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Neville McNamara

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Neville McNamara
Outdoor half portrait of grinning man in light-coloured uniform with pilot's wings on left pocket, wearing peaked cap
Flight Lieutenant McNamara in Japan, 1947
Born (1923-04-17)17 April 1923
Toogoolawah, Queensland
Died 7 May 2014(2014-05-07) (aged 91)
Jervis Bay, New South Wales
Allegiance Australia
Service/branch Royal Australian Air Force
Years of service 1941–84
Rank Air Chief Marshal
Unit Central Flying School (1951–53)
No. 77 Squadron (1953)
Commands held No. 25 Squadron (1957–59)
No. 2 OCU (1959–61)
RAAF Ubon (1966–67)
RAAF Forces Vietnam (1971–72)
Chief of the Air Staff (1979–82)
CDFS (1982–84)
Battles/wars World War II
Korean War
Vietnam War
Awards Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Officer of the Order of Australia
Air Force Cross
Air Efficiency Award

Air Chief Marshal Sir Neville Patrick McNamara, KBE, AO, AFC, AE (17 April 1923 – 7 May 2014) was a senior commander of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). He served as Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), the RAAF's highest-ranking position, from 1979 until 1982, and as Chief of the Defence Force Staff (CDFS), Australia's top military role at the time, from 1982 until 1984. He was the second RAAF officer to hold the rank of air chief marshal.[1][2]

Born in Queensland, McNamara joined the RAAF during World War II and saw action in the South West Pacific, flying P-40 Kittyhawks. He also flew combat missions in Gloster Meteors during the Korean War. In 1961, he was awarded the Air Force Cross for his leadership of No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit. He gained further operational experience heading the RAAF presence in Ubon, Thailand, in the late 1960s. Promoted to air commodore, McNamara was Commander RAAF Forces Vietnam, and Deputy Commander Australian Forces Vietnam, in 1971–72, for which he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. As Deputy Chief of the Air Staff in 1976, he was named an Officer of the Order of Australia. Knighted while CAS in 1980, he retired after completing his term as CDFS in 1984.

Early life and World War II[edit]

Neville Patrick McNamara was born on 17 April 1923 in Toogoolawah, Queensland. He was educated at Toogoolawah State School, and by the Christian Brothers in Warwick and at St. Joseph's Nudgee College. He enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) on 12 October 1941. Following aircrew training, he graduated as a sergeant pilot on 15 October 1942. He served as an instructor before being posted to the South West Pacific as a fighter pilot with No. 75 Squadron, flying P-40 Kittyhawks.[2][3] He gained his commission in 1944.[1]

Post-war career[edit]

Rise to senior command[edit]

After the war, McNamara was posted to air traffic control duties at Headquarters North-Eastern Area.[4] During 1947, he was stationed at Bofu, Japan, with No. 82 Squadron, as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF).[2][5] He married Dorothy Miller on 27 May 1950; the couple had two daughters. From 1951 to 1953, he served as an instructor at Central Flying School in East Sale, Victoria.[4] Ranked squadron leader, he then saw operational service in the Korean War as the Executive Officer of No. 77 Squadron, flying Gloster Meteors.[3][4] Initially employed in the conflict as a fighter unit, by this time No. 77 Squadron's role was primarily ground attack, using the Meteors' cannon augmented by newly fitted rocket armament.[6] McNamara briefly took charge of the unit in November–December when there was a hiatus between commanding officers rotating out and rotating in.[7]

Two seated men in conversation, one clean-shaven and wearing light-coloured military uniform with peaked cap, the other bearded and wearing dark overalls and cap
Squadron Leader McNamara (left) as Executive Officer of No. 77 Squadron, talking with Flight Lieutenant John "Butch" Hannan following the latter's release from a North Korean POW camp, Panmunjom, September 1953

