Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Henry Alexander (Harry) MacDonald (1915–1971)

by J. B. Hopley

This article was published:

Henry Alexander (Harry) MacDonald (1915-1971), airman and freight operator, was born on 16 April 1915 at Glebe, Sydney, son of native-born parents Joseph MacDonald, a timekeeper with the Sydney Harbour Trust, and his wife Emily May, née Langton. Harry was educated at Drummoyne Boys' Intermediate High School. He enjoyed sailing, riding, swimming and golf. A well-dressed young man, with a fertile imagination, he appeared (1933-40) with the Kursaal Theatre and other small companies, performed in radio serials and worked for a theatrical agent. By 1939 he was employed as a soft-goods salesman. On 25 February that year at St Philip's Anglican Church, Sydney, he married Phyllis Joan Cleary; they were to have one child before being divorced in January 1948.

On 20 July 1941 MacDonald enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force. In June 1942 he sailed to England as a sergeant pilot for further training with the Royal Air Force. Posted to North Africa in March 1943, he flew Wellington bombers on thirty-nine operations (day and night) with No.150 Squadron, R.A.F., and won the Distinguished Flying Medal for his 'outstanding' ability as an aircraft captain, and for his 'hard work' on the ground and in the air. One night in June, when fire and exploding bombs threatened parked aircraft, he ran to an aeroplane and taxied it to safety; he was awarded the British Empire Medal and commissioned that month. In September he returned to England where he served as an instructor at No.27 Operational Training Unit.

Repatriated in December 1944, MacDonald was promoted flight lieutenant in June 1945 while stationed at No.7 O.T.U., Tocumwal, New South Wales. In the following year he joined No.1 Communication Unit, Laverton, Victoria, and piloted Liberator aircraft carrying senior military and civilian passengers to India, Japan and the Pacific. Nicknamed 'Rainbow' because of his medal ribbons, he was admired as a skilled airman, and respected for the concern he showed for his crews and passengers. Yet, he was a man who kept to himself: he had asked that his decorations be posted to him to avoid the publicity of an investiture. On 5 February 1948 at John Knox Church, Gardenvale, Melbourne, he married with Presbyterian forms Dawne Gough Burton, née Waller, a 29-year-old divorcee. In April customs officers at Laverton discovered 24,000 American cigarettes in MacDonald's aircraft on its return from Japan. Evidence pointed to 'black-market trading', but no action was taken. MacDonald was demobilized in October.

In 1949 MacDonald and four partners formed Freight Wings which operated from Evans Head, New South Wales. Within a year he faced bankruptcy proceedings. His management of the wholesale butchery and carrying company owned by his wife ended with her bankruptcy in 1954. After being employed as a driver in Brisbane, he formed Cold Road Pty Ltd, a transport company. It ceased operating about 1969. He then set up as a financier and home-builder until he was obliged to execute a deed of arrangement with his creditors in January 1970.

MacDonald worked hard in the Australian refrigerated transport industry and even designed his own trucks. His business failures were largely due to poor financial management. Reading was his favourite form of relaxation, and he belonged to the Liberal Party and the United Service Club, Queensland. He died of myocardial infarction on 10 October 1971 at his Bowen Hills home and was cremated with Anglican rites; his wife and daughter survived him, as did the daughter of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • H. A. McDonald, RAAF service record (National Archives of Australia)
  • AWM 65, H. A. McDonald (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

J. B. Hopley, 'MacDonald, Henry Alexander (Harry) (1915–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 14 June 2024.

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, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


16 April, 1915
Glebe, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


10 October, 1971 (aged 56)
Bowen Hills, Brisbane, Queensland, 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.