b. 04/04/1894 Rushworth, Victoria, Australia. d. 02/11/1961 Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire.
Francis Hubert “Frank” McNamara (1894-1961), the only Australian to be awarded a VC for aerial operations in the Great War, was born on 4th April 1894 at Waranga, near Rushworth, Victoria. His early education in Rushworth led him to a teachers’ training college and Melbourne University, with the intention of a career in academic teaching; and on graduation from the university he took up posts as a teacher at Shepparton and later, Melbourne. His ability soon earned him an appointment as Head Teacher at Red Bluff, Mordialloc and North Koo-wee-rup Schools. In 1912, however, he joined the Brighton Rifles, 46th Infantry Battalion, and in July 1913 was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.
Mobilised at the outbreak of war, he saw service with the home defences, and by early 1915 was an instructor at the Broadmeadows Training Depot. Already he had developed an interest in aviation, and in July 1915 was selected to attend the third course in military aeronautics at Point Cook flying school, where his baptism of the air came in the exposed pilot’s seat of a Bristol Boxkite. Further training eventually led to McNamara being granted Royal Aero Club Certificate No 2254 on 20th October 1915. In January 1916, he was posted as adjutant to No 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps.
No 1 Squadron left Melbourne on 16th March 1916 for service in Egypt. However, it was six weeks later before they received their first aircraft, and in the interim many of the air crews were sent to England for further training in operational flying, including McNamara. He eventually returned to Egypt on 24th August, but he didn’t take part in his first operational sortie until 22nd December 1916 – as one of 13 aircraft detailed to bomb Turkish positions at Magdhaba.
Throughout January and February 1917, he flew in most of the squadron’s bombing and reconnaissance operations; usually as pilot of a BE, but occasionally in a single seat Martinsyde as a fighting escort for the unit’s bombers. On 18th February 1917, he bombed the German aerodrome at Ramleh, and even dropped them a note suggesting they move their dummy airfield outside Ramleh to a more concealed position!
On 20th March 1917, two BE2c’s piloted by Captain Rutherford and Lieutenant Drummond, supported by two Martinsyde’s, piloted by McNamara and Lieutenant Ellis were detailed to bomb a section of railway across Wadi Hesse, at Tel el Hesi. During the aerial bomb attack upon a hostile construction train, when one of our pilots (Rutherford) was forced to land behind the enemy's lines.
Lt. McNamara, observing this pilot's predicament and the fact that hostile cavalry were approaching, descended to his rescue. He did this under heavy rifle fire and in spite of the fact that he himself had been severely wounded in the thigh. He landed about 200 yards from the damaged machine, the pilot of which climbed on to Lt. McNamara's machine, and an attempt was made to rise. Owing, however, to his disabled leg, Lt. McNamara was unable to keep his machine straight, and it turned over. The two officers, having extricated themselves, immediately set fire to the machine and made their way across to the damaged machine, which they succeeded in starting. Finally Lt. McNamara, although weak from loss of blood, flew this machine back to the aerodrome, a distance of seventy miles, and thus completed his comrade's rescue.
For the following five months, McNamara was in hospital and convalescence, but was promoted to Captain. On the 8th June 1917 he was awarded the Victoria Cross. In September 1917 he was invalided home to Australia, and officially discharged from the Australian Flying Corps on 31st January 1918. On 9th September 1918, however, he was reinstated, with Captain rank, and became an instructor. On 27th April 1920 he was formally presented with the VC by HRH The Prince of Wales at a ceremony in Federal Government House in Melbourne; and when the Royal Australian Air Force was inaugurated in March 1921, he was given a permanent commission in the rank of Flight Lieutenant.
He returned to Point Cook as commander of No 1 FTS, and in March 1924 was promoted to Squadron Leader. In the same year, he married Helene Marcelle Bluntschli; and in June 1925 came to England on a two years’ exchange tour of duty with the RAF, at No 5 FTS and at the Air Ministry in London. He returned to Point Cook in 1927, and remained there until 1933. In February that year, he was given command of No 1 Aircraft Depot and RAAF Laverton Station, and in the same year finished his studies for a BA degree at Melbourne University. He was promoted to Group Captain in 1936, and was appointed Air Liaison Officer to the Air Ministry, London, which led to a CBE in the 1938 New Years’ Honours List. In 1939, he was appointed Air Commodore.
Throughout the Second World War he remained with the RAF; appointed as Air Officer Commanding RAAF HQ in London until the end of 1942, then being appointed as AOC British Forces in Aden until the end of the war. These duties saw him appointed Companion of Bath in 1945 and promotion to Air Vice-Marshal. In July 1946, he was appointed Director of Education at the headquarters of the British Occupation Forces Administration in Westphalia, Germany. He retired in 1947, and became a member of the National Coal Board, with his permanent home in Buckinghamshire. He died on 2nd November 1961 at his home, following a fall when working in his garden. He was buried in St Joseph’s Priory, Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire. His medals are held by the RAF Museum, Hendon.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: RAF MUSEUM, HENDON, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: ST JOSEPH'S PRIORY, GERRARDS CROSS, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE.
National Memorial Arboretum
RAF Memorial, St Clements Danes Church
Longhedge, Wiltshire (Steve Lee)
Springvale Crematorium, Melbourne (Richard Yielding)