One Friday Afternoon’s Work

Gilbert Pate’s first flight – ever – was in a Tiger Moth from Mascot, Sydney in August 1939. His father, Sydney, wrote about it in a letter to Don Smith in July 1944, after the crew had gone missing (A01-346-003). Gilbert had gone flying with a good friend, Andrew MacArthur-Onslow. They even flew over the Pate family home in nearby Kogarah (“2-storey”, wrote Sydney Pate, “and in the nature of a local land-mark”).

Sydney also wrote that Andrew was “now alas deceased”. I decided to try and find out what happened to him.

It seemed likely that Andrew’s was a war-related death, so the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s database was my first port of call. I found a match:

Initials: A W
Nationality: Australian
Rank: Flight Lieutenant
Regiment/Service: Royal Australian Air Force
Age: 25
Date of Death: 18/01/1943
Service No: 261535
Additional information: Son of Francis Arthur and Sylvia Seton Raymond MacArthur-Onslow, of Campbelltown.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: Row A. Grave 6.

Note that he died a Flight Lieutenant and is buried at Tamworth, NSW, the site of an Elementary Flying Training School. This suggested he was an instructor.

I next searched the National Archives of Australia for a service record – which exists, but is not digitised so I can’t access it from here. I did find a record of his enlistment in the Australian Army Militia pre-war. I also looked through some Tiger Moth accident reports but found no matches.

Perhaps Tamworth cemetery records would yield something. I found this page, which had the bloke I was looking for. It also had a record for another man killed on the same day – a Thomas Myles DAWSON of Queensland. Figuring two men was the normal crew complement at an EFTS, there was a good chance that both of these men were killed in the same accident.

Dawson proved the breakthrough. A search for his service number at the National Archives pulled up a service record (digitised) – and, more importantly, an entry in an accident file (also digitised). It was a simple matter to access the accident file, which answered the question of what happened to F/L AW MacArthur-Onslow.

Gilbert Pate’s great mate, who had held a pilot’s licence before the war and who took Gilbert for his first flight, possibly sparking Gil’s interest in flying, was killed in a flying accident while serving with the Central Flying School.  On 18JAN43  MacArthur-Onslow was flying with a Sgt TM Dawson in Wirraway A20-45, on an authorised practice low-level sortie 16 miles south-east of Tamworth. They crashed during the low-level segment of the flight and both were killed. The aircraft was written off. (A04-087-001, NAA: A9845, 102).

The most pleasing thing for me in this saga is that it all happened one Friday afternoon. I was reading through all of Sydney Pate’s letters in preparation for an article I’m working on about Gil when I read the July 1944 correspondence to Don Smith. That sparked the curiosity to find out what happened to Andrew MacArthur-Onslow – and over the course of a couple of hours I found what I was looking for. Another loose thread tied off, another facet of Gilbert Pate’s life uncovered.

© 2011 Adam Purcell

9 thoughts on “One Friday Afternoon’s Work

  1. The “Thomas Dawson” you refer to in this was my uncle. I only know of him through some old photos Mum had, and snippets found in the ‘net

    1. I am writing a book about all the airmen killed in training from No.7 SFTS Deniliquin. Andrew was on loan to Deniliquin at the time of the Tamworth crash. Thomas Dawson was from this unit at Deniliquin. I am searching for a photograph of both these young pilots.

      1. Hi Betty,

        Thanks very much for your comment. I’ve sent an email to the address Don Diery provided when he made his comment back in 2011, and I’ll let you know if anything turns up.

        I’ve already checked and James Hollinworth didn’t have a photo either.


  2. G’day Don,
    Really interested to get your comment here. This blog has brought a number of people out of the woodwork, all connected in some small way to the story. You are most probably aware that Thomas Dawson’s service record is available on the National Archives of Australia website (it’s how I figured out what happened to MacArthur-Onslow). It looks like he actually served with 77 Sqn at Pearce for five months or so before going back to the training unit where he met his demise.
    I’d love to see a photo of him – and maybe put it up on the blog, to give a face to the name – should you have it handy?


  3. Hi Adam,
    Just recently came accross you post. I have researched a great deal of history on aviation in the Tamworth area. The following is some of the information I have on Andrew W. MacArthur-Onslow.

