Wing Commander Charles Osborne FAIRBAIRN

Wing Commander Charles Osborne FAIRBAIRN

Wing Commander Charles Osborne Fairbairn OBE AFC was born on the 3rd of May 1893 in Elsternwick, Victoria, Australia.

Known as Osborne Fairbairn he was the son of Charles Fairbairn and Elizabeth [Osborne] Fairbairn.

He had two brothers, James and George and two sisters Esther and Jessie. He married Irene Florence Ridley on the 9th February 1922 in Parish Church Sutton, Surrey, England.

Charles and Irene had four children, Coralie, Charles [DFC], Anthea and Patience.

Wing Commander Charles Osborne Fairbairn died on the 29th August 1959 in Melbourne, Victoria Australia at the age of 66. Irene went on to be a prominent leader of the Girl Guides Movement in Australia.



Squadron Leader Charles Osborne Fairbairn, who served in the British Army, Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Air Force during the First World War. Born in Melbourne in 1893, and educated at Geelong Grammar, he was studying at Jesus College, Cambridge University, when war was declared. Fairbairn initially joined the British Army, serving as a lieutenant with 3 Battalion, The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. He transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in 1915, qualifying as a pilot. In 1916 he was promoted to flight commander (captain). He was appointed to be an instructor at No 5 School in August 1917. When then the RFC became the Royal Air Force in April 1918, Fairbairn was again listed as a captain. He was acting as a major in October 1918. After the war he returned to Australia with the rank of squadron leader. Fairbairn was a brother of James Valentine Fairbairn, who also served with the RFC as a pilot, the Minister for Air, who was killed in an air crash near Canberra in 1940. [AWM]

WW2 1 W.A.G.S.

1WAGS Ballarat Huts

Wing Commander Fairbairn AFC was the Commanding Officer of  No. 1 W.A.G.S. from the 22nd of April 1940 until he was transferred to the RAAF Reserve of Officers on the 24th October 1944. 

He planned, organised, and supervised the building of the school and remained as commanding officer for more than four years .He was responsible for the training schools’ daily operations and the welfare of the trainees as well as fostering positive relations between the base and the Ballarat Community.  WNG/Cdr Fairbairn had served as a fighter pilot in the Royal Flying Corps in World War 1 and afterwards in the Royal Air Force, where he was awarded the Air Force Cross [AFC].

He transferred to the RAAF Reserve and was called up for duty to form No. 1 W.A.G.S. As it transpired, he was ideally suited for the task. Paying tribute to his outstanding record, the Unit History sheet comments:

1 WAGS Winning Rowing teamHe has probably held command of one Training Unit under the EATS in Australia longer than any other RAAF officer and saw the Unit grow under his command from a mere handful of men, to at one stage over 2,000.

No fewer than 4,756 WAGS, Air Gunners and 185 Navigators “w” [Wireless] graduated during the period that he commanded the Unit.

Many gained distinction and have since returned in instructional capacities to serve under him again. It is known in the RAAF that throughout the Empire the School stands high in regard to the standard of training achieved.

It is therefore with regret that the service, and this Unit in particular, has lost the services of so fine an officer, who is returning to civilian life in order to take up the control of his properties.

Now a Group Captain, he was replaced by Wing Commander W.J. Guthrie.

AWM Canberra 1 WAGS Display
On an honours board which Wing Commander Fairbairn had erected at the entrance of the administrative block are the names of many winners of D.F.C.’s, George Medals, D.F.M.’s and a U.S. Silver Star.[ Article from TROVE]

An extract from Les Sullivan’s book - Not to be Shot at or Exported.  An Airman’s Letters Home Letter home 4th March 1943
The Co’s name is Fairbairn and they say his family owns the property on which the drome is built. I believe he is related to the Minister for Air, Mr J.V Fairbairn, who was killed in that bad crash at Canberra a couple of years ago.

An article in The Ballarat Courier on Wing Commander Fairbairn’s retirement states:
His brother became first Minister for Air and helped create EATS. Well known to the public as a station owner and known to many sports-men as a man who likes to fly himself around the country, Fairbairn will be remembered by thousands of RAAF officers and airmen as a great commanding officer.
The RAAF will miss him.


