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Carn Scarlett Wiggins (1898–1969)

by Doug Hurst

This article was published:

Carn Scarlett Wiggins (1898-1969), by unknown photographer, 1942

Carn Scarlett Wiggins (1898-1969), by unknown photographer, 1942

Australian War Memorial, 012248

Carn Scarlett Wiggins (1898-1969), air force officer and public servant, was born on 6 October 1898 at Mudgee, New South Wales, second child of John Scarlett Wiggins, a draper from Ireland, and his Victorian-born wife Florence Elizabeth, née Smith. Educated in Hobart at Battery Point State School and The Hutchins School, Carn entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Federal Capital Territory, in February 1916. He graduated as lieutenant in December 1920 and trained as a signals officer in England. On his return to Australia, he was posted to the 3rd Divisional Signals in Melbourne (1922) and the 11th Mixed Brigade in Brisbane (1923). At Kangaroo Point on 9 February 1924 he married with Presbyterian forms Jean de Belle Graham; they had eleven children before being divorced in 1949. He resigned from the army on 31 May 1924.

Joining the Royal Australian Air Force as a flying officer on 2 July 1925, Wiggins specialized in signals. He was promoted flight lieutenant in 1928 and squadron leader in 1936. Competent, knowledgeable and energetic, in the 1930s he was one of Australia's small band of experts in the rapidly emerging field of radio communications. In May 1937 he was seconded to the civil aviation branch, Department of Defence, Melbourne. Having risen to wing commander in March 1939, he transferred to the R.A.A.F. Reserve on 20 July and was appointed chief electrical engineer in the new Department of Civil Aviation.

On 25 July 1940 Wiggins was recalled to the Active List as director of signals, Air Force Headquarters, Melbourne. Promoted temporary group captain on 1 September, he was responsible for the organization and supervision of all types of service communications. His first priority was to establish a reliable long-range radio network to support R.A.A.F. operations in Australia and the region. Radar was now extensively used and electronic warfare was also increasingly important. Signals intelligence, in particular, would play a major role in the war in the Pacific. As the R.A.A.F.'s senior expert in these diverse and arcane fields, Wiggins worked to ensure that R.A.A.F. equipment, procedures and knowledge met operational needs despite rapid technological progress.

Wiggins soon acquired a reputation for 'getting things done'. His 'captain of the team' approach gave his staff wide responsibility and empowered them to make decisions. This drew the best out of competent people who displayed initiative, and many of his wartime staff regarded him highly both as a man and a manager. Very sociable, he was able to build a strong rapport with both his superiors and opposite numbers in the other services.

Early in 1942 the Japanese advance through the Netherlands East Indies and attack on Darwin placed especially heavy demands on Australia's signals systems. Communications between the air officer commanding at Darwin and the central war rooms at Bandung, N.E.I., and in Melbourne were, however, maintained. This achievement was largely due to 'good initial planning and installation work' under Wiggins' direction. He was appointed C.B.E. (1942) for his 'outstanding technical ability coupled with his initiative and administrative skill'. Despite 'long and arduous hours of duty', he displayed 'resourcefulness' and 'outstanding foresight' which enabled the signals system to operate 'in a high state of efficiency'.

Wiggins was appointed director of communications, Allied Air Forces Headquarters, South-West Pacific Area, in July 1942, and then director of communications at Headquarters, R.A.A.F. Command, in March 1943. In each post his experience, personal drive and ability to create 'teams' enhanced his effectiveness. During this period he travelled to New Guinea and the South-West Pacific to obtain first-hand knowledge, but by 1944 the war was moving further north. He was made director of radio services, Air Force Headquarters, in August 1944. From January 1945 he was director of telecommunications and radar, a title more closely reflecting his wartime duties.

On 10 October 1945 Wiggins was placed on the R.A.A.F. Reserve. Returning to the Department of Civil Aviation, he was director of air navigation and safety in 1946-48 and assistant director (operations) from 1948 until his retirement in 1963. He died on 5 December 1969 while travelling between Frankston and Prahran and was cremated with Anglican rites. Seven of his eight sons and two of his three daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • D. P. Mellor, The Role of Science and Industry (Canb, 1958)
  • D. Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force 1939-1942 (Canb, 1962)
  • E. R. Hall, A Saga of Achievement (Melb, 1978)
  • R. C. Meyer, Aeradio in Australia (Canb, 1985)
  • C. D. Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother (Syd, 1991)
  • Age (Melbourne), 8 Dec 1969
  • private information.

Citation details

Doug Hurst, 'Wiggins, Carn Scarlett (1898–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 16 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

Carn Scarlett Wiggins (1898-1969), by unknown photographer, 1942

Carn Scarlett Wiggins (1898-1969), by unknown photographer, 1942

Australian War Memorial, 012248

Life Summary [details]


6 October, 1898
Mudgee, New South Wales, Australia


5 December, 1969 (aged 71)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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