Returning to Australia in 1954, McNamara was posted to Headquarters Training Command as pilot training officer. From 1955 until 1957 he served as staff officer fighter operations at the Department of Air, before being appointed Commanding Officer No. 25 Squadron. Promoted wing commander, he took charge of No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit (No. 2 OCU) at RAAF Base Williamtown, New South Wales in 1959.[2][4] No. 2 OCU was responsible for training pilots to fly the CAC Sabre jet fighter, which was operated by Nos. 3, 75 and 77 Squadrons.[8] His performance as commanding officer earned him the Air Force Cross in the 1961 Queen's Birthday Honours.[3][9]

In 1961 McNamara was posted to England as senior air staff officer at RAAF Overseas Headquarters, London, and then in 1964 was appointed Director of Personnel (Officers) at the Department of Air. He received the Air Efficiency Award in 1965, and the following year took command of RAAF Ubon, Thailand.[2][4] Operating under the provisions of the SEATO agreement during the early years of the Vietnam War, the Australian contingent included No. 79 Squadron, flying Sidewinder-equipped CAC Sabres. Although only fifty kilometres from the Laotian border and occasionally scrambled to intercept North Vietnamese fighters, the Sabres never saw action, in contrast to their USAF brethren also based at Ubon. Limited as its military role was, however, the RAAF presence was judged politically valuable.[10] After completing his tour in Thailand, McNamara served as air staff officer at RAAF Base Richmond, New South Wales, until 1968, before being appointed Director General Organisation at the Department of Air.[4]

Senior RAAF and Australian Defence Force command[edit]

Promoted to air commodore, in April 1971, McNamara became the last Commander RAAF Forces Vietnam and Deputy Commander Australian Force Vietnam (AFV).[3][11] Believing that the Air Force paid "lip service" to its army co-operation responsibilities in the 1950s and 1960s, he familiarised himself with the finer points of air/ground operations by accompanying No. 9 Squadron helicopters on missions supporting 1st Australian Task Force in Phuoc Tuy Province.[3][12] Given the responsibility of overseeing the withdrawal of the RAAF from Vietnam in 1972, McNamara was praised for his "wise and patient counsel, devotion to duty and firm control", leading to his appointment as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in September that year.[3][13] In 1973, he was posted to the United States as the Australian Air Attache to Washington, D.C.[2] Promoted to air vice marshal, he returned to Australia in 1975 and took up duties as the Deputy Chief of Air Staff, which he later described as "an invaluable learning experience for the top job".[3] He was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) on 7 June 1976 for "distinguished service in responsible positions".[14]

Side view of military combat jet with external fuel tanks and wingtip missiles, parked on airfield at night with ground crewman in foreground
RAAF F/A-18 Hornet, selection of which was overseen by McNamara while Chief of the Air Staff in 1979–82

McNamara was promoted to air marshal and became Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) in March 1979.[3] He succeeded Air Marshal Sir James Rowland, who had been the first CAS to personally command the RAAF in a legal sense, following the abolition of the Australian Air Board in 1976. Previously, the CAS position was more akin to a chairman, "first among equals" with the other members of the Air Board. Under this earlier arrangement, McNamara considered that some senior commanders tended to behave like "regional war lords" who thought that the CAS existed purely to handle politicians and paperwork, while they (the commanders) got on with the Air Force's "real work".[15][16] As CAS, McNamara put in train development of new strategies for the air defence of Australia, later remarking that "capability must be matched by ideas".[2][17] He also supervised the selection process that chose the F/A-18 Hornet to the replace the RAAF's Mirage III fighters. McNamara personally favoured the F/A-18 due to its multi-role capability.[2][18] Appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) on 31 December 1980,[19] he was the last CAS to be knighted before Australia abandoned the imperial honours system.[1]

In 1982, McNamara became the first Air Force member to directly command all three of Australia's armed services as Chief of the Defence Force Staff (CDFS), which had replaced the earlier senior position in the defence force, Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. He also became only the second RAAF officer to be raised to the rank of air chief marshal.[1][2] As CDFS, McNamara had to work to repair strained relations between the Defence Department's military and civilian components. He sought to accomplish this through a restrained management style and respect for the department's public servants. At the same time, he maintained the need for military and civilian personnel to be easily distinguishable, and reversed a trend for armed force personnel to wear suits "in the office" and uniforms only "on parade", which was the preference of Secretary of Defence Arthur Tange.[3][20] The military and public service wings of the department still clashed over the question of enlarging the CDFS's role to achieve more coherent defence planning.[21] Shortly after McNamara completed his term as CDFS in 1984, the position was redesignated Chief of the Defence Force (CDF), to more clearly reflect its authority over the Australian armed services.[1][22]


