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Air Marshal Sir Colin Thomas Hannah KCMG, KCVO, KBE, CB (22 December 1914 – 22 May 1978) was a senior commander in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and a Governor of Queensland. Born in Western Australiamarker, he served in the militia before joining the RAAF in 1935. During World War II he saw action as Commanding Officer of No. 6 Squadron in the South West Pacific. By 1944 he had risen to the rank of Group Captain, and at the end of the war was leading Western Area Command in Perthmarker.

Hannah was Senior Air Staff Officer at RAF Far East Air Force Headquarters, Singaporemarker, during the Malayan Emergency in the 1950s. His other post-war appointments included Deputy Chief of the Air Staff from 1961 to 1965 and Air Officer Commanding Operational Command (later Air Command) from 1965 to 1967. In 1970 he was promoted Air Marshal and became Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), the RAAF's senior position. Hannah concluded his tour as CAS a year early, in 1972, to become Governor of Queensland. He retired in 1977.

Early career

Born in Menzies, Western Australiamarker, Hannah was the son of Thomas Howard Hannah, a public servant who later became a magistrate in Perthmarker, and his wife Johanna. Hannah attended the Hale Schoolmarker, leaving with a Junior Certificate in 1930. He served with a militia unit, the 8th Field Artillery Brigade, for six months in 1933, before becoming a clerk in the Crown Law Department of the State Public Service.

Hannah joined the Royal Australian Air Force in January 1935 as an air cadet at Point Cook, Victoriamarker, gaining his commission as a Pilot Officer in July 1936. Posted initially to No. 22 Squadron at Richmondmarker, New South Walesmarker, he joined No. 23 Squadron at Laverton, Victoria, in May 1937. Hannah accompanied No. 23 Squadron to its new location at the recently opened RAAF Station Pearcemarker, Western Australia, in March 1938. He married Patricia Gordon at Claremontmarker in January 1939.

World War II

Promoted Flight Lieutenant, Hannah was in England on a Royal Air Force armaments training course when World War II began in September 1939. He completed the course, and returned to Australia in March 1940. After brief postings to No.1 Armament School, Point Cook, and Headquarters Laverton, Hannah was sent to Air Force Headquarters, Melbourne, in May. He was made an acting Squadron Leader in September 1940 and became Deputy Director of Armament the following year. In April 1942, Hannah was promoted temporary Wing Commander.

Beauforts of Nos.
6 and 8 Squadron at Goodenough Island, November 1943
In November 1943, Hannah was given command of No. 6 Squadron at Milne Bay, Papua, flying Bristol Beaufort light bombers against Japanese targets in Rabaulmarker. While on a familiarisation flight he came under friendly fire from anti-aircraft guns on Kiriwina Island, but managed to avoid serious injury. Hannah was raised to temporary Group Captain in December. He led No. 71 Wing for the first two months of 1944, until he was evacuated due to illness. After six weeks recuperation at Laverton, Hannah returned to No. 6 Squadron, which was by now based at Goodenough Islandmarker. He was appointed Senior Air Staff Officer (SASO) at Headquarters Western Area Command, Perth, in September and took charge of the Area from June 1945 to May 1946.

Post-war RAAF career

Rise to Chief of the Air Staff

Hannah was posted to Britain in 1947, undertaking study at RAF Staff College, Andover, and serving as SASO at RAAF Overseas Headquarters in Londonmarker. In August 1950 he took over as Officer Commanding No. 82 Wing, flying Avro Lincoln heavy bombers, at RAAF Base Amberleymarker, Queenslandmarker. Hannah was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1951 New Year Honours. In September that year he was made Director of Personnel Services, which became Director-General of Personnel in July 1952. As aide-de-camp to Queen Elizabeth II, Hannah was heavily involved in planning the RAAF's part in the 1954 Royal Tour of Australia. He was raised to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the Queen's Birthday Honours that June.

In 1955, Hannah attended the Imperial Defence Collegemarker in London, and was promoted Air Commodore. He was posted to Singaporemarker as SASO, RAF Far East Air Force Headquarters, in January 1956, handling counter-insurgency operations during the Malayan Emergency. Hannah's service during the conflict was recognised with his appointment as a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in June 1959. As Director-General of Plans and Policy from March 1959, he was responsible for commencing transfer of the Department of Air from Melbournemarker to Canberramarker. In December 1961, Hannah was appointed Deputy Chief of the Air Staff, gaining promotion to acting Air Vice Marshal in May 1962; the rank was made substantive in January 1963. He was Air Officer Commanding (AOC) Operational Command (now Air Command) from February 1965 to December 1967, after which he became AOC Support Command.

