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Noel Thomas Quinn (1916–1985)

by Alex Post

This article was published:

Noel Quinn, by William Pidgeon, 1968

Noel Quinn, by William Pidgeon, 1968

Australian War Memorial, ART27582

Noel Thomas Quinn (1916-1985), air force officer, was born on 16 March 1916 at Cessnock, New South Wales, elder son of New South Wales-born parents Matthew Joseph Quinn, farmer, and his wife Mary Frances, née Galvin. Noel was educated at De La Salle College, Armidale, and Hawkesbury Agricultural College, Richmond, where he gained (1934) a diploma of agriculture, represented the college at rifle shooting and served as secretary of the swimming club. After managing his father’s sheep property near Muswellbrook, on 4 September 1939 he enlisted as an air cadet in the Royal Australian Air Force.

On 3 May 1940 Quinn completed flying training and was commissioned as a pilot officer. Because of the need to rapidly increase the size of the RAAF, his initial posting was as a navigational instructor. He was promoted to flying officer in November 1940 and a year later he joined No.2 Squadron, participating in the squadron’s fighting withdrawal from the Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia). In February 1942 he returned to Australia for further training and test pilot duties. He was posted to No.6 Squadron at Richmond, New South Wales, in July. Next month, piloting a Hudson bomber off Moruya, he helped to save a trawler that was under attack from a Japanese submarine. Later in August he was posted to No.14 Squadron at Pearce, Western Australia, where, in October, while escorting a Catalina flying-boat patrol, he pursued a Japanese bomber although was not able to destroy it. It was the only known instance of an Australian-based Hudson bomber giving chase to a Japanese bomber. Quinn was posted to Bairnsdale, Victoria, in November and on 6 February 1943 at St John’s Church, Clifton Hill, Melbourne, he married with Catholic rites Ann Violet Cameron Campbell.

Upon completing conversion training for the Beaufort aircraft and torpedo instruction, Quinn joined No.8 Squadron in April 1943. The squadron became operational at Goodenough Island off the north-east coast of New Guinea in September and by early November Quinn had completed thirty-one operational sorties and eight strike missions. Two of these strikes were torpedo attacks carried out in the face of strong anti-aircraft defences and in one of them he scored a damaging hit on a light cruiser. For his sustained courage, skill and leadership, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in December.

Quinn took command of the squadron on 12 November and was promoted to squadron leader on 1 December. Three days later, during a successful torpedo attack on targets at Rabaul, he struck an obstruction and crashed into the sea. He was rescued by the Japanese and, although injured, was beaten and questioned relentlessly for four days before being flown to Japan for further interrogation and imprisonment. He did not return to Australia until October 1945. In recognition of his last mission he was awarded a bar to his DFC in 1946.

After the war, Quinn filled a variety of Australian-based positions and attended (1950-52) the RAF Flying College, Manby, England. Promoted to wing commander in March 1950, he served (1952-53) in Malaya and took over No.1 Squadron. He piloted Lincoln heavy bombers in operations against communist insurgents, flying missions as often as possible. For his leadership and example he was awarded a second bar to his DFC in 1954.

In August 1953 Quinn returned to Australia and commanded (1953-56) the School of Land/Air Warfare, Williamtown, New South Wales. Although he was hard-working and energetic, some senior officers considered him to be tactless and cocksure. Promoted to group captain in 1958, he served as honorary aide-de-camp to the governor-general (1958-61) and as air attaché (1963-65) at the Australian embassy, Jakarta, where he was thought of as an efficient and amusing member of the staff. In 1965 he returned to Australia to positions in the departments of Air and Defence. Described as ‘brave, dashing, confident’, he retired from the RAAF in 1971 with the honorary rank of air commodore and settled in Brisbane, where he worked as an administrative officer. Survived by his wife and their daughter and son, he died of cancer on 13 October 1985 at St Lucia, and was cremated. A portrait by William Pidgeon is held by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Odgers, Air War Against Japan 1943-1945 (1957)
  • D. Vincent, The RAAF Hudson Story (1999)
  • RAAF service record (Office of Air Force History, Canberra).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Alex Post, 'Quinn, Noel Thomas (1916–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 24 July 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

Noel Quinn, by William Pidgeon, 1968

Noel Quinn, by William Pidgeon, 1968

Australian War Memorial, ART27582

Life Summary [details]


16 March, 1916
Cessnock, New South Wales, Australia


13 October, 1985 (aged 69)
St Lucia, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (not specified)

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.