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Andrew David Swan (1896–1980)

by Peter Helson

This article was published:

Andrew David Swan (1896-1980), by unknown photographer, 1943

Andrew David Swan (1896-1980), by unknown photographer, 1943

Australian War Memorial, UK0308

Andrew David Swan (1896-1980), air force officer, was born on 19 November 1896 at Perth, Scotland, son of David Swan, a sergeant in the British Army, and his wife Lillias McAinsh, née Young. Andrew joined the Army Ordnance Corps as a clerk in December 1910. Within five years he gained third- and second-class army educational certificates. In February 1913 he transferred to the 1st Battalion, the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment). He served (from 1915) on the Western Front and was twice mentioned in dispatches.

In November 1918 Swan was posted to the records section, Army Headquarters, Bombay, India. He proceeded with the Waziristan Field Force to the North-West Frontier, and was discharged from the British Army on 29 December 1923 with the rank of sergeant. Migrating to Australia, he worked as a railway-construction labourer in Melbourne. On 21 July 1925 he enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force and was sent as an aircraftman to No.1 Flying Training School, Point Cook. At the Baptist Church, Collins Street, Melbourne, on 16 July 1927 he married Sylvia Irene Lane, a librarian.

Promoted sergeant in October 1929, Swan became disciplinary sergeant major at No.1 F.T.S. in January 1931 and sergeant major, first class, in August 1933. He was commissioned flying officer on 1 September 1938. After World War II began he served as adjutant at station headquarters, Laverton, and (from March 1940) at No.1 Engineering School, Melbourne. He was made honorary flight lieutenant in September 1940. For his work in training new ground-staff he was appointed M.B.E. in 1941. In October that year he was promoted temporary squadron leader. Two months later he was transferred to Darwin as senior administrative officer.

On 19 February 1942 Japanese aircraft attacked the town. Amid the chaos Swan helped to operate a Lewis-gun before leading a party of men into a burning hangar to recover ammunition. He was mentioned in dispatches. When the raids ended that day, the commander of the R.A.A.F. station, Group Captain Sturt Griffith, told Swan to direct all personnel to move a short distance inland, away from the base. Passed on by word of mouth, this imprecise order was misinterpreted by many as an instruction to abandon their positions and evacuate the town. (Sir) Charles Lowe, who inquired into the circumstances of the Japanese attacks, commended Swan's conduct, both during and after the raids.

From 4 March 1942 Swan commanded the R.A.A.F. station in Darwin. In October he was posted to the air force establishment at Ascot Vale, Melbourne, as S.A.O. and officer commanding. Promoted acting wing commander in August 1943 (substantive September 1948), he joined R.A.A.F. Overseas Headquarters, London, that month. He returned to Melbourne in November 1944 and took charge of the Aircrew School at Watsonia. In February 1946 he became S.A.O. of No.81 Wing, which formed part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, Japan. Back home in April 1947, he was appointed S.A.O., R.A.A.F. station, Point Cook; he also acted (August-September) as temporary commandant of the newly formed R.A.A.F. College. Following his retirement on 19 November 1949, he lived at Seaford. He died on 22 May 1980 at Frankston and was cremated with Presbyterian forms; his wife and their son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force 1939-1942 (Canb, 1962)
  • R. E. Frost, RAAF College and Academy 1947-86 (Canb, 1991)
  • N. C. Smith, One Thousand Airmen (Melb, 1995)
  • Commission of Inquiry Concerning the Circumstances Connected with the Attack Made by Japanese Aircraft at Darwin on 19th February, 1942 (Canb, 1945)
  • Darwin documents, box file (RAAF Museum, Point Cook, Victoria).

Citation details

Peter Helson, 'Swan, Andrew David (1896–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 15 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Andrew David Swan (1896-1980), by unknown photographer, 1943

Andrew David Swan (1896-1980), by unknown photographer, 1943

Australian War Memorial, UK0308

Life Summary [details]


19 November, 1896
Perth, Perthshire, Scotland


22 May, 1980 (aged 83)
Frankston, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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