James Robert (Bob) HENDERSON DSO, DFC

HENDERSON, James Robert

Service Numbers: 412810, 412180
Enlisted: 20 July 1941
Last Rank: Squadron Leader
Last Unit: No. 460 Squadron (RAAF)
Born: Mosman New South Wales Australia , 24 September 1916
Home Town: Mosman, Municipality of Mosman, New South Wales
Schooling: Sydney Church of England Grammar School, New South Wales, Australia
Occupation: Factory Student (on joining)
Died: Heart Disease, Narrabeen New South Wales Australia , 4 November 1991, aged 75 years
Cemetery: Not yet discovered
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World War 2 Service

20 Jul 1941: Enlisted Royal Australian Air Force, Aircraftman 2, SN 412810, No. 2 Initial Training School
11 Oct 1941: Promoted Royal Australian Air Force, Leading Aircraftman
30 Apr 1942: Promoted Royal Australian Air Force, Pilot Officer
30 Oct 1942: Promoted Royal Australian Air Force, Flying Officer
21 Apr 1943: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Flying Officer, SN 412810, No. 460 Squadron (RAAF), Air War NW Europe 1939-45
24 Oct 1943: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Flying Officer, SN 412180, 27 Operational Training Unit (RAF), Air War NW Europe 1939-45
30 Apr 1944: Promoted Royal Australian Air Force, Flying Officer, 27 Operational Training Unit (RAF)
16 Oct 1944: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Flight Lieutenant, SN 412810, No. 460 Squadron (RAAF), Air War NW Europe 1939-45
6 Nov 1944: Promoted Royal Australian Air Force, Squadron Leader, No. 460 Squadron (RAAF)
3 Sep 1945: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Squadron Leader, SN 412810, No. 460 Squadron (RAAF), Air War NW Europe 1939-45

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Biography contributed by Graham Padget

Henderson, James Robert (Bob) (1916–1991)
by John Moremon  [from ADB Biography adb.anu.edu.au]

James Robert Henderson (1916-1991), air force officer and business executive, was born on 24 September 1916 at Mosman, Sydney, son of English-born James Henderson, company managing director, and his German-born (of Australian parentage) wife Ella Madeline, née Maurice. Educated at Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore), in 1934 Bob became a factory student (intern) with W. D. & H. O. Wills (Australia) Ltd, a subsidiary of the British Tobacco Co. (Australia) Ltd. He played first-grade cricket for Mosman, which won the Sydney competition in the 1938-39 season.

After World War II broke out in September 1939, Henderson joined the Citizen Military Forces and soldiered part time with the 1st Anti-Aircraft Brigade, Sydney. In November 1940 he volunteered for service under the Empire Air Training Scheme and on 20 July 1941 enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force. He was recorded as being 5 feet 6 inches (168 cm) tall and having blue eyes and brown hair. Awarded his pilot’s badge (‘wings’) on 27 February 1942 and commissioned in April, he sailed for Britain in June. He became the skipper and only Australian member of a seven-man crew training for the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command. In April 1943 the airmen were posted to No. 460 Squadron, RAAF, based at Breighton, Yorkshire, and shortly afterwards, Binbrook, Lincolnshire.

Henderson aborted two sorties because of mechanical failures before he undertook his first mission, bombing Dortmund, Germany, on the night of 4-5 May 1943. Being allotted a ‘lucky’ aircraft, the famous Lancaster G for George, proved a mixed blessing, as he considered the battle-worn George a ‘dreadful bloody aircraft’ (Henderson 1988), difficult to handle . In July, following seventeen sorties, including twelve in George, he was selected to play services cricket. He was saddened to learn that, during his absence, two of his crew members were shot down while on loan to another crew. At month’s end he resumed operations, in time for the bombing of Hamburg, and encountered the strongest searchlight, anti-aircraft artillery, and night-fighter defences to date. With sound teamwork and luck, he and his crew completed their tour of thirty sorties, their final mission being a raid against Stuttgart on the night of 7-8 October. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for ‘high skill, fortitude and devotion to duty’ (NAA A9300).

During a year as an instructor, Henderson was promoted to flight lieutenant. In October 1944 he commenced another tour with No. 460 Squadron. Promoted to acting squadron leader in November, he commanded ‘B’ Flight and carried out seventeen bombing sorties. The ‘exceedingly loyal and efficient’ officer, possessing ‘marked qualities of leadership’ (NAA A9300), motivated his subordinates to give of their best. His final mission, on 3 May 1945, was a food drop to Dutch civilians. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (1945) in recognition of his cool and fearless conduct in a large number of operations.

Demobilised on 1 April 1946 in Sydney, Henderson returned to W. D. & H. O. Wills. He managed tobacco factories at Forbes and, for the parent company from 1951, in Melbourne, then returned to Sydney, where he headed the manufacturing branch (1958-72) and the manufacturing and development section (1972-81). On 20 April 1950 at the district registrar’s office, Chatswood, he had married Evangeline (Ena) Mary Wade, née Ditton, a trained nurse and a divorcee. Predeceased by her, and survived by his son and daughter, he died on 4 November 1991 at Narrabeen and was cremated.
Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Citation details
John Moremon, 'Henderson, James Robert (Bob) (1916–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/henderson-james-robert-bob-20634/text31468, published online 2016, accessed online 13 January 2020.