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John Hobson Hooke (1917–2000)

by Michael Molkentin

This article was published online in 2023

John Hooke, by Laurence Le Guay, c.1943

John Hooke, by Laurence Le Guay, c.1943

Australian War Memorial, MEC2009

John Hobson Hooke (1917–2000), aviator, farmer, local government leader, and harbour commissioner, was born on 19 April 1917 at Ringwood, Melbourne, eldest of five children of Harry Hobson Hooke, farmer, and his wife, Olave, née Anderson, an artist. Educated by private tutor and at the Church of England Grammar School, Ararat, in 1931 John went to work as a jackeroo on his father’s Dorset Horn stud sheep property at Buangor. He enlisted in the Citizen Military Forces in 1939, serving part time in the 4th-19th Light Horse Regiment.

Enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force on 4 January 1941, Hooke trained as a pilot in Rhodesia and Britain. In June 1942 he joined No. 3 Squadron, RAAF, a fighter unit operating Kittyhawks in Libya. During his first months with the squadron he flew sorties to cover the British Eighth Army’s retreat across North Africa. Eleven days after joining the squadron, he crashed in a minefield near El Adem, Libya, wrecking his aircraft, but escaping unscathed. In October and November he flew in support of the Allied counter-offensive at El Alamein, Egypt, bombing and strafing Axis forces as they withdrew westward. On 14 January 1943 he engaged and ‘probably destroyed’ (NAA A9652) a German fighter in combat near Dufan, Libya.

Promoted to flying officer in May 1943, ‘Hooky,’ as he was known in the squadron, cut a dashing figure with his handsome features, near six-foot (183 cm) stature, carefully groomed moustache, and the pipe he often smoked. On 13 July 1943, while supporting the Allied invasion of Sicily, he was shot down by a German aircraft near the town of Grammichele. He made a forced landing and, despite a shrapnel wound to his leg, found his way back to the squadron, the journey taking five days and involving a voyage in a merchant vessel to Tripoli, Libya. Between September 1943 and April 1944 he served in rear echelon units in the Middle East, at one stage testing new aircraft in a logistics unit. He rejoined No. 3 Squadron in Italy in April 1944 for a second tour, undertaking high intensity flying operations involving low-altitude bombing and close air support sorties. In June, as an acting flight lieutenant, he led several successful strikes on railway targets in northern Italy that destroyed large quantities of rolling stock. For ‘skilful and inspiring leadership’ (NAA 9300) during these operations, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

In October 1944 Hooke was posted to No. 1 Mobile Operations Room Unit, Italy, a ground-based control centre that directed pilots over the battlefield, and was promoted to flight lieutenant in November. He returned to Australia in June 1945 and joined No. 7 Operational Training Unit at Tocumwal, New South Wales. By the war’s end, he had logged nearly one thousand flying hours. For his wartime service, he was appointed OBE in 1946. That year he went to London representing the RAAF’s contingent for the Victory March.

Hooke married Patricia Alice Mary Thomas, a Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force officer and scientist, on 24 July 1947 at the Presbyterian Church, Toorak, Melbourne. After the war he flew for Australian National Airways and Air Ceylon. In 1953 he purchased a 500-acre (202 ha) soldier-settlement scheme block at Stockyard Hill near Beaufort, Victoria. Like his father, he bred Dorset Horn rams, becoming the largest purveyor of the breed in Australia. Between 1971 and 1984, he represented rural interests as a commissioner of the Melbourne Harbour Trust (later, Port of Melbourne Authority). While continuing to manage his property, he served as senior commissioner and often acted as chair, overseeing a number of significant public works projects. Throughout his postwar life, he remained active in his community, serving as an elected member and president of the Ripon Shire Council, president of the Beaufort State School, local scout master, and president of his local Returned and Services League sub-branch. Between 1972 and 1978 he served as senior country vice-president of the RSL’s Victorian branch.

A man of quiet demeanour and keen intelligence, Hooke had an eclectic range of interests. In his spare time, he enjoyed chess, reading, and drawing, and had a lifelong interest in classical mythology, European history, poetry, and art. An accomplished bushman, he could ride and shoot and had a vast knowledge of native flora and fauna. He died on 11 December 2000 at Ballarat and was cremated, survived by his wife, four sons, and one daughter.

Research edited by Peter Woodley

Select Bibliography

  • Jones, Philip. ‘Ace Turned Bush Hero.’ Australian, 29 January 2001, 14
  • MacLean, Kate. ‘My Fighter Pilot—John Hobson Hooke—“Mayday.”’ Air Force News, 1 April 1999, 25
  • National Archives of Australia. A9652, RAAF Squadron narrative reports, 3 Squadron narrative, combat reports 1940–1945
  • National Archives of Australia. A9300, HOOKE, John Hobson. Watson, John, and Louis Jones. 3 Squadron at War. Carlingford, NSW: D.A.F. 3 Squadron Association, 1959

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Michael Molkentin, 'Hooke, John Hobson (1917–2000)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hooke-john-hobson-32836/text40857, published online 2023, accessed online 17 April 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

John Hooke, by Laurence Le Guay, c.1943

John Hooke, by Laurence Le Guay, c.1943

Australian War Memorial, MEC2009

Life Summary [details]

Birth

19 April, 1917
Ringwood, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Death

11 December, 2000 (aged 83)
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia

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.

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