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William Anderson (RAAF officer)

Air Vice-Marshal William Hopton (Bill) Anderson, CBE, DFC (30 December 1891 – 30 December 1975) was a senior commander in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). He flew with the Australian Flying Corps in World War I, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Belgian Croix de guerre, and leading Nos. 3 and 7 Squadrons. Anderson commanded the Australian Air Corps during its brief existence in 1920–21, before joining the fledgling RAAF. The service's third most senior officer, he primarily held posts on the Australian Air Board in the inter-war years. He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1934, and promoted to air commodore in 1938.

William Hopton (Bill) Anderson
Head-and-shoulders portrait of moustachioed man in light-coloured military uniform with pilot's wings on left pocket
Air Vice-Marshal William Anderson
Nickname(s)"Andy"; "Mucker"
Born30 December 1891
Kew, Victoria
Died30 December 1975(1975-12-30) (aged 84)
East Melbourne, Victoria
Service/branchRoyal Australian Air Force
Years of service1910–46
RankAir Vice-Marshal
UnitNo. 1 Squadron AFC (1916–18)
Commands held
  • World War I
  • World War II

When World War II broke out, Anderson was Air Member for Supply. In 1940 he acted as Chief of the Air Staff between the resignation of Air Vice-Marshal Stanley Goble in January and the arrival of Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Burnett, RAF, the next month. He led the newly formed Central and Eastern Area Commands between December 1940 and July 1943, briefly returning to the Air Board as Air Member for Organisation and Equipment in 1941–42. Anderson was founding Commandant of the RAAF Staff School from July to November 1943, and held this post again from October 1944 until his retirement in April 1946. Known to his colleagues as "Andy" or "Mucker", he died on his birthday in 1975.[1]

Early life and World War IEdit

Born on 30 December 1891 in Kew, Victoria, Bill Anderson was the third son of surveyor Edward Anderson, from England, and his wife Florence, a native Victorian. The youth was educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, where he joined the cadet corps. He began his professional military career as a Royal Australian (Garrison) Artillery officer in December 1910, before transferring to the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, based at Rabaul in what was then German New Guinea, in March 1915.[1] The following January, Anderson joined the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) as a captain, serving with No. 1 Squadron in Palestine.[1][2] He was posted to No. 3 Squadron (designated No. 69 Squadron Royal Flying Corps by the British) in August 1917, operating Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8 two-seat reconnaissance aircraft on the Western Front.[1][3]

R.E.8 of No. 3 Squadron in Belgium, 1919

From October 1917, No. 3 Squadron was heavily involved in artillery ranging, activity that left the slow R.E.8s vulnerable to attack by German fighters. Twice that month Anderson's plane was dived upon by multiple enemy aircraft. He was, in his own words, "too scared to think" on the first occasion, but both times held his nerve and manoeuvred his plane so that his observer could hold off their opponents with Lewis Gun fire while other R.E.8s came to their aid.[3][4] Anderson was spotting for artillery near the Messines Ridge on 6 December when he engaged a German two-seat DFW that observer John Bell was able to shoot down; it was No. 3 Squadron's first confirmed aerial victory.[5][6]

In January 1918, Anderson was given the temporary rank of major and posted to England to take charge of No. 7 (Training) Squadron AFC.[1] He was recommended for the Military Cross (MC) on 12 March for his achievements with No. 3 Squadron in France, the citation noting his "resolute fight" and "cool and capable flying" in evading attacks by enemy aircraft and successfully carrying out his reconnaissance missions.[7] In the event, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in the King's Birthday Honours promulgated in the London Gazette on 3 June, becoming the first Australian to receive the newly created decoration.[8][9] He was also awarded the Belgian Croix de guerre, gazetted on 9 July.[10] Anderson went back to France in October 1918 as commanding officer of No. 3 Squadron.[1][11] His service earned him a mention in despatches on 11 July 1919.[12]

Inter-war yearsEdit

Wing Commander Anderson (seated, right) with the RAAF Air Board in November 1930, including Group Captain Goble (seated, left) and Air Commodore Williams (seated, centre)

Anderson relinquished command of No. 3 Squadron in January 1919 and returned to Australia two months later.[13] In December that year the Australian Flying Corps was disbanded, to be replaced on 1 January 1920 by the short-lived Australian Air Corps (AAC), which was, like the AFC, a branch of the Army. The AFC's senior officer, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Williams, was still in England, and Major Anderson was appointed commander of the AAC, a position that also put him in charge of Central Flying School (CFS) at Point Cook, Victoria.[14][15] On 31 March 1921, he joined the newly formed Australian Air Force (the "Royal" prefix being added in August) as a squadron leader, becoming its third most senior officer after Williams and former Royal Naval Air Service pilot Stanley Goble, both now wing commanders.[11][16]

