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Air Force Defence chiefs of the past

By Dr Chris Clark

UNTIL Air Marshal Angus Houston’s promotion in July, only two Australians will have held the four-star rank of Air Chief Marshal.

They are Sir Frederick Scherger (1904-1984), and Sir Neville McNamara, who celebrated his 82nd birthday last month.

Both occupied the senior Australian military position in their day, although their roles and responsibilities were very different from those of the present CDF post.

ACM Scherger was Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee from 1961-66 (receiving his promotion in 1965) and ACM McNamara was Chief of the Defence Force Staff from 1982-84.

The CDFS position was replaced by the much expanded CDF role in 1984.

Sir Frederick entered the Royal Military College in 1921, destined for a career in the military forces.

Days before he graduated in 1924, he won selection to go across to the Air Force on secondment, and the transfer was later made permanent.

When he became Chief of Air Staff in 1957, he was actually the second of four chiefs in succession who were RMC graduates or trained at Duntroon.

In contrast, Sir Neville started off in the Air Force as an airman only two months before Japan entered World War II in 1941. He gained his wings as a sergeant pilot a year later and was commissioned in 1944.

When he finished his term as CAS he was followed by several more former airmen who achieved commissions, two of them wartime pilots.

ACM Scherger is generally credited with having engineered the commitment of Australian forces to the Vietnam conflict soon after he became COSC.

Ironically, it was left to ACM McNamara to oversee the withdrawal of RAAF forces from that same conflict ten years later.

Both men were knighted as CAS, with ACM McNamara the last Air Force chief to receive that accolade before the old imperial honours system went out of use in Australia.

The Office of Air Force History is currently assisting Sir Neville McNamara to write his autobiography.

Sir Frederick Scherger was the subject of a biography by Harry Rayner, which appeared in 1984.

CAF will be next CDF



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