Australian Dictionary of Biography

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McAloney, William Simpson (Bill) (1910–1995)

by Chris Clark

This article was published online in 2019

William Simpson McAloney (1910–1995), air force officer, was born on 12 May 1910 at Rose Park, South Australia, eldest son and second of six children of Irish-born William Samuel McAloney, waterworks patrolman, and his Melbourne-born wife Mary, née Murphy. Bill was educated at Thebarton Technical High School and the Adelaide School of Mines. He worked as an automotive mechanic and trained (1928–29) in the 43rd Battalion, Citizen Military Forces. In 1931 he purchased a garage and engineering workshop in Wirrulla, but in 1936 the business failed and he was subsequently bankrupted. On 24 June 1936 at the local hall, Carawa, he married Dora Winifred Johnson.

Enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) on 1 July, McAloney became an aero engine fitter with No. 1 Squadron at Laverton, Victoria. On 31 August 1937 he accompanied one of three Hawker Demon biplane fighter-bombers on a formation flight to Hamilton, where the aircraft were to form a static ground display at the local agricultural show before returning to base. When one of the departing Demons crashed on take-off from Hamilton, he unhesitatingly entered the burning wreckage in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue the injured pilot. He suffered severe burns himself before being dragged unconscious from the flames by onlookers. In February 1938, while still recovering from his injuries, he was awarded the Albert Medal—a rare imperial civil decoration; he was the only member of the RAAF to receive it.

Resuming duties in September, McAloney rose rapidly through the ranks to warrant officer (1942) while serving with No. 1 Aircraft Depot at Laverton from 1939 and the Directorate of Equipment at RAAF Headquarters, Melbourne, from 1942. He was commissioned as a flying officer in March that year. Promoted to flight lieutenant in August 1943, he continued working with technical directorates at RAAF Headquarters for the rest of the war, apart from a month in late 1944 when he was sent on temporary duty to the Netherlands New Guinea to rectify problems experienced with aircraft engines in the First Tactical Air Force.

In September 1948 McAloney was granted a permanent commission as an engineer officer. A squadron leader from March 1950, in June 1952 he was posted to Singapore as technical officer of the RAAF’s No. 90 Wing based at Changi, for operations during the Malayan Emergency; the wing was disbanded in December, and he was transferred to No. 1 Squadron at Tengah. Returning to Australia in July 1953, he joined the staff of Maintenance Group Headquarters in Melbourne. On his promotion to wing commander in January 1957, he was posted to Maintenance Command headquarters to manage aircraft servicing and policy. In October 1960 he became officer commanding the engineering squadron at the Aircraft Research and Development Unit, Laverton, where his focus was on maintenance and serviceability of the diverse range of aircraft passing through the unit, both jet and piston-engine. Appointed OBE in January 1966, he retired on 12 May in the following year with the honorary rank of group captain. This was two years later than required by his age, his service having been extended owing to the RAAF’s shortage of technical officers.

McAloney was an active Freemason. He enjoyed reading, gardening, and golf. Largely self-taught and a perfectionist in everything he did, he was a strict disciplinarian at home with a strong sense of duty in his professional life He also possessed a dry sense of humour. In 1971 the Albert Medal was superseded and substituted by the George Cross; he was among the six living Australian recipients who exchanged their medals. Survived by his wife, two of their three sons (all of whom served in the armed forces), and four daughters, he died on 31 August 1995 at Windsor, Victoria, and was cremated. He was described as ‘gracious in manner … pleasant and fatherly’ towards junior officers, an ‘individual who thinks of others first’ (NAA A12372).  His son John, who won a Military Cross in the Vietnam War and rose to colonel in the Australian Army, had predeceased him.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Coulthard-Clark, Chris. ‘Ordinary Bloke Proved His Mettle.’ Australian, 15 September 1995, 16
  • Coulthard-Clark, Chris. The Third Brother: RAAF 1921–39, Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1991
  • London Gazette, no.34485, 18 February 1938, 1069
  • London Gazette, no. 43855, 31 December 1965, Supplement, 38
  • National Archives of Australia. A705, 55/1/219
  • National Archives of Australia. A2626, A18
  • National Archives of Australia. A12372, A3600
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Bravery Rewarded.’ 11 February 1938, 12

Additional Resources

Citation details

Chris Clark, 'McAloney, William Simpson (Bill) (1910–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mcaloney-william-simpson-bill-27708/text35389, published online 2019, accessed online 13 December 2019.

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