Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Trobe, Jack Hewson (1913–1986)

by Mark Lax

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Jack Hewson Trobe (1913-1986), air force officer, clerk and company executive, was born on 28 June 1913 at Prospect, Adelaide, son of Thomas Trobe, carpenter, and his wife Edith Jane, née Williamson, both English born. Jack was educated at Adelaide High School, where in 1929 he failed to obtain his Intermediate certificate. In 1935 he passed the examinations for an Australian Insurance Institute certificate. He worked as an accounting clerk with Wood Son Seary Ltd at Renmark and Berri. World War II broke out in September 1939 and on 7 December 1940 he enrolled in the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve. On 12 April 1941 at the Renmark Methodist Church, he married Vesta Stafford Needham, a clerk.

After passing the required aircrew tests, Trobe enlisted in the Citizen Air Force on 23 June 1941 and undertook flying training in Australia, graduating with his wings and a commission in June 1942. Posted to Britain, he arrived in November and converted to Halifax heavy bombers. By July 1943 he was serving with the Royal Air Force’s No.10 Squadron, Bomber Command, with which unit he was involved in numerous perilous night operations over enemy territory. On the night of 2-3 November, over Dusseldorf, Germany, his aircraft was attacked by four night fighters and repeatedly hit. Two of the bomber’s engines failed, one of which was later restarted. While the crew extinguished fires in the fuselage, Trobe, ‘by a superb effort, succeeded in reaching base and in difficult circumstances effected a masterly landing’. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

On the night of 22-23 April 1944, again during a raid on Dusseldorf, the two port engines of Trobe’s Halifax failed and would not restart. He ordered his crew to abandon the aircraft while he attempted a crash landing in the Netherlands. Although wounded, he escaped the wreckage and evaded capture by German occupation forces. A local farmer sheltered him before handing him over to the Resistance. He returned to Britain five months later and continued his recuperation. In November, as an acting squadron leader, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his ‘skill, courage and fortitude’ in air operations—testament to his leadership as much as his flying ability. With his operational tour complete, he was repatriated in February 1945. He was demobilised on 24 September.

After the war Trobe became a representative and later an executive with Caltex Oil (Australia) Pty Ltd in Adelaide. In 1951 he was appointed commandant of the Air Training Corps in South Australia with the rank of acting wing commander, a position he held until he moved interstate. From 1954 he occupied senior posts with Caltex in the eastern mainland States and Tasmania but returned to South Australia after he retired. Trobe was a brave, resolute man, with a strong sense of duty and admirable leadership qualities. Of above average height, he had brown hair and green eyes. He died on 18 November 1986 at Renmark and was buried with Uniting Church rites in the Upper Murray garden cemetery, Barmera. His wife survived him; they had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 20 Nov 1986, p 5
  • AWM65, item 5099 (Australian War Memorial)
  • A705, item 166/40/180, and A9300, item TROBE J H (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Mark Lax, 'Trobe, Jack Hewson (1913–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/trobe-jack-hewson-15914/text27115, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 23 October 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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