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John Herington (1916–1967)

by W. R. Clark

This article was published:

John Herington (1916-1967), by unknown photographer

John Herington (1916-1967), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, UK2097

John Herington (1916-1967), war historian, air force officer, public servant and social worker, was born on 3 June 1916 at Coventry, England, fourth of five children of Basil Henry Herington, commercial clerk, and his wife Margaret Ellen, née Dunne. Basil died in 1922 and the strain of caring for her children affected Margaret's health; following her death, John was raised by guardians. After attending Bablake School, Coventry, he entered Downing College, Cambridge (B.A., 1937; M.A., 1941), where he rowed and played Rugby Union football. The master was Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond who encouraged Herington's interest in military and strategic history.

Attracted by the work of Kingsley Fairbridge, Herington joined the Child Emigration Society as a trainee social worker and studied welfare problems in the East End of London. In 1938 he escorted a group of children to Australia and continued his research at the three Fairbridge schools. Powerfully built and 5 ft 10 ins (178 cm) tall, he had brown hair, a broad forehead, lively blue eyes and a firm jaw, features that were in keeping with his witty mind and resolute character.

Herington enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force on 2 February 1941 and trained as a pilot in Australia and Canada; he topped his class of fifty-one students. Commissioned in September, he was sent to Britain and promoted flying officer. In April 1942 he reached Gibraltar with No.202 Squadron, Royal Air Force Coastal Command. He captained Catalinas on long-range patrols over the Atlantic and the western Mediterranean, and made three attacks on submarines. In March 1943 he was posted as an instructor to No.131 Operational Training Unit in Northern Ireland. On 24 May his Catalina plunged into Lough Erne. He found himself under water, with his right leg protruding through a metal bulkhead; remaining calm, and summoning his strength, he extricated himself and swam to the surface. He suffered massive injuries and subsequently caught pneumonia which prevented his return to duty until March 1944 when he became intelligence officer, No.10 Squadron, R.A.A.F., at Mount Batten, Devon.

On 20 April 1944 at the parish church of St Mildred and St George, Castleton, Yorkshire, Flight Lieutenant Herington married Freda Elizabeth Robson, a nursing sister who had cared for him in hospital. He was converted from Catholicism to Anglicanism after his marriage. Employed as an education officer from October, he was promoted temporary squadron leader in January 1945 and placed in charge of the historical records section at R.A.A.F. Overseas Headquarters, London. His team researched the war diaries of hundreds of R.A.F. squadrons and produced a preliminary history ('first narratives') of the Australian contribution to each of the R.A.F.'s commands. Herington wrote on Coastal Command.

In 1946 the Commonwealth government appointed him official historian to write a one-volume book on Australia's role in the air war against Germany and Italy. He returned home in 1947 and was demobilized on 24 March 1948 to work full time on the project. Herington's formidable intellect was reinforced by total recall. Able to assemble, collate and edit text in his mind, he wrote steadily, with little alteration. On completing a number of chapters, he obtained approval to publish the history in two volumes: Air War Against Germany and Italy 1939-1943 (Canberra, 1954) covered operations when the adversaries were evenly matched; Air Power Over Europe 1944-1945 (Canberra, 1963) dealt with the period when the Allies had gained air superiority over Germany.

The histories were highly technical, given the nature of an air war in which scientific, engineering and design developments had rapidly occurred. Herington's handling of the 'big picture' was masterly, as in the opening chapter of his second volume. The experience of Australians in air operations was used to describe the cutting edge of battle. To preserve balance, he provided statistical tables showing the relationship of the Australian effort to the total number of sorties. Overall, reviews in newspapers and service journals were favourable. Veterans considered that the main object of an official history—to provide an adequate literary memorial—had been well met.

Having rejoined the R.A.A.F. in 1951 as squadron leader, Special Duties Branch, Herington performed intelligence duties in Melbourne while making progress with his histories. He was seconded to the Department of Supply in 1953-54 and placed in charge of security for the atomic-bomb tests in South Australia. Resigning his commission, in March 1954 he was appointed the department's regional security officer for South Australia. In 1957 he was promoted chief security officer, Melbourne; in 1964 he was posted to London as the department's senior representative. Survived by his wife, four sons and three daughters, he died of cancer on 22 January 1967 at St Marylebone and was cremated; his ashes were interred in the churchyard of St John the Evangelist, Glen Iris, Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • W. R. Clark, 'John Herington', Stand-To (Canberra), 11, no 3, July-Sept 1967, p 14
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Jan 1946, 27 July 1963, 24 Jan 1967.

Citation details

W. R. Clark, 'Herington, John (1916–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 14 April 2024.

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, 2006-2024

John Herington (1916-1967), by unknown photographer

John Herington (1916-1967), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, UK2097

Life Summary [details]


3 June, 1916
Coventry, Warwickshire, England


22 January, 1967 (aged 50)
St Marylebone, London, Middlesex, England

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.