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Wright, Harold John (Harry) (1919–1991)

by John Moremon

This article was published online in 2019

Harold John Alfred (Harry) Wright (1919–1991), survey draughtsman, air force officer, and political activist, was born on 28 December 1919 at New Farm, Brisbane, eldest son of Queensland-born parents Harold John Austin Wright, artist, and his wife Kathleen May, née Bohan. Educated at St Columban’s College, Brisbane, Harry secured a survey drafting cadetship with the Queensland Irrigation and Water Supply Commission (QI&WSC) in 1938 and subsequently enrolled in arts and law at the University of Queensland.

After World War II broke out, Wright discontinued his university studies and in 1941 was briefly mobilised in the Citizen Military Forces. On 26 April that year he enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Trained as a navigator in Australia, Canada, and Britain, he ‘crewed up’ (Wright 1989, 12) at a Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command operational training unit in July 1942. His room-mate described Wright as ‘a long, thin, twenty-year-old Queenslander with untidy hair and a self-mocking physiognomy’ (Charlwood 1991, 28), and ‘the untidiest, most generous, least promising-looking man among us’ (Charlwood 1956, 21).

In September Wright was posted as navigator to No. 103 Squadron, RAF, and in April 1943, the crew transferred to 156 (Pathfinder) Squadron. Following night raids over Germany, Italy, and France, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal (1943) for ‘keenness and courage’ and ‘fine technical knowledge’ (London Gazette July 1943}. He was commissioned a pilot officer in May. On the night of 16–17 September, navigating to Modane, France, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (1943) for guiding his pilot in bad weather ‘to the precise target exactly as planned’ (London Gazette October 1943). His plane was first over the target, dropping bombs ‘bang on’ (Wright 1941–44). He became squadron operations officer and an ‘odd bod’ (Wright 1989, 35), flying with different crews until March 1944.

Wright promptly volunteered for another tour and was posted to 582 (Pathfinder) Squadron in April. In four months he flew twenty-one sorties, bringing his total to seventy-eight. The strain on his nerves was ‘absolutely terrific’ but ‘the old booze helped at the time’ (Wright 1989, 35). He received a Bar to the DFC (1944) for displaying a ‘high standard of leadership and courage,’ which was ‘a source of inspiration and encouragement to less experienced crews’ (London Gazette December 1944). In September 1944 he was promoted to flight lieutenant. Returning home in October, he transferred to the RAAF Reserve on 5 March 1945 in order to join Qantas Empire Airways Ltd as a navigator. After his brother was killed in April 1946, his parents convinced him to give up flying and return to the QI&WSC as a survey draughtsman.

On 4 September 1948, Wright married Pauline Ruby Pike at St Stephen’s Cathedral, Brisbane. She helped ameliorate his war-related nightmares. Resigning from the QI&WSC for health reasons in 1956, he sold whitegoods before returning to QI&WSC in the early 1960s. A devout Catholic and fervent anti-communist, he joined the Democratic Labor Party and established Citizens for Freedom, vociferously supporting the Vietnam War, fund-raising for aid projects in South Vietnam, and leading a fiery protest against a North Vietnamese trade union visit in February 1973. For advocating diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, he received the Order of the Brilliant Star (grade 5), awarded by the Republic of China (Taiwan).

Returning to the University of Queensland, Wright completed the degree he had abandoned during the war (BA, 1979). He refrained from applying for medals until 1978, when he decided to march on Anzac days. Gradually coming to terms with his war experiences and the losses of comrades and friends, he revisited wartime airfields in England, communicated with air-war historians, and blended his and other veterans’ stories into a cathartic novel, Pathfinders—‘Light the Way’ (1983). In failing health, Wright retired in 1984. Amiable and sociable, he remained active in his church, the Returned Services League of Australia, and the Pathfinder Association. Survived by his wife and two daughters, he died of pneumonia on 29 January 1991 at the Repatriation General Hospital, Greenslopes, Brisbane, and was cremated.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Charlwood, Donald Ernest. No Moon Tonight. Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1956
  • Charlwood, Donald Ernest. Journeys into Night. Melbourne: Hudson Publishing, 1991
  • London Gazette 9 July 1943, 3096
  • London Gazette 22 October 1943, 4674
  • London Gazette 8 December 1944, 5636
  • National Archives of Australia. A9300, Wright H J A
  • Sternes, Phil. Personal communication
  • Watery Sauces Oldies & Boldies (Water Resources Retired Officers Association Inc.). ‘Obituary’, No. 4, May 1991
  • Wright, Harold John Alfred. Log Book 1941–44. Unpublished. Private Collection. Copy held on ADB file
  • Wright, Harold John Alfred. Pathfinders—‘Light the Way.’ Brisbane: McCann Publications, 1983)
  • Wright, Harold John Alfred. Interview by Edward Stokes, May 1989. Transcript. Australian War Memorial

Additional Resources

Citation details

John Moremon, 'Wright, Harold John (Harry) (1919–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wright-harold-john-harry-27526/text34927, published online 2019, accessed online 23 October 2019.

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