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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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McLean, William John (Jack) (1918–1963)

by Mark Lax

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

William John McLean (1918-1963), by unknown photographer

William John McLean (1918-1963), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, MED2167

William John (Jack) McLean (1918-1963), air force officer, was born on 9 July 1918 at Katanning, Western Australia, son of Australian-born parents William Willmott McLean, farmer, and his wife Rita Pearl, née Bennett. Jack was raised on the family property near Gnowangerup. Awarded a scholarship to Albany High School, he was captain of the school, and of its football, cricket and swimming teams. In 1937 he taught at Palmyra State School. Next year he entered Teachers' College, Perth. He played for Claremont in the West Australian National Football Association and was the competition's leading goal-kicker in 1938.

On 15 August 1940 McLean enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force. He completed pilot training and received his wings on 10 February 1941. Commissioned in April, he embarked for the Middle East and in July joined No.117 (Transport) Squadron, Royal Air Force. The unit operated from bases in North Africa and Italy before being sent to India in October 1943. As a flight commander, McLean led six unarmed Dakotas on an urgent supply-dropping mission over Burma in May 1944. Fearing interception by Japanese fighters, he ordered the other aircraft back to base, continued on alone and reached his objective. In June he was promoted acting wing commander and placed in command of the squadron.

In the office of the senior marriage registrar, Calcutta, on 26 February 1945 McLean married Elfida Mary Bruce, née Ahlborn, a 28-year-old divorcee; she was a Red Cross representative at a hospital to which he flew wounded soldiers. Returning to Australia in June 1945, he was appointed commander of No.243 (Transport) Squadron, R.A.F., which was stationed at Camden, New South Wales, and operated in the Pacific theatre. His final posting (1946) was to R.A.A.F. Headquarters, Melbourne. He resigned on 7 January 1947. For leadership and courage in action he had been awarded the Air Force Cross (1944), the Distinguished Flying Cross (1944) and the Distinguished Service Order (1945)—rare honours for a transport pilot. In 1953 he was to receive the Queen's commendation.

McLean accepted a permanent commission in the R.A.F. on 7 July 1947. He served at headquarters, Transport Command, and at the Air Ministry. A member of the British bob-sled team in the 1948 Winter Olympics at St Moritz, Switzerland, he played Rugby Union football and cricket for the R.A.F. He commanded No.47 Squadron (1949-51), and completed R.A.F. and joint-services staff courses. In the mid-1950s he spent three years in West Germany with the United States Air Force. Promoted group captain (1960), he was posted as R.A.F. station commander, Changi, Singapore, in December 1962, but in 1963 became seriously ill and was evacuated to England. He died of cancer on 9 November that year in Princess Mary's R.A.F. Hospital, Halton Camp, Wendover, Buckinghamshire, and was buried in the R.A.F. section of Halton churchyard. His wife and four daughters survived him, as did his stepson. Compassionate and modest, McLean got on well with all ranks, inspiring loyalty and affection.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Odgers, Air War Against Japan 1943-1945 (Canb, 1957)
  • AWM 168 and AWM 65 (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Mark Lax, 'McLean, William John (Jack) (1918–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 12 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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