During 1921, Anderson headed up the RAAF's Point Cook base and its two major units, No. 1 Flying Training School (No. 1 FTS)—the successor to CFS—and the newly established No. 1 Aircraft Depot (No. 1 AD).[1][17] Over the next four years he acted as Director of Personnel and Training, Chief of the Administrative Staff, and Second Air Member on the RAAF's controlling body, the Air Board, when Goble was away on overseas postings. In April 1922, he took part in the new service's first army co-operation exercise, piloting an Airco DH9 with Flight Lieutenant Adrian Cole, who spotted for artillery firing from an emplacement at Queenscliff, Victoria. A year later, Anderson proposed a special RAAF workshop for research and development, which was duly formed at Point Cook later that year.[18][19]

Air Commodore Anderson, c. 1938–39

The young Air Force staged numerous public displays in its early years; on one such occasion over the Melbourne suburb of Essendon in September 1924, Anderson, Ray Brownell and another pilot took part in a mock dogfight while ace Harry Cobby gave a demonstration of balloon busting.[20] During 1925–26, Anderson again took command of No. 1 FTS, as well as occupying a position on the Air Board as Air Member for Personnel. He was posted to England between 1927 and 1929, attending RAF Staff College, Andover, and serving as Air Liaison Officer (ALO) to the British Air Ministry. On 23 March 1927 he was promoted to wing commander.[1][18] As ALO in 1928, he provided information to the Air Board concerning shortcomings of the de Havilland Hound light day bomber, then being strongly considered for the RAAF, that led to the Westland Wapiti being ordered instead.[21]

Returning to Australia in mid-1929, Anderson was for a short time in charge of No. 1 AD, now based at RAAF Station Laverton, Victoria, before appointment to the Air Board as Air Member for Supply in October.[1][22] He spent most of the 1930s in this position, aside from an acting role as Air Member for Personnel in 1933–34, and attendance at the Imperial Defence College, London, the following year.[18] Anderson had no formal training in the supply field,[23] and though regarded with affection was variously considered "not quite on the same wave length as others" and "so immersed in the minutiae of administration that some important policy matters languished". His chronic shyness with women other than his unmarried sister also made him an object of fun in some quarters.[1][24] He was raised to group captain in December 1932 and air commodore in January 1938.[1] Appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1933 King's Birthday Honours,[25] he was promoted Commander in the same order (CBE) in the 1934 New Year Honours.[26]

World War IIEdit

Air Vice-Marshal Anderson (right) awards an airman his wings during a graduation ceremony at Point Cook, 1944

Anderson was still serving as Air Member for Supply when Australia declared war in September 1939.[27] On 9 January 1940 he was appointed acting Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), following the resignation of the incumbent, Air Vice-Marshal Goble. Anderson remained in the position until 10 February, when Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Burnett, seconded from the Royal Air Force, arrived to take over.[1][28][29] The Australian government at this stage had so little faith in the leadership of its Air Force that it had briefly considered offering temporary command of the service to a Royal Australian Navy officer, Second Naval Member Commodore Maitland Boucher, before deciding against such a "monumental slight to the senior ranks of the RAAF" and settling on Anderson.[30] After relinquishing his temporary position as CAS, Anderson briefly reverted to his previous role as Air Member for Supply before taking over as Air Member for Personnel (AMP) in March 1940; he was succeeded in November by Air Vice-Marshal Henry Wrigley.[31][32] The next month, Anderson took over from Air Commodore Cole as Air Officer Commanding Central Area, with responsibility for air defence, protection of adjacent sea lanes, and aerial reconnaissance for most of New South Wales; he remained at this post until it was disbanded in August the following year.[33][34]

Promoted acting air vice-marshal in September 1941, Anderson resumed his position on the Air Board by replacing Air Marshal Williams as Air Member for Organisation and Equipment.[35] In May 1942, he assumed command of the newly established Eastern Area, which was headquartered in Sydney and controlled seven squadrons from southern Queensland to southern New South Wales.[36][37] One of the area's main roles was anti-submarine warfare; its squadrons also included fighters and army co-operation aircraft.[38] In July 1943 Anderson became the inaugural Commandant of the RAAF Staff School at Mount Martha, Victoria.[1][39] The school was instituted to further the training of officers at the squadron leader and wing commander level, whose basic education standards Anderson, among others, found sadly lacking.[40] In December 1943 he was again appointed Air Member for Personnel, taking over from Air Commodore Frank Lukis, before returning to command the RAAF Staff School in September 1944.[32] He continued in the latter role until being forcibly retired, along with a number of other senior Air Force commanders, in April 1946, ostensibly to make way for younger and equally qualified officers.[41][42] A confidential report in September 1944 had found him "hard working, conscientious and loyal" but lacking in "constructive capacity and organising ability".[41] He was still four years below the statutory retirement age of fifty-seven for his substantive rank of air commodore.[43]


Following his discharge from the RAAF as an honorary air vice marshal, Anderson lived in East Melbourne. A lifelong bachelor, he shared a house with his sister, who also never married. From 1947 until 1971, he served as honorary chairman of the Victorian branch of the Services Canteens Trust Fund.[1] On 31 March 1971, he was among a select group of surviving founder members of the RAAF who attended a celebratory dinner at the Hotel Canberra to mark the service's Golden Jubilee; his fellow guests included Air Marshal Williams, Air Vice-Marshal Wrigley, Air Commodore Hippolyte (Frank) De La Rue, and Wing Commander Sir Lawrence Wackett.[44] Bill Anderson died on his birthday in 1975, and was buried in Boroondara Cemetery, Kew.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Coulthard-Clark, "Anderson, William Hopton", pp. 53–54
  2. ^ Cutlack, The Australian Flying Corps, p. 35
  3. ^ a b Cutlack, The Australian Flying Corps, p. 181
  4. ^ Molkentin, Fire in the Sky, pp. 201–202
  5. ^ Newton, Clash of Eagles, p. 16
  6. ^ Molkentin, Fire in the Sky, pp. 224–225
  7. ^ Recommendation: Military Cross at Australian War Memorial. Retrieved on 26 June 2011.
  8. ^ "No. 30722". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 June 1918. p. 6519.
  9. ^ Sewell, Flying the Southern Skies, pp. 12–13
  10. ^ "No. 30792". The London Gazette (Supplement). 9 July 1918. pp. 8169–8189.
  11. ^ a b Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force 1939–1942, pp. 1, 16
  12. ^ "No. 31448". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 July 1919. pp. 8813–8839.
  13. ^ Air Vice-Marshal William Hopton Anderson at Australian War Memorial. Retrieved on 30 June 2011.
  14. ^ Sutherland, Command and Leadership, pp. 32–33
  15. ^ Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother, pp. 17–21
  16. ^ Stephens, The Royal Australian Air Force, pp. 31, 332
  17. ^ Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother, p. 41
  18. ^ a b c Honorary Air Vice-Marshals at Royal Australian Air Force. Retrieved on 14 July 2011.
  19. ^ Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother, pp. 210, 258, 466–468
  20. ^ Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother, pp. 47–49
  21. ^ Stephens, Power Plus Allitude, pp. 37–38
  22. ^ Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother, p. 367
  23. ^ Stephens, Going Solo, p. 179
  24. ^ Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother, pp. 359–360
  25. ^ "No. 33946". The London Gazette (Supplement). 2 June 1933. p. 3807.
  26. ^ "No. 34010". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 December 1933. p. 8.
  27. ^ Ashworth, How Not to Run an Air Force!, p. 3
  28. ^ Helson, Ten Years at the Top, p. 37
  29. ^ Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force 1939–1942, pp. 67, 77
  30. ^ Ashworth, How Not to Run an Air Force!, pp. 18–21
  31. ^ Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother, p. 468
  32. ^ a b Ashworth, How Not to Run an Air Force!, p. 301
  33. ^ Ashworth, How Not to Run an Air Force!, p. 303
  34. ^ Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force 1939–1942, pp. 91–92
  35. ^ Ashworth, How Not to Run an Air Force!, p. 41
  36. ^ Ashworth, How Not to Run an Air Force!, pp. 132–133
  37. ^ Stephens, The RAAF in the Southwest Pacific Area, p. 61
  38. ^ Odgers, Air War Against Japan 1943–1945, pp. 141, 152
  39. ^ RAAF Staff College History at Department of Defence. Retrieved on 28 June 2011.
  40. ^ Stephens, Power With Attitude, p. 83
  41. ^ a b Helson, Ten Years at the Top, pp. 228, 233–237
  42. ^ Anderson, William Hopton at World War 2 Nominal Roll. Retrieved on 7 January 2008.
  43. ^ Stephens, Power With Attitude, p. 92
  44. ^ Stephens, Going Solo, pp. 451, 498


Military offices
Preceded by
Air Vice-Marshal Stanley Goble
Chief of the Air Staff
January–February 1940
Succeeded by
Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Burnett
Preceded by
Air Commodore John Russell
Air Member for Personnel
March–November 1940
Succeeded by
Air Vice Marshal Henry Wrigley
New title Air Officer Commanding Eastern Area Command
May 1942 – July 1943
Succeeded by
J H Summers
Preceded by
Air Commodore Frank Lukis
Air Member for Personnel
December 1943 – September 1944
Succeeded by
Air Vice Marshal Adrian Cole