Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Donald Hindle (Don) McBurnie (1920–1995)

by Lachlan Grant

This article was published:

Don McBurnie, by Laurence Le Guay, c.1943

Don McBurnie, by Laurence Le Guay, c.1943

Australian War Memorial, MEA1230

Donald Hindle McBurnie (1920–1995), air force officer and airline pilot, was born on 6 April 1920 at Lakemba, New South Wales, second son of Victorian-born John McBurnie, electrician, and his English-born wife Annie, née Hindle. Don was brought up at Quirindi and, after gaining his Intermediate certificate, worked with the New South Wales Government Railways as a clerk in the booking office at Cootamundra. He swam frequently at the town’s pool and was ‘an amateur boxer of no mean ability’ (Cootamundra Herald 1942, 2).

Having served in the Citizen Military Forces, McBurnie enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) on 16 September 1940. Standing five feet ten inches (178 cm) tall and weighing 152 pounds (69 kg), he qualified as a pilot under the Empire Air Training Scheme. He completed his training in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Egypt, before joining No. 229 Squadron, Royal Air Force (RAF), in October 1941, with the rank of flight sergeant. Based in Egypt and part of the Desert Air Force, the squadron was equipped with Hawker Hurricanes, in which McBurnie flew his first combat missions the following month. He was posted to No. 450 Squadron, RAAF (‘The Desert Harassers’), in early 1942, being one of the squadron’s original pilots. Flying a Kittyhawk, he scored his first kill on 8 March, shooting down an Italian Macchi C.200 over Tobruk, Libya. In the following months he shot down three German Messerschmitt Bf 109s, a Messerschmitt Bf 110, and shared in the downing of a Junkers Ju 87 (Stuka). This brought his total score to five and a half, making him a flying ace.

On 31 May 1942, during the battle of Gazala, Libya, McBurnie was returning from a patrol south-west of Tobruk, when his Kittyhawk was jumped by five Messerschmitt Bf 109s. After fifteen minutes of combat, during which he was wounded in the right leg and left shoulder, and his Kittyhawk shot to ribbons, McBurnie managed to crash-land near a British army camp. Having exited the cockpit, he took cover beside the Kittyhawk’s engine as one of the Messerschmitts strafed the wreck before being driven off by ground fire. In July he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal and commissioned as a pilot officer. He was the first member of No. 450 Squadron to be awarded a decoration and was its highest scoring pilot.

Following the completion of his first tour in September, McBurnie was posted to No. 206 Group, RAF, as a test pilot and promoted to flying officer in January 1943. He commenced his second tour in September with No. 451 Squadron, RAAF, based on Corsica. In July 1944 he was promoted to flight lieutenant, and in the following month advanced to acting squadron leader and appointed commanding officer of No. 238 Squadron, RAF. From its base on Corsica, he led his squadron in support of the Allied landings in southern France (Operation Dragoon) and oversaw its relocation to France. Under his leadership, the squadron’s Spitfires destroyed more than three hundred enemy vehicles during a three-week period. On completion of his second tour in October 1944, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the citation stating that he ‘led his squadron with skill and determination.’ In his two tours, he had flown 222 sorties, and accumulated 333 hours of operational flying.

McBurnie returned to Australia in November 1944. Having transferred to the RAAF Reserve on 2 June 1945, he gained employment with Australian National Airways Pty Ltd, for which he flew Douglas DC3s and DC4s. On 30 August 1946 he married Joyce Temple-Smith at St Stephen’s Church, Macquarie Street, Sydney. In 1957 he joined Qantas Empire Airways Ltd, flying Super Constellations, Electras, and Boeing 707 and 747 aircraft on its global network. Having flown twenty-five thousand hours during his thirty-five years as a pilot, he retired in 1976. Survived by his wife and their two sons and one daughter, he died on 15 January 1995 in Royal North Shore Hospital and was cremated. Three portraits are among several photographs of McBurnie held by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Australian War Memorial. AWM65, 3307, McBurnie, Donald Hindle. Barton, Leonard. The Desert Harassers: Memoirs of 450 (RAAF) Squadron 1941–1945. Sydney: Astor Publications, 1991
  • Brown, Russell. Desert Warriors: Australian P-40 Pilots at War in the Middle East and North Africa 1941–1943. Maryborough, Qld: Banner Books, 2000
  • Cootamundra Herald. ‘Cootamundra Airman Awarded DFM for Heroic Exploit.’ 24 July 1942, 2
  • National Archives of Australia. B4747, McBurnie, Donald Hindle
  • National Archives of Australia. A705, 163/141/569, McBurnie, Donald Hindle
  • National Archives of Australia. A9300, McBurnie D. H
  • Newton, Dennis. Australian Air Aces: Australian Fighter Pilots in Combat. Canberra: Aerospace Publications, 1996
  • Shores, Christopher, and Clive Williams. Aces High: A Tribute to the Most Notable Fighter Pilots of the British and Commonwealth Forces in WWII. London: Grub Street, 1994

Additional Resources

Citation details

Lachlan Grant, 'McBurnie, Donald Hindle (Don) (1920–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2020, accessed online 14 June 2024.

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

View the front pages for Volume 19

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Don McBurnie, by Laurence Le Guay, c.1943

Don McBurnie, by Laurence Le Guay, c.1943

Australian War Memorial, MEA1230

Life Summary [details]


6 April, 1920
Lakemba, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


15 January, 1995 (aged 74)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.

Military Service