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Sir William Gore Mitchell (1888–1944)

by Colin McKenzie

William Gore Mitchell, n.d.

William Gore Mitchell, n.d.

William Gore Sutherland Mitchell was born on the 8th March 1888, the eldest child and only son of William Broadfoot Mitchell and his wife Edith Gore.

He was born at Carthona, one of the finest houses in Australia standing in its own grounds on Darling Point, Sydney.

Carthona was adjacent to another mansion, called Etham, owned by William's grandfather James Sutherland Mitchell, who had made his fortune as a partner in the Tooth Brewery.

James had bought Carthona for his son William Broadfoot Mitchell, who was working with him at the Tooth Brewery.

William Gore Mitchell's father died when he was eleven years. His grandfather had died a few years earlier and as a result both Etham and Carthona were put on the market and sold.  

At the age of 14 William was sent to school in England.  Shortly afterwards his mother moved to India and remarried but was widowed within a year. She then married for a third time and remained in India for the rest of her life.    

In the school admission register William's guardian is given as Miss Eliza Mitchell of 69 Ennismore Gardens, Princes Gate. Eliza was his 56 year old spinster aunt who had moved from Australia to be closer to her siblings.

William arrived at Wellington College in September 1902 and left at the end of the summer term in 1906. He was in the House now known as the Stanley, but at that time known by the name of its Housemasters, Mr Kempthorne and then Mr Brougham. College records show that he played rugby and cricket for his house, and was a member of the Rifle Corps. By 1905 he was in the 2nd XV and was described in an article on 'Prospects' for the coming season in October 1905, it was commented: Mitchell seems to be strong both in tackling and running. Later that term he was promoted to the first XV however he was never Captain of the team. 

At that time, as they rose up the school, boys could choose to be on the 'Classical' side, with an emphasis on Latin and Greek, or the 'Mathematical Side' which took more modern subjects. William was in the Mathematical Upper School, and during his last few terms studied maths, English, geography, French, Latin, German, but not sciences.

On leaving school he was commissioned into the special reserve battalion of the Devonshire regiment and transferred to the regular army in 1909 joining the Highland Light Infantry.

In common with other wealthy and adventurous officers of the period he was was fascinated with flying. In order to enter the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) as a pilot it was a requirement that the applicant acquire a Royal Aero Club aviators certificate at their own expense. If accepted into the RFC a nominal £75 (£10,000 in 2020 value) would be refunded.

William gained his Royal Aero Club pilot's certificate in May 1913 and after qualifying at the Central Flying School at Upavon in December 1913 he was seconded to the Royal Flying Corps.

At the outbreak of WW1 in August 1914 William went to France with No 4 Squadron as part of the original RFC deployment in support of the British Expeditionary Force.

Flying the British BE2 or French Farman, he took part in the retreat from Mons. As a temporary captain he was sent home to command 10 Squadron, which equipped with BE2c aircraft he took to France in July 1915, taking part in the battle of Loos.

After serving on the Somme, where he was awarded the MC and promoted to lieutenant-colonel, he commanded the 12th Wing at Arras from the Spring of 1917.

The average flying life of a pilot at this time was 18 hours and the RFC lost 75 aircraft and 105 aircrew during this battle.

William was awarded the DSO mentioned in dispatches four times, and awarded the AFC.

In 1918 he took over 20 Group in North West Africa and the following year he was awarded a permanent commission in the Royal Air Force with the rank of Wing Commander.

Later in 1919 he went to India where he commanded the RAF wing on operations on the Indian North West Frontier in Waziristan (1922-23) and was twice mentioned in dispatches and awarded the CBE.

Following his return to England in 1924 Mitchell commanded the Flying Training School at Netheravon. He then went to RAF Halton as second in command. In both posts demonstrating his capacity for and interest in training youth.

In 1928 he went to Aden to command the station when the RAF took over responsibility for the protectorate from the army.

He returned to the Air Ministry in October 1929 as director of training until 1933 when he was made commandant of the RAF College at Cranwell and was promoted Air Vice-Marshal.

At Halton he had hunted and at Cranwell he played polo where, although critics found fault with his seat, his enthusiasm was boundless.

He then spent two years from 1935 as air officer commanding British forces at RAF Habbaniya in Iraq, returning in 1937 to become air member for personnel at the Air Ministry.

On 31 October 1919 he married Essy Hingston aged 30, the daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel William Plant, Indian army, and the widow of Captain Frederick Hingston of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry who had been killed in action at Ypres in 1915.

The wedding took place at Holy Trinity Church, Brompton Road, London SW7.  William was described as a 'Colonel in the Royal Air Force' living at 3 Ryder Street, St James, London SW.

The popular couple were known to their many friends as the Mitches and he to his colleagues as Ginger Mitch.

Their only child died in infancy in 1920.

Knighted (KCB) in 1938 and promoted Air Chief Marshal he served in Egypt as air officer commanding Middle East from 1939 to 1940.

He was then Inspector General of the RAF from 1940 to 1941.

Willam's final responsibility in the RAF was based in Glasgow overseeing the distribution and installation of the chain of radar stations on the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Having completed by September 1941 he was placed on the retired list. This enabled him to take up his new post as Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod in the House of Lords, the first officer of the RAF to be appointed to that post.

With the expansion of the Air Training Corps following it's formation in 1941 there became a growing need for decentralising the command structure, as a result of which he was appointed Commandant of London Command in 1942.

As commandant of the Air Training Corps in London and Essex he was at Lord's watching his cadets play the army at cricket on the day of his death.

He died of a cerebral thrombosis at his home, 14 Eresby House, Rutland Gate, Westminster, London, on 15 August 1944 survived by his wife, and was buried at Putney Vale cemetery four days later.

His funeral was attended, amongst many others by his widow Lady Essy Mitchell, his sister Isabelle and her husband Graeme Robertson, his first cousin James Sutherland Mitchell Bisdee and his first cousin Mary and her husband Colonel Harold Ozanne.

Original Publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Colin McKenzie, 'Mitchell, Sir William Gore (1888–1944)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/mitchell-sir-william-gore-33127/text41307, accessed 21 June 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012