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Francis William Fellowes Lukis (1896–1966)

by Alan Stephens

This article was published:

Francis William Fellowes Lukis (1896-1966), by unknown photographer, 1940

Francis William Fellowes Lukis (1896-1966), by unknown photographer, 1940

Australian War Memorial, 000756

Francis William Fellowes Lukis (1896-1966), air force officer, was born on 27 July 1896 at Balingup, Western Australia, second child of William Fellowes Lukis, a farmer and grazier from England, and his Victorian-born wife Jean, née Campbell. Educated at the High School, Perth, Francis worked on the family property. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 7 December 1914, served at Gallipoli with the 10th Light Horse Regiment, and saw action in Egypt with that regiment and the 3rd Machine-Gun Squadron.

Commissioned in July 1916, Lukis transferred to No.1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, in Palestine on 25 February 1917. He flew as an observer (April-September) and as a pilot (from February 1918) on corps and army reconnaissance duties. In August 1918 he was promoted temporary captain and became a flight commander. Twice mentioned in dispatches, he embarked for Australia in March 1919 and remained in uniform as a member of the Australian Air Corps. Lukis joined the (Royal) Australian Air Force (formed on 31 March 1921) as one of its original twenty-one officers and was posted to No.1 Flying Training School, Point Cook, Victoria.

Gregarious, personable and a 'wonderful' leader, 'Luke' was a popular figure in the air force. He had a wide circle of acquaintances and a remarkable knowledge of notable Australian families. People liked to see him. His somewhat avuncular manner was reinforced by his solid stature and bristling moustache. At St Mary's Anglican Church, West Perth, on 21 January 1925 he married Florence St Aubyn Allen. He commanded No.3 Squadron and the new R.A.A.F. Station at Richmond, New South Wales (1925-30), No.1 Squadron (1930, 1932-34), No.1 Aircraft Depot, Laverton, Victoria (1936-38), No.1 F.T.S. (1938-39) and the R.A.A.F. Station at Laverton (1939-41). A graduate (1931) from the Royal Air Force Staff College, Andover, England, he was promoted group captain and appointed O.B.E. in 1938.

When the R.A.A.F. was reorganized into regional commands to meet the emerging Japanese threat, Lukis was made acting air commodore in May 1941 and posted to Townsville, Queensland. As air officer commanding Northern Area, he was responsible for the air defences of northern Australia and the adjacent territories. The resources available were hopelessly inadequate, but his enthusiasm and efficiency impressed Major General L. H. Brereton, the commander of the American Far East Air Force. In January 1942 Northern Area was divided: Lukis was promoted temporary air commodore and remained at Townsville in command of North-Eastern Area. For his success in conducting operations during a period which included the battle of the Coral Sea, he was appointed C.B.E. (1943). From August 1942 he was air member for personnel at Air Force Headquarters, Melbourne.

In December 1943 Lukis took command of the R.A.A.F.'s premier strike force in the South-West Pacific Area, No.9 Operational Group (Northern Command from April 1944). Personalities and timing, however, conspired against him. Two senior air force officers in the theatre—the Americans General George Kenney and Major General Ennis Whitehead—doubted his abilities. Moreover, about the time Lukis took over No.9 O.G., the supreme commander General Douglas MacArthur effectively consigned Australian forces to a mopping-up role. Instead of being in the vanguard of the drive against Japan, Lukis found himself relegated to the task of garrisoning New Guinea. Despite his efforts to secure more satisfying work for his command, No.9 O.G. had became known in the R.A.A.F. as the 'Non-Ops Group'.

After the war the R.A.A.F.'s officer corps was reduced by about 90 per cent. Lukis was placed on the Retired List on 2 May 1946. He worked for Australian National Airways Pty Ltd as aerodrome-manager at Essendon, Melbourne, until 1952 when he was appointed A.N.A.'s manager in Canberra. From 1957 he headed the Canberra office of the stockbroking firm Ian Potter & Co. Active and popular, he had been president (1947-48) of the Air Force Association (Victoria division) and a member of the Naval and Military and the Australian clubs in Melbourne. Following his move to Canberra he was a foundation member (1954) of the Commonwealth Club, and was prominent in the Services Club, Manuka, the Canberra Club and the Royal Canberra Golf Club. He died of cancer on 18 February 1966 in Melbourne and was cremated; his wife and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Odgers, Air War Against Japan 1943-1945 (Canb, 1957)
  • D. Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force 1939-1942 (Canb, 1962)
  • F. M. Cutlack, The Australian Flying Corps (Brisb, 1984)
  • C. D. Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother (Syd, 1991)
  • A. W. Stephens, Power Plus Attitude (Canb, 1992) and 'RAAF Operational Commanders', in Proceedings of the 1993 RAAF History Conference (Canb, 1994)
  • RAAF News, Mar 1966
  • Herald (Melbourne), 18 Feb 1966
  • Canberra Times, 19 Feb 1966
  • private information.

Citation details

Alan Stephens, 'Lukis, Francis William Fellowes (1896–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 29 September 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2023

Francis William Fellowes Lukis (1896-1966), by unknown photographer, 1940

Francis William Fellowes Lukis (1896-1966), by unknown photographer, 1940

Australian War Memorial, 000756

Life Summary [details]


27 July, 1896
Balingup, Western Australia, Australia


18 February, 1966 (aged 69)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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