Sir George Hubert WILKINS MC and Bar, MID

WILKINS, George Hubert

Service Number: Officer
Enlisted: 1 May 1917, Melbourne, Victoria
Last Rank: Captain
Last Unit: Australian Flying Corps (AFC)
Born: Mount Bryan, South Australia, 31 October 1888
Home Town: Mount Bryan, South Australia
Schooling: Mount Bryan Public School & School of Mines, South Australia
Occupation: Army Officer, biographer, aviator, explorer, indigenous artefacts collector, war correspondent/photographer
Died: Natural Causes, Framingham, Massachusetts, USA, 30 November 1958, aged 70 years
Cemetery: Privately Cremated
In accordance with his wishes his ashes were scattered at the North Pole. The submarine USS "Skate" made the journey to the North Pole on 17 March 1959.
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World War 1 Service

1 May 1917: Enlisted Second Lieutenant, Australian Flying Corps (AFC), Melbourne, Victoria
10 May 1917: Embarked Second Lieutenant, Australian Flying Corps (AFC), HMAT Marathon, Sydney
1 Aug 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, Officer, Australian Flying Corps (AFC), Third Ypres, Wilkins and Hurley teamed up to capture exemplary images and movies of Australian Heavy Artillery near Ypres
1 Nov 1917: Involvement Lieutenant, Australian Flying Corps (AFC)
11 Jul 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Captain, War Records Section
30 Aug 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Captain, War Records Section , Mont St Quentin / Peronne, Wilkins is now believed to be the photographer responsible for extraordinary photographs taken in the assault on Mont St Quentin
7 Sep 1920: Discharged Captain, Australian Flying Corps (AFC)

Unheralded South Australian Hero

The fact that Sir Hubert Wilkins is still unknown to most Australians is a travesty of history.

At least he has been formally recognised by a memorial, unveiled at Hallett in South Australia's mid north on 29 November 1966.

More recently a major effort was made thanks largely to the efforts of entrepreneur aviator and explorer, Dick Smith.

On 29 April 2001, Sir Hubert Wilkins birthplace, a small stone cottage at Mount Bryan East was dedicated as a memorial after restoration. This project was made possible by Dick Smith, the Sir Hubert Wilkins Memorial Committee, chaired by local farmer John Honan and funding raised through the Australian National Geographic magazine.

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Biography contributed

Wilkins, Sir George Hubert (1888–1958)

Sir Hubert Wilkins was a giant in aviation and polar exploration.  Relatively little known in Australia he was much lauded in the United States for his contribution to pioneering aviation and polar exploration.

He served with distinction in WW1 being awarded the Military Cross twice and Mentioned in Despatches.  Remarkable for a man assigned to the front as a Photographer.

His biography has been extensively documented.  A biography titled "The Last Explorer" by Simon Nasht was published in 2006

An Extract from the  Australian Dictionary of Biography (, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990, by R. A. Swan

 Sir George Hubert Wilkins (1888-1958), war correspondent and photographer, polar explorer, naturalist, geographer, climatologist and aviator, was born on 31 October 1888 at Mount Bryan East, South Australia, thirteenth child of Henry Wilkins, farmer, and his wife Louisa, née Smith. As a child, George experienced the devastation caused by drought and developed an interest in climatic phenomena. Reared as a Methodist, he studied engineering part time at the South Australian School of Mines and Industries, then pursued interests in photography and cinematography in Adelaide and Sydney. In 1908 he sailed for England to work for the Gaumont Film Co.

As a newspaper reporter and cameraman, Wilkins visited different countries; he also learned to fly and experimented with aerial photography. As a war correspondent and photographer, in 1912 he covered the fighting between the Turks and Bulgarians. From 1913 to 1916 he was second-in-command on Vilhjalmur Stefansson's Canadian Arctic expedition. Wilkins became adept in the art of survival in polar regions, added to his scientific knowledge and conceived a plan to improve weather forecasting by establishing permanent stations at the poles.

Returning to Australia, on 1 May 1917 he was commissioned as second lieutenant in the Australian Imperial Force (Australian Flying Corps). By August he had been transferred to the general list and was at I Anzac Corps headquarters on the Western Front.