Chief of the Air Staff

Hannah was promoted Air Marshal on 1 January 1970, succeeding Air Marshal Sir Alister Murdoch as Chief of the Air Staff. Murdoch had earlier recommended Hannah, known to be a strong advocate for Australian participation in the Vietnam War, for the position of Commander Australian Forces Vietnam when it came up for rotation at the end of 1969. In the event, the post again went to an Army officer, and the RAAF presence would be withdrawn from Vietnam during Hannah's tour as CAS. In March 1970, the-then Minister for Defence, Malcolm Fraser, commissioned a review of naval air power. Hannah fundamentally disagreed with any suggestion that the Royal Australian Navy should operate land-based aircraft, claiming that he was arguing not from a partisan perspective but to ensure that Australia's limited defence resources were not spread across three services. However, confidential RAAF papers from the time declared that its goal was always to "avoid giving the Navy the opportunity to establish a land-based air force". Two years later, Hannah responded favourably to a recommendation from the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, Admiral Sir Victor Smith, to use the soon-to-be-delivered F-111 bomber for maritime support, among its other roles.

Hannah was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in the 1971 New Year Honours. His tour as CAS coincided with the RAAF's Golden Jubilee in March–April that year. He personally organised a fly-past of two USAF F-111s at air shows marking the occasion, generating favourable coverage to counteract the poor publicity surrounding the type's long-delayed entry into Australian service. However, Hannah was also involved in two controversial decisions the same year. Firstly, he was a member of the committee to choose an Air Force memorialmarker to be located on ANZAC Parade, Canberramarker. The selected design was an abstract sculpture that, according to RAAF historian Dr Alan Stephens, reflected "the selection panel's comprehensive failure to understand the nature of air force service". Secondly, Hannah commissioned a replacement for the Air Force's winter uniform, traditionally a shade "somewhere between royal and navy blue" that had been chosen personally by the RAAF's first CAS, Wing Commander (later Air Marshal Sir) Richard Williams, to distinguish it from the lighter Royal Air Force colour. The uniform approved by Hannah, an all-purpose middle blue suit, was the object of numerous complaints in the ensuing years, and reverted to Williams' original colour and style in 2000.

Governor

Hannah's planned three-year term as Chief of the Air Staff was cut short by some ten months when he accepted the Governship of Queensland, becoming the first officer in the RAAF to receive a vice regal appointment. The announcement was made in January 1972, and he took office on 21 March. Hannah was criticised for failing to consult with senior colleagues before making his decision to retire early from his position as head of the Air Force. He was replaced as CAS by his deputy, Air Vice Marshal (later Air Marshal Sir) Charles Read.

Described as "a man with the flexibility of mind and ability to mix with people, so necessary for a Governor", Hannah was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in September 1972. The same year, he was made a Knight and Deputy Prior of the Venerable Order of Saint John. However, he created controversy at a Brisbane Chamber of Commerce luncheon in October 1975, criticising the "fumbling ineptitude" of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam's Federal Labor Government for placing Australia in "its present economic state". In response, the Federal Government advised the Queen to revoke Hannah's dormant commission to serve in place of the Governor-General if the latter was absent. Following his succession as Prime Minister in November 1975, Malcolm Fraser attempted to have the dormant commission reinstated, but the British Government refused to recommend this to the Queen, citing lack of impartiality on Hannah's part. Queensland premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen made it known that he planned to extend the Governor's term, but the British Government also refused to agree to this, and Hannah's tenure was permitted to lapse on 20 March 1977.

Retirement and legacy

Hannah retired following completion of his term as Governor of Queensland. He was appointed a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO) in August 1977 (backdated to March) as part of Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee visit to Australia. Hannah died of a myocardial infarction on 22 May 1978 in Surfers Paradise, Queensland. He was given a state funeral and cremated. His wife and daughter survived him. Hannah Community Park, straddling the suburbs of Faddenmarker and Gowriemarker in Canberra, was established in his honour in 2002.

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