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Peter Isaacson

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Peter Stuart Isaacson
Flight Lieutentant Peter Isaacson DFC AFC DFM 1943.jpg
Flight Lieutenant Isaacson with Lancaster Q-for-Queenie, 1943
Born (1920-07-31) 31 July 1920 (age 98)
London, England
Allegiance Australia
Service/branch Royal Australian Air Force
Years of service 1940–46 (RAAF)
1946–69 (RAAF Reserve)
Rank Wing Commander
Unit RAF Bomber Command
Battles/wars World War II
Other work Publisher

Peter Stuart Isaacson, AM, DFC, AFC, DFM (born 31 July 1920) is an Australian publisher and decorated military pilot. He was owner of Peter Isaacson Publications, the publisher of various trade publications and suburban newspapers including the Southern Cross and the Sunday Observer in Melbourne. He served in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) as a pilot with RAF Bomber Command during World War II and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Force Cross and the Distinguished Flying Medal.

Isaacson grew up in Melbourne and started working for a newspaper when he was sixteen. He joined the RAAF in 1940. Following his stint in Bomber Command, he became well known in Australia for his tours in the Avro Lancaster Q-for-Queenie to promote the sale of war loans and, in particular, for flying his plane under the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1943. He transferred to the RAAF Reserve after the war, retiring as a wing commander in 1969. Since 1956 he has served as a Trustee, Chairman, and finally Life Governor of the Victorian Shrine of Remembrance. In 1991 he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for his publishing and community work.

Early life

Isaacson was born in London on 31 July 1920 to an Australian father and an Austrian mother; his parents moved to Australia with him when he was six years old.[1][2] Growing up in Melbourne, he was educated at Brighton Grammar School and started work at sixteen as a messenger boy on The Age, where his mother Caroline edited women's features.[2][3] All of Isaacson's immediate family would eventually serve in World War II: his father, Arnold, a World War I veteran, joined the Volunteer Defence Corps, his mother became Public Relations Officer in the Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS), and his sister Joan became a photographer with the AWAS.[4]

World War II

On 8 December 1940, the nineteen-year-old Isaacson enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).[1][5] After completing his training in Australia and Canada, he was posted to the United Kingdom and joined No. 460 Squadron RAAF at RAAF Breighton, Yorkshire, as a sergeant pilot.[5][6] Operating Vickers Wellington medium bombers, No. 460 Squadron had been raised under the Article XV provisions of the Empire Air Training Scheme and was one of a number of nominally Australian formations taking part in RAF Bomber Command's strategic air campaign against Germany.[7][8] The squadron commenced operations in March 1942 and participated in 1,000-bomber raids against Cologne, Essen and Bremen in May and June. It converted to Avro Lancaster heavy bombers in October.[8] Isaacson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal on 6 November 1942 for "many successful night attacks on the enemy" with No. 460 Squadron.[9][10] The following month his Lancaster was damaged by a Junkers Ju 88 night fighter after a raid on Munich.[11]

Commissioned as a pilot officer, Isaacson was subsequently posted to No. 156 Squadron RAF of the Pathfinder Force, based at RAF Warboys, Huntingdonshire.[5] He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 30 March 1943 for his actions during a raid on Berlin. His citation, promulgated in the London Gazette, read:[12]

One night in March 1943, this officer was detailed for an attack on Berlin. Following the attack and while still over the target area, his aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire and severely damaged. The mid-upper turret frame was twisted, the perspex and 2 engine cowlings blown off, the aileron controls damaged and the aircraft forced down to 4,000 feet. On the return journey the aircraft was driven off the route and held in a cone of searchlights for 15 minutes; during this time a further loss of height down to 900 feet occurred. In the face of this perilous situation Pilot Officer Issacson, showing coolness, resolution and skilful airmanship, succeeded in flying his aircraft back to base. This officer is an outstanding captain of aircraft who has a fine record of many successful operational sorties.

File:Lancaster Q for Queenie flies under Sydney Harbour Bridge 1943.jpg
Lancaster Q-for-Queenie flies under Sydney Harbour Bridge, 22 October 1943

Isaacson completed forty-five sorties with Bomber Command, when the likelihood of surviving an operational tour of thirty missions was never more than 50% and, at times, much less.[5][13] Promoted to acting flight lieutenant, he was chosen in May 1943 to captain Lancaster Q-for-Queenie on a landmark flight from England to Australia across the Pacific Ocean, and then from Melbourne to New Zealand and back, non-stop in both directions. He was awarded the Air Force Cross on 27 August 1943 for this mission, the citation noting that it was "the first occasion on which an aircraft has flown to Australia by this route and the direct flights between Melbourne and New Zealand are the first of their kind".[14] The Lancaster was brought to Australia so that it could serve as a template for local production of the type, but this never took place and it was instead used for exhibition flights to encourage purchase of war bonds. On 22 October 1943 Isaacson flew Q-for-Queenie under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, flouting a 1931 regulation that prohibited such activity; the Lancaster remains the largest aircraft to have been flown under the bridge.[15] Isaacson gave his crew no warning of what he was about to do and when asked later why he did it, replied "Because it was there".[16][17] It was, however, reported at the time that he undertook the stunt to support the war loan effort for which he and his crew were actively fundraising.[16]

Notwithstanding the publicity the escapade generated for war loans, Isaacson recalled that when he landed at Mascot afterwards:[18]

I was threatened with a court martial. Two authorities wanted to court martial me: Eastern Area in which the crime was committed and Southern Command to which I was attached at the time. I was told later there was a great fight among the bureaucrats of each of these commands as to which would court martial me. Apparently they could not agree on which should be the prosecutor and the idea either lapsed – or maybe is still being pursued by the successors to each of these commands!