His accomplishments in diverse fields were simply astounding.

Military:  Appointed official photographer in April 1918, he was tasked with providing 'an accurate and complete record of the fighting and other activities of the A.I.F.' as a counterpart to Captain J. F. (Frank) Hurley's propaganda work.

His work took him right to the front line . In June 1918 Wilkins was awarded the Military Cross 'for bringing in some wounded men', during the fighting to breach the Hindenburg Line, which was conducted by the 3rd and 5th Divisions in concert with the American 30th Division.  On 29 September he organized a group of American soldiers who had lost their officers in an enemy attack and directed operations until support arrived.  He was awarded a Bar to his M.C. and mentioned in dispatches.

He offered himself for service to the Australian Government in WW2 but was rejected as being too old.  The Americans took him on though for a number of special assignments. From 1942 he was a consultant and geographer supporting the Quartermaster Corps on equipment and food for operations in extreme cold.

Photographer.  After the war ended, in January 1919, as photographer, Wilkins joined Charles Bean's odyssey to reveiw the Gallipoli Peninsula campaign.

Aviation:   1919 - Wilkins entered the England to Australia air race,  but his Blackburn Kangaroo aircraft crash-landed in Crete after mechanical pronblems mid air.  He arrived in Australia by sea in July 1920 and his A.I.F. appointment terminated on 7 September.

Blending aviation with polar exploration, in 1926 he left a planned Antarctic expedition which failed through lack of funds and undertook an expedition to the Arctic by air. This resulted in his crowning feat of air navigation.  He and Carl Ben Eielson as pilot, flew from Point Barrow, Alaska, United States of America, over the Arctic Sea to Spitsbergen (Svalbard), Norway in April 1928.

He was knighted in June of 1928, and awarded the Patron's medal of the Royal Geographical Society of London and the Samuel Finley Breese Morse medal of the American Geographical Society.  He published a book documenting the feat, Flying the Arctic (New York, 1928).

During 1937 and 1938 he played a major role in the search for the Russian aviator Sigismund Levanevsky who disappeared on a flight from Moscow to Fairbanks, Alaska. In these years Wilkins also advanced techniques of flying by moonlight, made scientific observations and experimented with telepathy.

Post War Polar Exploration.  He made his first visit to the Antarctic in 1920-21, accompanying J. L. Cope on his unsuccessful voyage to Graham Land. Wilkins joined Sir Ernest Shackleton's Quest expedition of 1921-22 as an ornithologist observer and recorder.

In addition to his feats outlined above, he returned to Antarctica again in 1930 and attempted next year to reach the North Pole by submarine under the pack-ice. His ex US Navy vessel, renamed Nautilus, was plagued by mishaps and mechanical failures which caused the venture to be abandoned, and attracted ridicule from critics.

He published Under the North Pole (New York, 1931). In collaboration with Lincoln Ellsworth, he made four expeditions to Antarctica during the  next few years.

Naturalist.  While in the Soviet Union in 1922-23 surveying and filming the effects of famine, he was asked by the trustees of the British Museum to undertake an expedition in Australia to collect specimens of rare native fauna, principally mammals. Wilkins published a book titled Undiscovered Australia (published in New York, 1929) as a result, documenting his work over two and a half years from 1923.

Personal life. Wilkins married Suzanne Evans, an Australian-born actress known by her stage name 'Suzanne Bennett', in the USA in 1929. There were no children from the marriage, but they were happy and both pursued their own careers.

Wilkins lived to learn in August 1958 of the under-ice transits of the Arctic Sea by the submarines U.S.S. Skate and U.S.S. Nautilus.

He died suddenly in a hotel room at Framingham, Massachusetts, on 30 November 1958.

His ashes were scattered from the Skate at the North Pole in March 1959.

Sir Hubert Wilkins was one of the most remarkable Australians of the 20th Century.  He remains largely unheralded in his homeland although individuals like entreprenuer and aviator Dick Smith have sought to redress this anomaly.

More recently the Sir Hubert Wilkins Foundation ( has been established: