Roger Douglas, MC, DCM, 1894-1919


Roger Douglas (1894-1919), printer, soldier and aviator, was born on 5 June 1894 at Charters Towers, Queensland, son of Walter Douglas, miner, and his wife Alice, née Grattan. He was educated at a state school before commencing work on the Northern Miner, Charters Towers. Later he joined the Townsville Daily Bulletin as a linotype operator. A keen boxer, Douglas had been the lightweight and welterweight champion of Queensland. His mates acknowledged his prowess by nicknaming him 'Dodger'.

Before World War I Douglas served as a citizen soldier in the 1st Australian Garrison Artillery, then, after war broke out, spent six months on garrison duty at Thursday Island. On 11 May 1915 he enlisted in Brisbane as a private in the Australian Imperial Force, embarking late in June as a machine-gunner in the 25th Battalion. The 25th saw action on Gallipoli from 11 July 1915 until the evacuation; Douglas was promoted corporal, then sergeant in October.

In March 1916 the battalion was shipped to France and Douglas transferred to the 7th Machine-Gun Company. In an action at Pozières in early August, he 'rallied part of the infantry and guided them over the captured positions under heavy fire when they were without leaders and disorganized. He [then] helped materially to repel counter-attacks'. His bravery was rewarded with a second lieutenant's commission and a Distinguished Conduct Medal. On 25 November he was promoted lieutenant.

On 28 December 1917 Douglas was awarded the Military Cross in recognition of his gallantry at Polygon Wood in September. He had left the Machine-Gun Company on 26 November to join the Australian Flying Corps. He began his training at Reading, England, in March 1918 and graduated as a pilot on 5 May. He never flew in combat but was appointed an instructor with the 5th Australian Training Squadron in England.

Douglas and Ross
Douglas (left) and Ross
Douglas was still in England when the Australian government announced in March 1919 that it would award a £10,000 prize to the first Australian aviator to fly from Britain to Australia. He resolved to enter the contest. Lieutenant J. S. L. Ross from Moruya, New South Wales, was to be navigator and co-pilot of their 450 h.p. Alliance aircraft named 'Endeavour'. On 30 October, the day they hoped to set off, the plane suffered a minor crash which necessitated repairs to the chassis and body.
Allliance Seabird
1919 - 2nd built Alliance P.2 Seabird, British single-engined long-range biplane, Flown by two Australian airmen, Lieutenant Roger Douglas (pilot) and Lieutenant J.S.L. Ross (Navigator), left Hounslow Heath Aerodrome but a few minutes into the flight the Seabird crashed near Surbiton killing both of them.
 That day Douglas had been cautious but confident about the flight when he stated that 'only a mishap … will prevent us landing in Australia'. They finally took off from Hounslow near London, at 11.30 a.m. on 13 November after bad weather had delayed the departure. The plane had flown only six miles (9.6 km) when it appeared to fall out of a cloud over Surbiton, enter a spin, then crash into an orchard and explode. Both men were killed. A verdict of accidental death was returned; the coroner refused to consider claims by Douglas's fiancée Mabel Woolley that the aircraft was not fully repaired until the night before departure, thus restricting Douglas's test flying in the rebuilt machine to a mere five minutes.

Douglas and Ross were buried with full military honours in Brookwood cemetery.

Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography,

Roger Douglas

This page was last updated on 18 May 2016

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