Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation

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Marshal of the RAF Sir William Dickson

William Forster             b:  24 Sep 1898                     r: 16 Jul 1959                       d: 12 Sep 1987

GCB - 1 Jan 1953 (KCB - 1 Jan 1952, CB - 11 Jun 1942), KBE 1 Jan 1946, (CBE - 5 Jul 1945: OBE - 4 Jun 1934), DSO - 21 Sep 1918, AFC - 3 Jun 1922, MiD - 1 Oct 1917, MiD - 1 Jan 1919, MiD - 26 Jun 1931, OS3 - 11 Apr 1944, OS3 - 11 Apr 1944, LoM (Cdr) - 13 Nov 1945.

For a list of foreign decoration abbreviations, click here

RNAS: PFO: 9 Oct 1916, (T) Flt Sub-Lt: 12 Apr 1917, (T) Flt Lt: 31 Dec 1917

RAF:  Hon Capt [Lt]: 1 Apr 1918, Fg Off: 1 Aug 1919, Flt Lt: 30 Jun 1922 [1 Apr 1918], Sqn Ldr: 5 Nov 1930, Act Wg Cdr: 2 Mar 1936, Wg Cdr:  1 Jan 1937, Gp Capt (T):  1 Jan 1940, Act A/Cdre: 30 Apr 1941, (T) A/Cdre: 15 Jul 1941, Gp Capt: 14 Apr 1942 [1 Jan 1940], Act AVM: 26 Jun 1942, A/Cdre (WS): 26 Jun 1943, AVM (T): 1 Dec 1943, AVM:  1 Apr 1946, Act AM (unpd): 2 May - 31 May 1946, Act AM (pd): 1 Jun 1946, AM:  1 Jul 1947, ACM:  8 Jan 1951, MRAF:  1 Jun 1954.

  8 Oct 1916:           U/T Pilot, RNAS.

xx xxx 1917:            Pilot, Isle of Grain Air Station.