Air Chief Marshal McNamara retired from military life in April 1984. He was awarded the Centenary Medal on 1 January 2001 for his "service to Australian society through the Royal Australian Air Force".[23] That year he joined celebrations at Point Cook, Victoria, to mark the 80th anniversary of the founding of the RAAF.[24] McNamara published his autobiography, The Quiet Man, in 2005.[25] He died at Jervis Bay, New South Wales, on 7 May 2014, and was survived by his wife and two daughters.[26] He is commemorated by Sir Neville McNamara Drive in North Turramurra, New South Wales.[27]


  1. ^ a b c d e Clark, Dr Chris (19 May 2005). "Air Force Defence Chiefs of the Past". Air Force News, Volume 47, No. 8. Retrieved 10 May 2014.  The first four-star RAAF officer was Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Scherger, who served as Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee from 1961 to 1966.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Dennis et al., Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, pp. 338–339
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Stephens; Isaacs, High Fliers, pp. 162–164
  4. ^ a b c d e f Singh, Who's Who in Australia 2010, p. 1412
  5. ^ "P02032.002". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 10 May 2014. 
  6. ^ Stephens, The Royal Australian Air Force, pp. 238–240
  7. ^ O'Neill, Australia in the Korean War, p. 591
  8. ^ Stephens, Going Solo, pp. 167–168
  9. ^ "(Supplement) no. 42371". The London Gazette. 10 June 1961. p. 4182. Retrieved 10 May 2014. 
  10. ^ Stephens, The Royal Australian Air Force, pp. 254–257
  11. ^ Coulthard-Clark, The RAAF in Vietnam, p. 339
  12. ^ Stephens, Going Solo, p. 290
  13. ^ "(Supplement) no. 45767". The London Gazette. 1 September 1972. p. 10457. Retrieved 16 March 2010. 
  14. ^ "Officer of the Order of Australia". It's an Honour. Retrieved 10 May 2014. 
  15. ^ Stephens, Going Solo, p. 80
  16. ^ Stephens, The Royal Australian Air Force, pp. 296–297
  17. ^ Cox; Gray, Air Power History, p. 238
  18. ^ Stephens, Power Plus Attitude, p. 177
  19. ^ "(Supplement) no. 48468". The London Gazette. 31 December 1980. p. 36. Retrieved 10 May 2014. 
  20. ^ Andrews, The Department of Defence, pp. 230–231
  21. ^ Andrews, The Department of Defence, pp. 244–245
  22. ^ Horner, David (2002). "The Evolution of Australian Higher Command Arrangements". Command Papers. Canberra: Centre for Defence Leadership Studies, Australian Defence College: 25. 
  23. ^ "Centenary Medal". It's an Honour. Retrieved 10 May 2014. 
  24. ^ Cardillo, Teena (May 2001). "RAAF 80th Anniversary: Point Cook Celebrates in Style". Air Force News. Archived from the original on 29 May 2010. Retrieved 10 May 2014. 
  25. ^ "The Quiet Man". Air Power Development Centre. Retrieved 10 May 2014. 
  26. ^ "Sir Neville McNamara – obituary". The West Australian. 10 May 2014. Retrieved 10 May 2014. 
  27. ^ "Sir Neville McNamara Drive". Whereis. Retrieved 10 May 2014. 


Further reading[edit]

  • McNamara, Neville (2005). The Quiet Man: The Autobiography of Air Chief Marshal Sir Neville McNamara. Tuggeranong, Australian Capital Territory: Air Power Development Centre. ISBN 1-920800-07-7
Military offices
Preceded by
Admiral Sir Anthony Synnot
Chief of Defence Force Staff
Succeeded by
General Sir Phillip Bennett
Preceded by
Air Marshal Sir James Rowland
Chief of Air Staff
Succeeded by
Air Marshal David Evans