    17 & 18 Oct 36 – He visited the Diamond Jubilee Aerial Pageant held at Tamworth. Piloted one of the six machines (probably DH60X Moth or possibly DH82 Tiger Moths) from the Royal Aero Club with his brother Denzil MacArthur-Onslow
    He is listed as an aerial surveyor prior to enlistment.
    12 Jan 1937 – Enlisted in RAAF.
    1938 MacArthur-Onslow, along with his brother Denzil (2131000 (NX135) later Brigader), flew from England to Australia in their own plane.
    2 Sept 1940 MacArthur-Onslow is one of the additional eight flying instructors posted to 6 EFTS at Tamworth.
    9 Oct 1940 MacArthur-Onslow is one of the members on the inquiry into the first accident at No.6 EFTS. A de Havilland Tiger Moth, A17-59, had crashed beside the Manilla Road, ten miles from Tamworth. The student, Leading Aircraftsman (LAC) William Moore Aspinall (402271) was killed.,
    31 Mar 1941 – MacArthur-Onslow is one of the crew that ferry three Tiger Moth aircraft, purchased by funds donated by the Glen Innes and District War Plane Fund, from No.2 Aircraft Depot. He piloted A17-281.
    Mar 1942 – 6EFTS is disbanded on the arrival of the Central Flying School (CFS)at Tamworth. CFS is responsible for training instructors.
    MacArthur-Onslow is posted to CFS, Tamworth as an instructor
    18 Jan 1943 – R.A.A.F. CAC Wirraway, A20-45, crashed while practicing low flying, two-and-a-half miles on the Werris Creek side of Currabubula. Killed were Flight Lieutenant Lt Andrew William MacArthur-Onslow (261535) from Mount Gilead, Campbelltown, and Sgt Thomas Myles Dawson (405724) from Mareeba, Qld. Both airmen were buried at the Tamworth War Cemetery.

    Lachlan MacArthur-Onslow currently operates Fleet Helicopters at Armidale, New South Wales.

    The MacArthur-Onslows are reportly decended from John MacArthur, one of the significant powerbrokers in the “new” colony of New South Wales in the late 1700s/ early 1800s.

    1. G’day James,
      This is fantastic stuff, thank you for posting it. Great to learn a little bit about one more of the people ‘on the periphery’ of the overall story I’m researching. I’d be interested to talk to you a little more about this – will send you an email shortly.

  4. I just chanced across this today while googling WW2 airplanes. I knew Andrew Macarthur-Onslow when I was a little kid staying with my grandparents in a beautiful old house (“The Glen”) the family owned overlooking Tamarama Beach. I quote from a letter I wrote a few years back to a firm of architects interested in the way Tamarama had developed.

    “I was born in Parramatta in 1931. My maternal grandparents, James and Elizabeth Hart, were “retainers” (for want of a better description) of the Macarthur-Onslows, who I believe owned The Glen in the pre-war years and into the ‘50s. Jim (1870-1951) married Elizabeth Prior, then of Camden and that area, and worked in some capacity on their Camden estate. My mother and her siblings were born there (she was in school with Don Bradman), and Elizabeth (I will call her Nana) seems to have been the housekeeper for the Macarthur-Onslows. My earliest clear memories of Grandfather and Nana are from the war years, when they were caretaking The Glen. After the war they lived in a small cottage behind The Glen, facing onto Tamarama Street (I think it was No. 5) but with back entrance onto the rear of The Glen. This cottage also belonged to the Macarthur–Onslows. My brothers and I used spend wonderful vacations there – the “big house” was much added to since your fig. 30 – in both The Glen and the cottage. I remember well Denzil Macarthur-Onslow coming by – he was a noted Australian soldier, fought in the Western Desert, and later became Chief of the Australia General Staff I believe. There was something very old-world still about the relationship between him and my grandparents. They were “Jim” and “Harty” to him; he was “Mr. Denzil” to Nana. His younger brother, Andy, who as I recall was an early flyer and trained Australian pilots in the early stages of the war, was a very easy character, much liked by my grandparents. They were greatly saddened when he was killed in a plane crash. Andy, and other of the Macarthur-Onslows, used show up and sleep at The Glen on occasion. I recall Andy driving a 10-year-old me in his open sports car down to Bondi to surf quite early one morning. I suspect he was nursing a hangover — if not that time, there were others when he was. A very warm person. Relatives of my grandparents’ generation said that Nana had in effect brought up those Macarthur-Onslow boys. They were certainly close. I remember standing in front of The Glen as a boy – it must have been 1942 – and seeing the Repulse and the Prince of Wales sailing up to the Harbour. This would have been just a few weeks before they were sunk off Malaya.”

    So there you have a little more information about Andrew. I can tell you a good bit more about the Macarthur-Onslows, but it’s nothing you couldn’t find out easily for yourself anyway.

    Best wishes for your project

    Tom Connolly
    Professor Emeritus of Music
    University of Pennsylvania
    201 South 34th. Street
    Philadelphia PA 19104-6313

    Tel. +610-658-9011 (h)
    +215-898-7544 (o)

    1. G’day Tom, and thanks very much for your fascinating memories. Andrew Macarthur-Onslow is one of the characters on the edge, if you like, of the main story that I’m researching, but he probably played a big part in inspiring Gilbert Pate to enlist as aircrew so it’s great to find out a litle bit more about him. It all adds to the story!
      Best wishes,

  5. Andrew Macarthur-Onslow was my mother’s cousin. He and his brother Denzil were keen flyers. Andrew was educated at Tudor House Moss Vale and Cranbrook School Bellevue Hill. Andrew drove an MG in the 1938 Monte Carlo Rally, coming 4th. Later that year he and Denzil flew a plane from England to Australia. On the way, they touched down in Italian military territory and were arrested until they could prove their identity. Until the war, Andrew was involved in aerial survey.

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