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William Yorke Richardson (1914–1994)

by Peter Helson

This article was published:

William Yorke Richardson (1914–1994), air force officer and dairy farmer, was born on 18 September 1914 at Caulfield, Melbourne, third child of James Graham Richardson, government architect, and his wife Laeta Alice, née Fishbourne, both Victorian-born. William attended Caulfield Grammar School until December 1930, when his father was compulsorily retired from the Victorian Public Service owing to the Depression, and could no longer afford school fees. After working as a farm labourer and as a manufacturer of electric signs, William found employment as a miner in Gippsland and then at Mount Isa, Queensland. Returning to Victoria, he operated a jackhammer on the Yarrawonga Weir construction site. During this time he completed a construction welding course which led to his working in the boiler shop at the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd steelworks at Port Kembla, New South Wales, and subsequently at the Berrima Cement Works.

On 1 June 1940 in the Holy Trinity Church of England, Ardmona, Victoria, Richardson married Phillis May McNab. The couple moved to Sydney where he worked as a welder before enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force on 15 August 1941. Standing six feet three inches (191 cm) tall and weighing twelve stone (76 kg), he had green eyes and dark hair. He qualified as a pilot in Australia, under the Empire Air Training Scheme, before embarking for Britain on 2 July 1942.

After completing refresher flying training, Richardson was promoted to flight sergeant in November and posted to No. 254 Squadron, Royal Air Force, which was equipped with Bristol Beaufighter aircraft. He was commissioned on 12 August 1943. The squadron’s role was to attack enemy shipping in an area between Denmark and the Bay of Biscay. In September, during an attack off the Dutch coast, his aircraft was hit and the navigator badly injured; Richardson managed to fly the damaged aircraft with one hand while administering a morphine injection to the navigator with the other. In the following month he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal. He was promoted to flying officer on 12 February 1944. In October King George VI awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross. The citation described Richardson as ‘an exceptionally skilful pilot and splendid leader [who] has consistently displayed fine fighting spirit, outstanding courage and great devotion to duty’ (NAA A9300).

Following the end of his operational tour, Richardson was posted to the Aircraft Torpedo Development Unit, with which he flew a variety of aircraft, conducting weapons trials. He obtained a posting to No. 58 Squadron, based at Stornoway, Outer Hebrides, which was equipped with Halifax four-engine bombers. On 9 April, while he was flying a training sortie in low cloud and poor visibility, his Halifax crashed into a mountain on the island of Lewis and Harris, and caught fire. He was badly injured, suffering laceration of the scalp and second-degree burns to the face and hands. Recovering from his injuries, he returned to Australia in November 1945, having been promoted to flight lieutenant in August. He was demobilised on 8 January 1946.

Although he had no experience in the dairy industry, Richardson took up dairy farming, initially on a farm he established at Cobram, Victoria, and then at Mooroopna, near Shepparton. Survived by his wife and their daughter and two sons, he died on 10 September 1994 at Blackburn and was cremated. His elder son, Robert, had a distinguished air force career, attaining the rank of air vice marshal (1997–2003).

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • lth of Australia Gazette, no. 206, 19 October 1944, 2338
  • London Gazette, 15 October 1943, 4559
  • National Archives of Australia.  A705, Richardson, William Yorke
  • National Archives of Australia.  A9300, Richardson, William Yorke
  • Richardson, Robert V. Personal communication
  • Richardson, Robert V. ‘A Remarkable Life. A Private Family Biography of William Yorke Richardson DFC, DFM and Phillis May Richardson.’ Unpublished manuscript. Copy held by author

Additional Resources

Citation details

Peter Helson, 'Richardson, William Yorke (1914–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2020, accessed online 23 July 2024.

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

View the front pages for Volume 19

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