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Alexander Augustus Pentland (1894–1983)

by Mark Lax

This article was published:

Alexander Augustus Norman Dudley Pentland (1894-1983), air force officer and aviator, was born on 5 August 1894 at West Maitland, New South Wales, son of Irish-born Alexander Pentland, physician, and his Scottish-born wife Annie Norma, née Farquhar.  Alexander boarded at The Kings School, Parramatta, and at Brighton Grammar School, Melbourne, before studying dairy farming at Hawkesbury Agricultural College, Richmond, New South Wales.  Of fair complexion and only 5 ft 4 ins (163 cm) tall, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 5 March 1915 and served with the 12th Australian Light Horse Regiment at Gallipoli before being repatriated to England with enteric fever.

Repelled by trench warfare, Pentland joined the Royal Flying Corps on 22 February 1916 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant.  He trained at Brooklands, Surrey, where he was given the nickname 'Jerry', and on 1 June he joined No.16 Squadron in France.  Within a few days of arrival, he and his observer shot down an enemy plane.  Having broken a leg while playing rugby, he convalesced in England and instructed at Hendon, London.  He returned to France in July 1917 and his score of planes shot down rose to ten, for which he was awarded a Military Cross the following January.  In France he earned the epithet 'the wild Australian' for his reckless behaviour and, on 1 September 1917, he was promoted to lieutenant.  Later that month Pentland crashed his plane after it was damaged by enemy fire and he began instructing once more.  Promoted to captain on 1 April 1918 he was soon at the front serving as a flight commander with No.87 Squadron.  His tally topped twenty-three and on 3 August he won the Distinguished Flying Cross.  After claiming two more enemy aircraft, he was shot down and wounded on 25 August, effectively ending his RFC career.

Although his name was better known in England and France than in his own country, Pentland returned to Australia.  He was based at Mudgee, New South Wales, where he operated joy flights until August 1921, when he joined the Royal Australian Air Force.  Holding the rank of flight lieutenant, he was appointed flight commander at No.1 Flying Training School, Point Cook, Victoria.  Disappointed with the lack of flying, he resigned in February 1923.  On 5 March at All Saints Church of England, St Kilda, he married Madge Moffatt.

Returning to England, Pentland joined the Royal Air Force as an instructor but the peacetime RAF was not to his liking and he came back to Australia in 1926.  For the next fourteen years he engaged in a variety of occupations that included instructor with the Australian Aero Club, partner in Mandated Territory Airlines and General Aircraft Co. Ltd, flying with Australian National Airways Pty Ltd, charter operating in New Guinea, farming and teaching animal husbandry at Gosford Farm Home for Boys.

Pentland rejoined the RAAF in June 1940 with the rank of flying officer, serving first as an instructor and then as a pilot in New Guinea with No.1 Communications Flight, which became known as 'Pentland’s Flying Circus'.  There he organised evacuations and rescues of downed aircrew.  He was promoted to flight lieutenant in October 1941 and served subsequently with Nos 3 and 8 Communication units.  Promoted to squadron leader in April 1943, he was posted back to Australia at the end of 1944, where he took command of RAAF Station, Mascot, Sydney.

Demobilised from the RAAF on 2 November 1945, Pentland was awarded the Air Force Cross in 1946.  He became a trader and operated a coffee plantation in New Guinea and in 1959 retired to Palm Beach, New South Wales.  Predeceased by his wife but survived by their daughter, Pentland died on 3 November 1983 at Narrabeen and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Schaedel, Australian Air Ace (1979)
  • C. Shores et al, Above the Trenches (1990)
  • B2455, item Pentland Alexander Augustus Norman and A9300, item Pentland A A N (National Archives of Australia)

Citation details

Mark Lax, 'Pentland, Alexander Augustus (1894–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 17 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 August, 1894
Maitland, New South Wales, Australia


3 November, 1983 (aged 89)
Narrabeen, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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