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Alexander William (Alec) Wales (1921–1997)

by Michael Garside

This article was published online in 2023

Alexander Wales, 1943

Alexander Wales, 1943

Australian War Memorial, UK0754

Alexander William Wales (1921–1997), air force officer and airline pilot, was born on 6 October 1921 in East Melbourne, elder son of Beatrice Elizabeth, née Johnson, dressmaker, and her husband John William Wales, schoolteacher, both Victorian-born. His father, who had taught at Scotch College, Melbourne, died in 1926; Alec attended the school (1932–36) but left early to join Dunlop Rubber Co. Ltd. After being retrenched, he worked in real estate until he joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) on 15 July 1940.

Initially working as an office orderly at RAAF Headquarters, Melbourne, Wales was remustered in January 1941 and trained as a pilot in Australia, Canada, and Britain as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme. In August 1942 he was posted to No. 460 Squadron, RAAF, based at Breighton, Yorkshire. Having been ‘shot up very badly’ (Wales 1942) on his fifth operational sortie, he was in 1943 awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for his ‘outstanding leadership and utmost determination in pressing home attacks’ (NAA A9300). In December 1942 he had been commissioned. On October 25 that year he had married Welsh-born Doreen Mary Davies at St Baruch’s Church, Glamorgan, Wales; the couple had two sons, but the marriage ended in divorce.

After his first operational tour, Wales was recommended in February 1943 as a test pilot by his commander, (Sir) Hughie Edwards. Turning down the offer, he was posted to Royal Air Force Blyton as an instructor with No. 1662 Conversion Unit, where he taught pilots to fly Lancaster and Halifax bombers until early November, when he was again posted to No. 460 Squadron, by then at RAF station Binbrook, Lincolnshire. He commanded a further twenty missions as an acting flight lieutenant, usually in his assigned Wellington, R for Robert. On 29 December 1943 he flew the famous Lancaster G for George on an operation to bomb Berlin. This was considered one of the most difficult assignments for a Bomber Command crew, and he undertook no fewer than sixteen such missions between 16 January 1943 and 15 February 1944. That year he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for continuing in his second tour to exhibit the qualities for which he had received his DFM.

Following Wales’s final mission on 18 March 1944, he was sent to the United States of America with orders to ferry Liberator bombers to Australia. On arrival, it became obvious that the plan would not eventuate and so he returned to Australia by ship. After joining No. 7 Operational Training Unit, Tocumwal, New South Wales, he applied for a posting to the Pacific but was told he lacked the necessary experience. Annoyed at the rejection, he requested a transfer to the RAAF Reserve in October 1944 to take up a position with Australian National Airways Pty Ltd. He married Lola Balstrup, formerly a typist who was working as a flight attendant, at Littlejohn Memorial Chapel, Scotch College, Melbourne, on 8 June 1950.

In 1956 Wales began flying for Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. He was seconded to the Cayman Islands as director of flight operations for Cathay’s subsidiary Bahamas Airways. His plan to promote pilots out of seniority order, financially compensating those passed over, resulted in a disagreement with the pilots’ union and contributed to the airline’s folding in 1970. Some pilots were taken on by Cathay, to which he returned. Held in high regard in his roles as an instructor and deputy director of flight operations, he rarely mentioned his wartime service and many of his close friends would learn of his military feats only at his funeral. Having retired in 1972, he and his wife moved to Mapleton, Queensland, where they built a house and ran cattle. A declining market and complications from an injury sustained at Binbrook brought a move to Nambour, where he died on 21 May 1997, and was cremated. He was survived by Lola and the two sons of his first marriage.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Jerdan, Peter. Interview by the author, 2022
  • National Archives of Australia. A9300, 10991
  • Nelmes, Michael, and Ian Jenkins. G for George: A Memorial to RAAF Bomber Crews, 1939–45. Maryborough, Qld: Banner Books, 2002
  • Roper, Jann. Interview by the author, 2022
  • Wales, Alexander. Interview by Laurence Field, 16 July 1987. Transcript. Australian War Memorial
  • Wales, A. ‘Pilot's Flying Logbook.’ 1941–44. Wales, Alexander William, Private Record, PRO4932. Australian War Memorial

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Michael Garside, 'Wales, Alexander William (Alec) (1921–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2023, accessed online 5 March 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Alexander Wales, 1943

Alexander Wales, 1943

Australian War Memorial, UK0754

Life Summary [details]


6 October, 1921
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


21 May, 1997 (aged 75)
Nambour, Queensland, Australia

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.

Military Service