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Kinninmont, Jack Royston (1920–1992)

by Mark Lax

This article was published:

Jack Royston Kinninmont (1920–1992), air force officer, was born on 13 November 1920 in North Sydney, son of Sydney-born parents Roy Alec Kinninmont, railway surveyor, and his wife Claire Florence, née Barnes. Jack was educated at Chatswood Junior High and North Sydney Boys’ High schools. In his last year (1938) he was a prefect; captain of both the school’s and the State combined high schools’ first XV rugby teams; and, in swimming, State all schools’ backstroke champion. While not a brilliant student, he matriculated, and had athletic qualities that would shortly endear him to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), as well as quick reactions that would make him an ideal fighter pilot.

Having worked briefly as a bank clerk, he applied for an RAAF aircrew cadetship in February 1939 and began basic training at Point Cook, Victoria, on 4 September, one day after World War II began. Graduating as a pilot with a short service commission, he was posted to No. 21 Squadron at Laverton in July 1940. The unit embarked for Singapore in the following month.

Although life in the unit was relaxed and social, the Australians took every opportunity to fly, even when senior Royal Air Force officers were having their siestas. Nicknamed ‘Congo’ (‘Kongo’) because of his love of jazz harmonica music with an African beat, Kinninmont soon eased into the daily routine. On 8 December 1941 the Japanese invaded Malaya and life changed. Flying the obsolete American Brewster Buffalo, the squadron soon found it was outclassed. Mounting losses forced an amalgamation with No. 453 Squadron, and Kinninmont, who had been promoted to flight lieutenant on 1 October 1941, immediately became one of the squadron’s flight commanders.

So slow were the Buffaloes that even the Japanese bombers outpaced them and the Australians faced inevitable defeat. Despite the odds, over the next few months, Kinninmont shot down two Japanese aircraft, claimed one probable, and damaged two more. Landing in poor weather at the end of one sortie, he was almost killed when his aircraft ran off the runway, crashed into a swamp, and overturned. Fortunately, he escaped unhurt.

After the fall of Singapore in February, Kinninmont returned to Australia, and then flew Kittyhawk fighters in New Guinea with various squadrons. As an acting squadron leader, he commanded No. 75 Squadron between 1943 and 1944. For his almost continuous operational war service, in which he exhibited ‘leadership, exceptional courage and skill’ (NAA A12372), he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in May 1944. Following further postings to fighter units, he was appointed commander of No. 78 fighter wing in 1945. A Bar to his DFC soon followed, for his display of ‘outstanding leadership and keenness to destroy the enemy’ (NAA A12372). Kinninmont never shied from a fight.

Remaining in uniform after the war, Kinninmont found the peacetime air force overly bureaucratic. From February 1946 he served as an acting wing commander with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan. While base commander at Bofu he was court-martialled in September on charges of failure to provide his particulars to the provost when requested, and ‘improperly and without authority firing a pistol’ (NAA A471). Found guilty on both charges, he was given a reprimand. He was repatriated in February 1947. On 13 November, at St John’s Church of England, East Malvern, Victoria, he married Joan Mary Gatliff.

Despite the Bofu misdemeanour and court-martial, both of which Kinninmont thought ridiculous, the RAAF granted him a permanent commission on 23 September 1948. He commanded No. 77 Squadron in action in Korea between July 1952 and January 1953. Flying the new Meteor jet fighter was much to his liking and the squadron served with distinction. In 1952 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for ‘his shrewd and aggressive leadership’ (NAA A12372). This was complemented by his award (1955) of the U.S Air Medal.

Kinninmont returned to Australia and, already a substantive wing commander from 1 January 1953 and an acting group captain from 1962, he served in command and staff appointments before retiring on 14 November 1970 with the honorary rank of group captain. By the end of his RAAF service, he had flown twenty types of aircraft, from biplanes to jet fighters, and amassed nearly two thousand flying hours. Significant postings included honorary aide-de-camp to the Governor-General (1948) and armed services attaché at the Australian embassy in Thailand (1955).

Standing six feet (183 cm) tall, of medium build with a fair complexion, Kinninmont was described by colleagues, friends, and family as cheerful and devoted to duty. In retirement he and his wife moved to Maroochydore, Queensland and, although only fifty, he chose not to take up other work. Survived by one of his two sons, he died of a heart attack on 28 May 1992 at Alexandra Headland and was cremated.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Gillison, Douglas. Royal Australian Air Force 1939-1942. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1962
  • National Archives of Australia. A12372, R/3104/H
  • A12372, R/3104/P
  • A471, 79609
  • O’Neill, Robert. Australia in the Korean War 1950-53, Vol. II, Combat Operations. Canberra: Australian War Memorial and Australian Government Publishing Service, 1985
  • Shores, Christopher. The Other Eagle. London: Grub Street, 2004
  • Warren, Richard. Interview by the author, 21 January 2013.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Mark Lax, 'Kinninmont, Jack Royston (1920–1992)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2016, accessed online 27 January 2023.

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

View the front pages for Volume 19

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