Known as the 'Flying Fairbairns' like his brother Osborne, Jim was one of the ‘old men’ of aviation, the flyers of the Great War, the pioneers and record breakers, the founders of airlines. Men who could scarcely imagine life without flying."

As a pilot during WW1 James Fairbairn[ brother of Charles Osborne Fairbairn] was shot down by German fighters, wounded and became a Prisoner of War. A POW in Holland and Germany for two years and then a convalescent in neutral Switzerland for a total of 14 months, Fairbairn was eventually exchanged for a wounded German airman and after Armistice repatriated back to Australia. After the War he spent several years in the hands of doctors in an endeavour to regain the use of his right arm without success. James Fairbairn became Minister for Air in 1938.  He was killed on the 13th August 1940 in Canberra, Australia the result of an air crash. [Text from Ten Journeys to Cameron’s Farm]


THREE MINISTERS. Sir Brudenell White And RAAF. Crew. From Our Special Representative. CANBERRA, Tuesday. — Australia suffered a grave loss at a most critical stage in her history this morning, when a Royal Australian Air Force bomber crashed a few miles from Canberra/ while carrying two service Ministers, the Vice-President of the Executive Council and the Chief of the General Staff, to a Cabinet meeting, which was to have been held here to-day. All the occupants of the plane, ten in number, were killed. 

The Fairbairn family were plagued by tragedy with Charles and James’s brother George Patrick ‘Pat’ and his wife Mary killed when their Spartan Arrow ran out of fuel and crashed soon after take-off from Essendon in May 1935. Pat had made headlines in 1931 while still a 22-year-old undergraduate at Jesus College, Cambridge, when he flew in a deliberately leisurely fashion from England to Australia in an overloaded Gipsy I Moth.

George was 26 years old when he died leaving a 14-month-old orphan daughter Francis Mary.

Wing Commander Charles Osborne Fairbairn lost his only son Charles Ridley Fairbairn DFC on the 1st February 1945 age 20 during flying operations against Germany. He is buried at the Rheinberg War Cemetery.


Mr and Mrs C. Osborne Fairbairn, of Banongill, Skipton, have just been informed of the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross to their only son, Flying-Officer Charles Ridley Fairbairn, who was killed in operations over Germany on February 1.

Flying-Officer Fairbairn enlisted in the RAAF in 1942 at the age of 18, and, was killed in the final flight of his operational tour. The citation said that throughout his operational career Flying-Officer Fairbairn had shown brilliant leadership and cool courage in the face of danger. In December 1944, 10 minutes before reaching his target, his aircraft was involved in a collision, as a result of which one engine was wrecked. Despite this, Flying-Officer Fairbairn pressed home his attack successfully in the face of heavy AA fire, which damaged two-gun turrets. By superb airmanship he flew his damaged aircraft back to base and landed safely.

His outstanding skill, determination, and devotion to duty have always merited high praise. Mr C. O. Fairbairn has just resigned his commission in the RAAF. During the war he was in command of the Air Force station at Ballarat, with the rank of group-captain, and was awarded the OBE for distinguished services.

In the last war he joined the Royal Flying Corps in its early days, and after being severely wounded in action over Germany was awarded the Air Force Cross.

Wing Commander Charles Osborne Fairbairn
Wing Commander Charles Osborne Fairbairn OBE AFC
Wing Commander Charles Osborne Fairbairn OBE AFC Uniform
Wing Commander Charles Osborne Fairbairn OBE AFC DH.85 Leopard Moth
Wing Commander Charles Osborne Fairbairn OBE AFC Courier
Wing Commander Charles Osborne Fairbairn OBE AFC Ballarat Times
Wing Commander Charles Osborne Fairbairn OBE AFC TROVE

Acknowledgement and thanks to-


Click here for AWM Link

Les Sullivan- Not to be Shot at or Exported. An Airman’s Letters Home 1942-1945


The Ballarat Courier

The Ballarat Times

No. 1 W.A.G.S Unit History Sheets – Monthly 1940-1945

 Ten Journeys to Cameron’s Farm: An Australian Tragedy, by Cameron Hazlehurst

Click here for WikiTree link





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