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Sir Wallace Hart Kyle (1910–1988)

by Chris Clark

This article was published:

Sir Wallace Hart Kyle (1910-1988), air force officer and governor, was born on 22 January 1910 at Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, sixth surviving child of Victorian-born parents Alfred Kyle, builder, and his wife Christina Ellen, formerly Winning, née Beck. After attending Kalgoorlie State School in 1920-22, he went to Guildford Grammar School, Perth, as a boarder. He excelled at sport, representing the school in swimming, Australian Rules football, cricket and athletics, and becoming school champion in tennis and badminton; he was also a prefect and house captain.

In 1928 Kyle followed the example of a former Guildford pupil, (Sir) Edmund Hudleston, in entering on a scholarship the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell, Lincolnshire, England. There he was called `Digger’ and the name stuck throughout his air force career. When he graduated in December 1929 he was first sent to a fighter squadron equipped with Bulldog biplanes, but in September 1930 began training on naval reconnaissance aircraft and from 1931 served with the Fleet Air Arm. A flying instructor from 1934, Flight Lieutenant Kyle served on exchange with the Royal Australian Air Force in 1936-38. In addition to teaching at Point Cook, Victoria, and at Richmond and Mascot, New South Wales, he was one of the first pilots to instruct on the prototype of the RAAF’s Wirraway basic combat trainer. As second-in-command of No.23 (City of Perth) Squadron, he led the transfer of the unit’s Hawker Demon aircraft from Laverton, Victoria, to their new base outside Perth in March 1938. He returned to England two months later and was promoted to squadron leader in July.

After a further year of instructional duty, Kyle was posted to the staff of Training Command. As a temporary wing commander he headed No.139 (Jamaica) Squadron from December 1940, leading this unit of Blenheim light bombers on dangerous daylight formation raids against targets in Europe. During one daring attack in April 1941 on steel works at Ijmuiden, the Netherlands, he released his bombs from only 50 ft (15 m), then skilfully evaded pursuing enemy fighters by flying close to sea level; for his leadership in this successful action, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. In July he was made acting group captain (substantive July 1947) and given command of an operational training unit. On 4 September 1941 at the parish church, Yattendon, Berkshire, he married Mary (Molly) Rimington Wilkinson, a Women’s Auxiliary Air Force cipher officer.

Kyle commanded the RAF station at Horsham St Faith, Norfolk, in July 1942. Working with another ex-Western Australian officer, (Sir) Hughie Edwards, he devised the tactics and techniques that enabled his two bomber squadrons to best employ their new Mosquito aircraft. In September he was transferred to command at Marham, where Mosquitoes were used by the Pathfinder Force, and in March 1944 he took over the station at Downham Market. At Bomber Command headquarters from October, he was involved in planning and organising raids until the end of the war. Mentioned in despatches four times, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (1945) and appointed CBE (1946).

Sent to the Staff College, Bracknell, Berkshire, in August 1945, Kyle joined the directing staff in February 1946. In October 1948 he was posted to headquarters, Mediterranean and Middle East, at Ismailia, Egypt. He became deputy-commandant of the RAF College, Cranwell, in 1951, and next year was appointed director of operational requirements at the Air Ministry as an air commodore. At the end of 1954 he departed for Malaya (Malaysia), where, the following January, he assumed duty as air officer commanding, with the act­ing rank of air vice-marshal (substantive in July). His command included the Lincoln bombers of No.1 Squadron, RAAF.

Returning to England in 1957, Kyle became assistant-chief of the Air Staff. In September 1959 he was promoted to acting air marshal (substantive January 1961) and made commander-in-chief of Technical Training Command. Succeeding Hudleston as vice-chief of the Air Staff (1962-64), he rose to air chief marshal on 1 January 1964. From February 1965 he led Bomber Command, until it merged with Fighter Command in April 1968, whereupon he headed the new Strike Command for four months. To mark his final command he flew in a Lightning jet fighter at 1000 miles (1609 km) per hour, thereby qualifying as a member of the `Ten Ton Club’. On 9 November he was placed on the Retired List. He had been appointed CB (1953), KCB (1960) and GCB (1966). Several times he had returned to Australia, representing the RAF at defence talks in Canberra in 1967 and at the golden jubilee of the RAAF in 1971.

Sir Wallace retired to Tiptoe, Hampshire. An avowed monarchist—he had been an aide-de-camp to King George VI (1949-52) and Queen Elizabeth II (1952-56 and 1966-68)—he accepted an approach in 1975 by the premier of Western Australia, Sir Charles Court, to become the State’s governor after Edwards retired in April. Arriving in November, he threw himself into his new position with enthusiasm, undeterred by strong republican sentiment in large segments of the Australian community. With his craggy features and unpretentious outgoing personality he appeared quintessentially Australian, although in reality he was totally Anglicised and out of sympathy with many local values. His public remarks in favour of developing a uranium processing plant at Kalgoorlie caused a brief uproar in 1978. He fought with the staff at Government House, but otherwise enjoyed a successful period in office. Appointed a knight of grace of the Order of St John (1976) and KCVO (1977), he was awarded honorary doctorates by the Western Australian Institute of Technology (1979) and the University of Western Australia (1980).

Accepting an extension of his original three-year term to enable him to participate in the celebrations marking the State’s 150th anniversary in 1979, Sir Wallace left Perth with Lady Kyle in May 1980 in anticipation of his term officially ending on 30 September. They resumed retirement in England but returned on later occasions to visit family, and he was president of the Fairbridge Society in Britain and Western Australia from 1980. He died on 31 January 1988 at his home at Lymington, Hampshire, and was cremated; his wife and their three sons and daughter survived him. His eldest son, Richard, became an air vice-marshal in the RAF, while his youngest, Timothy, served as a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm. The Rotary Club of Perth, in conjunction with the University of Western Australia, inaugurated the Sir Wallace Kyle oration in 1980.

Select Bibliography

  • C. D. Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother (1991)
  • T. A. G. Hungerford (ed), Tall Stories (1996)
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol 32 (2004), p 131
  • Canberra Times, 7 Dec 1967, p 3, 15 Sept 1975, p 1
  • West Australian, 20 Apr 1968, p 7, 15 Sept 1975, p 1, 25 Nov 1975, p 1, 1 June 1978, p 3, 18 Dec 1979, p 1, 17 Dec 1980, p 1, 13 Jan 1983, p 26, 2 Feb 1988, pp 1, 32
  • Australian, 17 Aug 1976, p 11
  • Times (London), 2 Feb 1988, p 16, 19 Mar 1988, p 10
  • AWM65, item 3074 (Australian War Memorial)
  • W. H. Kyle RAF record (RAF Personnel Management Agency, Innsworth, Gloucester, England)
  • private information.

Citation details

Chris Clark, 'Kyle, Sir Wallace Hart (1910–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 18 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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