In December 1943, following his promotional tour with his crew in Q-for-Queenie, he settled down to instructional work at an operational training unit before undertaking a further tour in the Lancaster commencing in March 1944.[19][20]

Post-war career

File:Hp001498 Peter & Anne Isaacson 1950.jpg
Peter and Anne Isaacson at the registry office for their wedding in 1950

Isaacson stood as the Liberal candidate for Prahran in the November 1945 Victorian state election, but was defeated by Labor's Bill Quirk.[21] His wartime commission was terminated on 21 February 1946 and he transferred to the RAAF Reserve.[1] He was state commandant of the Victorian Squadron of the Air Training Corps from 1950, and commandant of No. 21 (City of Melbourne) Squadron from 1961, before retiring in 1969 with the rank of wing commander. He also served as an honorary aide-de-camp to Queen Elizabeth II from 1963 to 1965.[3][5]

After working as aviation correspondent for The Argus in Melbourne, Isaacson set up his first newspaper, the Advertiser, in 1947;[2][22] he established Peter Isaacson Publications the same year.[3] The Advertiser took over other community newspapers and became the Southern Cross, which Isaacson edited and published along with Sunday Observer and various business and industry magazines. In 1986 Peter Isaacson Publications took over the Asher Joel Media Group.[2][23] Southern Cross was bought by APN News & Media in 1993 and Isaacson became APN's director, serving until 1998.[2][3] He chaired TW Media from 1997 to 2005.[3]

Isaacson married Anne McIntyre in Melbourne on 21 December 1950. The couple, who had known each other since their teens, had delayed their wedding during Anne's five-year struggle with polio and Isaacson carried his future bride to the registry office on the day.[2][24] The marriage produced two sons.[3] On 10 June 1991 Isaacson was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia "for services to the print media and the community".[25] He published As I Remember Them: Men and Women Who Shaped a Life, a collection of eulogies he had delivered for friends and colleagues, in 2012.[17] In May of that year he was among a group of thirty-two veterans selected to attend the dedication of the RAF Bomber Command Memorial in London as part of the official Australian delegation.[26] Isaacson is a Life Governor of the Victorian Shrine of Remembrance, having previously served as a Trustee from 1956 to 2000, and Chairman from 1983 to 2000.[27][28] He and his wife live in the Melbourne suburb of Toorak.[2]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Isaacson, Peter Stuart. World War 2 Nominal Roll. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Georgia Wilkins (9 December 2010). "Newspaper man". The Weekly Review. Retrieved 27 June 2012. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Sullivan, Who's Who in Australia 2012, p. 1157
  4. "Gossip". Townsville Daily Bulletin. National Library of Australia. 23 February 1943. p. 3. Retrieved 28 June 2012. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 "Veteran Biography: Peter Stuart Isaacson" (PDF). Department of Veterans' Affairs. Retrieved 27 June 2012. 
  6. Herington, Air War Against Germany and Italy, p. 333
  7. Herington, Air War Against Germany and Italy, p. 649
  8. 8.0 8.1 RAAF Historical Section, Bomber Units, pp. 118–123
  9. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35773. p. 4808. 6 November 1942. Retrieved 27 June 2012.
  10. Recommendation: Distinguished Flying Medal. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
  11. Herington, Air War Against Germany and Italy, pp. 469–470
  12. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35958. p. 1467. 30 March 1943. Retrieved 27 June 2012.
  13. Stephens, The Royal Australian Air Force, pp. 95–96
  14. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36148. p. 3824. 27 August 1943. Retrieved 27 June 2012.
  15. "Lancaster bomber made illegal pass under Sydney Harbour Bridge". Air Power Development Centre. Retrieved 27 June 2012. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 "Bomber flew under Harbour Bridge". The Canberra Times. National Library of Australia. 23 October 1943. p. 2. Retrieved 28 June 2012. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 Lawrence Money (9 May 2012). "A collection of fond farewells". The Age. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 27 June 2012. 
  18. Brown, Skylarks, pp. 30–31
  19. "Lancaster's crew". The West Australian. National Library of Australia. 10 December 1943. p. 4. Retrieved 28 June 2012. 
  20. "Record first day for £150m loan". The Courier-Mail. National Library of Australia. 29 March 1944. p. 1. Retrieved 28 June 2012. 
  21. "Stop-gap government!". The Advocate. National Library of Australia. 12 November 1945. p. 5. Retrieved 28 June 2012. 
  22. "Strict rules to ensure safe flying". The Argus. National Library of Australia. 12 March 1946. p. 3. Retrieved 28 June 2012. 
  23. "Isaacson buys Joel business journals". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2 September 1986. p. 26. Retrieved 28 June 2012. 
  24. "Family Notices". The Argus. National Library of Australia. 1 December 1950. p. 9. Retrieved 28 June 2012. 
  25. Member of the Order of Australia. It's an Honour. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
  26. "Bomber Command veterans to travel to London". Department of Veterans' Affairs. 29 May 2012. Retrieved 28 June 2012. 
  27. "Life Governors". Shrine of Remembrance. Retrieved 27 June 2012. 
  28. Scates, A Place to Remember, p. 258


Further reading

  • Warner, Denis (2000). Pathfinder: The Peter Isaacson Story. Seaford, Victoria: BAS Publishing. ISBN 1-86350-301-3.