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.

Reginald Noel Basil Stevens (1917–2000)

by Nicholas Dickie

This article was published online in 2023

View Previous Version

Reginald Stevens, by Laurence Le Guay, 1943

Reginald Stevens, by Laurence Le Guay, 1943

Australian War Memorial, MEC2056

Reginald Noel Basil Stevens (1917–2000), air force officer, pilot, and public servant, was born on 9 September 1917 at Naremburn, Sydney, second youngest of five children of Victorian-born William Clarke Stevens, insurance superintendent, and his New South Wales-born wife Isabella Catherine, née Elliot. Reginald briefly attended North Sydney Intermediate Boys' High School before abandoning his education to work in quantity surveying. He enlisted on 21 August 1935 in the Royal Australian Artillery, Citizen Military Force. Discharged from the 7th Field Brigade on 18 March 1936, he subsequently moved to Papua to work for a firm of builders. On 24 February 1938 he joined the Public Service of Papua as a stores clerk. Two days later he married New South Wales-born Nancy Edith Hurd at the Ela Protestant Church, Port Moresby; they had met while she was there on holiday.

Named in September 1940 in the November call-up for the Empire Air Training Scheme, Stevens returned to Sydney to enlist on 11 November in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). He trained as a pilot in Australia and Britain and in December 1941 was posted to No. 457 Squadron, RAAF, on the Isle of Man. There he crashed in a Spitfire when the starboard tyre blew out while landing, hospitalising him for a week. On 15 February 1942 he was deployed to the Middle East, where he learned to fly Kittyhawks with No. 239 Wing, Royal Air Force. He commenced operational flying on 7 June 1942 when he joined No. 3 Squadron, RAAF, stationed at Gambut, Libya. The following month he flew dozens of short operations, experiencing a forced landing from a mechanical malfunction and being shot down twice. From October to December 1942 he increasingly led strafing and bombing raids on enemy positions; he shot down several enemy fighters: two German and one Italian (with more unconfirmed). In November 1942 he was commissioned. For his conduct and example to others, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in July 1943.

In April 1943 the squadron moved to Tunisia. The next month Stevens was promoted to acting flight lieutenant and on 19 June to acting squadron leader, reported to have been the most rapid rise to that rank from sergeant pilot by an Australian airman. Concurrently, he was appointed to command the squadron. His primary focus became training pilots for the Allied invasion of Italy. The squadron was based in Malta from July. On 3 August he was again shot down by enemy ground fire, this time while flying over Sicily, and crashed near Mount Etna. In August he led a formation to the harbour of Milazzo, Sicily. Despite intense anti-aircraft fire, the squadron attacked and destroyed two ships, six barges, and a flying boat. For this operation and for his leadership, he was awarded a Bar to his DFC.

Appointed as commanding officer of No. 451 Squadron on 29 August 1943, Stevens joined his new unit in Egypt. He assisted in the squadron’s reformation, overseeing the replacement of Hurricanes by Spitfires. After learning that his wife was seriously ill, he applied for compassionate leave and returned to Australia in January 1944. He was posted to No. 2 Operational Training Unit, Mildura, Victoria, where he remained for the rest of the war training fighter pilots. The unit had no position for a squadron leader when he arrived, and he bore good-naturedly the indignity of reversion to his substantive rank of flying officer until a squadron leader’s post became available in October 1944. Noted for his zeal and efficiency, he was credited as a good mentor who imparted his knowledge to pilots and those under his command. On 9 May 1944 he experienced another plane crash when the motor of his Spitfire failed, forcing him to land on a road.

At his request, Stevens was transferred on 1 April 1945 to the RAAF Reserve and joined Australian National Airways Pty Ltd. In December he resumed his employment with what had become the Public Service of the Territory of Papua-New Guinea; his family accompanied him. He was appointed as an acting inspector (confirmed, 1947) in the Department of Native Labour; his postings included Higaturu, Wau, and Rabaul. About this time he began to be afflicted by spinal pain, which he believed to have been caused by his first plane crash on the Isle of Man and exacerbated by other wartime crashes. The injury precipitated his retirement from the territory administration in 1952 and he returned to Naremburn with his family, where he continued working as a public servant. A variety of treatments were used to and improve his condition and he spent time at the Repatriation General Hospital, Concord. He moved to Wallsend, Newcastle, where he held various positions as a branch manager, assistant purchasing officer, and then superintendent.

Standing at 5 feet 10 inches (178 cm), Stevens was an active person who enjoyed swimming, tennis, shooting, and golf. After returning to Australia, he became an avid fan of sailing and in 1970 acted as a trustee for a special lease of land on which the Speers Point Amateur Sailing Club opened its new headquarters in 1974. A few years later he moved to Old Bar and then to Chatham, both near Taree. Survived by his wife and three children, he died on 21 July 2000 at Mayo Private Hospital, Taree, and was buried in the lawn cemetery, Dawson River.

Research edited by Matthew Cunneen

Select Bibliography

  • 3squadron. ‘Reg Stevens Valedictions.’ Accessed 18 September 2021. https://www.3squadron.org.au/subpages/stevens.htm
  • Age (Melbourne). ‘Reconnaissance Command: R.A.A.F. Officer.’ 6 October 1943, 3
  • Australian War Memorial. AWM65, 4848
  • National Archives of Australia. A9300, STEVENS R N B
  • Stevens, Reginald Noel Basil. Interview by Edward Stokes, 5 July 1990. Australian War Memorial
  • Sun (Sydney). ‘Famous Pilot’s Drop in Rank.’ 19 September 1944, 2

Additional Resources

Citation details

Nicholas Dickie, 'Stevens, Reginald Noel Basil (1917–2000)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stevens-reginald-noel-basil-32762/text40738, published online 2023, accessed online 25 April 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Reginald Stevens, by Laurence Le Guay, 1943

Reginald Stevens, by Laurence Le Guay, 1943

Australian War Memorial, MEC2056

Life Summary [details]

Birth

9 September, 1917
Naremburn, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Death

21 July, 2000 (aged 82)
Taree, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

respiratory arrest

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.

Education
Occupation
Military Service
Awards
Key Organisations