artillery, and night-fighter defences to date. With sound teamwork and luck, he and his crew completed their tour of thirty sorties, their final mission being a raid against Stuttgart on the night of 7-8 October. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for ‘high skill, fortitude and devotion to duty’ (NAA A9300).

During a year as an instructor, Henderson was promoted to flight lieutenant. In October 1944 he commenced another tour with No. 460 Squadron. Promoted to acting squadron leader in November, he commanded ‘B’ Flight and carried out seventeen bombing sorties. The ‘exceedingly loyal and efficient’ officer, possessing ‘marked qualities of leadership’ (NAA A9300), motivated his subordinates to give of their best. His final mission, on 3 May 1945, was a food drop to Dutch civilians. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (1945) in recognition of his cool and fearless conduct in a large number of operations.

Demobilised on 1 April 1946 in Sydney, Henderson returned to W. D. & H. O. Wills. He managed tobacco factories at Forbes and, for the parent company from 1951, in Melbourne, then returned to Sydney, where he headed the manufacturing branch (1958-72) and the manufacturing and development section (1972-81). On 20 April 1950 at the district registrar’s office, Chatswood, he had married Evangeline (Ena) Mary Wade, née Ditton, a trained nurse and a divorcee. Predeceased by her, and survived by his son and daughter, he died on 4 November 1991 at Narrabeen and was cremated.

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  • Australian War Memorial. AWM64, 1/293 and 1/295
  • British American Tobacco Australia Ltd. Staff Employee’s History Card, Henderson, James Robert
  • Henderson, James Robert. Interview by Laurence Field, 30 March 1988. Transcript. Australian War Memorial
  • Herington, John. Air War Against Germany and Italy 1939-1943. Vol. III of Series 3 (Air) of Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1954
  • National Archives of Australia. A9300, HENDERSON J. R

Additional Resources

Citation details

John Moremon, 'Henderson, James Robert (Bob) (1916–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2016, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


24 September, 1916
Mosman, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


4 November, 1991 (aged 75)
Narrabeen, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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Military Service