 2 Aug 1917:            Pilot, HMS Furious.

 7 Oct 1918:            To be graded for pay as a Captain whilst employed as a Captain (Aeroplane and Seaplane Branch)

23 Oct 1918:           Pilot, HMS Revenge.

 8 Apr 1919:            Pilot, HMS Queen Elizabeth.

 1 Aug 1919:           Awarded Permanent Commission as a Lieutenant

25 Mar 1920:           Staff, RAF Gosport.

15 May 1920:           Pilot, No 210 Sqn.

 4 Apr 1921:             Pilot, HMS Argus.

1 Jan 1922:               Test Pilot, RAE Farnborough.

20 Mar 1923:            Staff Officer, Directorate of Operations & Intelligence

 1 May 1923:            PA to the Director of Operations & Intelligence (DCAS).

 1 Jul 1926:               Supernumerary - Non effective (Sick), RAF Depot.

19 Jul 1926:              'A' Flight Commander, No 56 Sqn.

19 Sep 1927:            Attended RAF Staff College.

17 Dec 1928:            Supernumerary, RAF Staff College.

12 Feb 1929:            Staff, No 1 (Indian Wing) Station, Kohat.

 4 Apr 1930:              PA to AOC, RAF India

30 Dec 1930:            Air Staff, HQ RAF India.

30 Mar 1934:            Supernumerary, RAF Depot.

21  - 29 Jul 1934:    Placed on half pay list, scale A

30 Jul 1934:              Refresher Flying Course, Central Flying School.

19 Sep 1934:            Air Staff, HQ Western Area.

14 Jan 1935:             Supernumerary, No 25 Sqn/RAF Hawkinge.

21 Jan 1935:             Officer Commanding, No 25 Sqn/RAF Hawkinge.

 4 Nov 1935:            Officer Commanding, No 25 Sqn

 2 Mar 1936:            Directing Staff, RAF Staff College.

17 Jan 1939:            Attended Imperial Defence College.

 3 Jul 1939:              Staff, Directorate of Plans.

 1 Mar 1941:            Director of Plans.

17 May 1942:          SASO, HQ, No 9 (Fighter) Group.

26 Jun 1942:            AOC, No 9 Group.

 4 Nov 1942:           AOC, No 10 Group.

21 Mar 1943:          AOC, No 83 Group.

 6 Apr 1944:            AOC, Desert Air Force.

21 Dec 1944:          Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Policy).

 1 Jun 1946:            Vice Chief of the Air Staff.

 1 Mar 1948:           AOC in C, RAF Mediterranean & Middle East.

 2 Mar 1950:           Air Member for Supply & Organisation.

 1 Jan 1953:            Chief of the Air Staff.

 1 Jan 1956:            Chairman of the Chief's of Staff Committee.

 1 Jan 1959:            Chief of the Defence Staff.

Educated at Bowden House, Seaford and Haileybury College, William Dickson joined the Royal Naval Air Service as a direct entrant in 1916 as a Midshipman.  His choice of the Navy possibly being influenced by the fact that his mother was a direct descendant of Admiral Horatio Nelson.   He was involved in various aspects of naval flying during WW1 including operations from the turret of the Battleship HMS Revenge and early landing trials aboard the after deck of HMS Furious. In July 1918 he was one of seven Camel pilots from Furious who undertook a raid against the Airships sheds at Tondern, the first carrier borne strike in history.   Of the seven pilots involved in this raid, which destroyed the L54 and L60, one ditched with engine trouble early in the mission and was rescued, whilst one was drowned having had to ditch, three where interned in Denmark with only Dickson and one other pilot making it close enough to their ship to ditch and be picked up.  With the formation of the RAF in 1918 he designed a new mess kit for the service which was adopted, although the original light blue uniform adopted at the same time was later dropped in favour of the blue-grey with which we are now familiar.

Awarded a Permanent Commission in the post-war RAF he was initially involved with his old service as a pilot in what would become the Fleet Air Arm of the RAF.  Returning 'ashore' he then undertook a tour as a test pilot, although in those days there was no formal training, at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, for which he was awarded the AFC.  Three years in the Air Ministry began as a staff officer responsible for naval/air matters before being appointed Personal Assistant to the DCAS.  He returned to flying duties, as a fighter pilot with No 56 Squadron based at Biggin Hill and equipped with Gloster Grebes.

Completion of a staff course was followed by a move overseas to India where he served both with operational units and in a staff capacity.  A return to the UK brought with it command of No 25 Squadron, equipped with the Hawker Fury I and based at Hawkinge.  The outbreak of war in 1939 occurred shortly after he completed the Imperial Defence College course after which he had joined the Directorate of Plans.  Appointed to the joint planning staff, he worked closely with Churchill and the Chiefs of Staff over the next two years.  He was given command of two groups in Fighter Command, first No 9 and then No 10.   During this time he accompanied AM Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory on a tour of the Desert Air Force.  As a result of this visit he was tasked on his return with the formation of the first composite Group, No 83 Group, which would provide the basis of the new 2 Tactical Air Force.  Having spent a year planning the organisation and administration of the new group whilst still carrying out operations in preparation for the Invasion, he was replaced by AVM Harry Broadhurst at the insistence of Montgomery.  Ironically, his next posting was to Italy where he took command of the Desert Air Force, from the officer destined to replace him, Broadhurst.

Returning to Britain at the end of 1944 he was first appointed Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Policy) and then Vice Chief of the Air Staff, followed by a return to the Middle East as AOC in C.  Having been a member of the Air Council as VCAS, he returned to it once again as Air Member for Supply and Organisation.  During this period he was heavily involved  in RAF expansion to meet the threat of the Korean War and in talks and planning for the deployment of USAF aircraft on British bases.  He represented the Air Council at the funeral of King George VI.  In 1953, he succeeded Sir John Slessor as Chief of the Air Staff

At the beginning  of 1956 Sir William became the Chairman of the Chief's of Staff Committee a post he held until 1958 when the new post of Chief of the Defence Staff came into being with Sir William as it's first incumbent.  Following retirement he worked for a number of charitable organisations, and in 1964 was Master of The Glass Sellers’ Co,  eventually dying in the RAF Hospital at Wroughton in 1987.

Citation for the award of the DSO: -

"Lieut. (Hon. Capt.) William Forster Dickson (Sea Patrol).

Displayed great skill and gallantry on the occasion of a long-distance bombing raid.  He succeeded in dropping bombs on an airship station from a low altitude with destructive effect, and although subjected to severe fire from the enemy obtained valuable information."

(London Gazette - 21 September 1918)

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