Wilmot Hudson Fysh was born in Launceston, Tasmania, on 7 January 1895. His parents separated when he was quite young and he chose to live with his mother until he was sent to Launceston and then Geelong Grammar Schools before becoming a wool-classer.
He enlisted in the 3rd Light Horse Regiment on 25 August 1914 and sailed for Egypt two months later. The 3rd was a reserve unit on Gallipoli from May to December 1915, but Fysh saw action at Pope’s Hill and other front line positions. After withdrawal, Fysh was made Corporal in a machine gun unit commanded by Lieutenant Ross Smith who left to become an observer and then a pilot with the Australian Flying Corps in October 1916. Fysh was then promoted to Lieutenant. He followed Smith to No. 1 Squadron AFC as an observer/gunner in July 1917.
Paul McGinness joined the squadron as a pilot in March 1918 and, after taking leave together, the pair became good friends and frequent flying partners.
Fysh was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in late August 1918 for “gallantry in air combat and in attacking ground objectives” and trained as a pilot when the Middle Eastern war finished at the end of October, graduating as a scout pilot at Heliopolis on 28 February 1919.
Back in Australia, Fysh and McGinness were commissioned to create landing grounds across northern Australia for the 1919 England to Australia Air Race which inspired the need to create an air service. Fysh was the official government ‘greeter’ and auditor of the aircraft in Darwin when the crew led by Ross Smith won the race in their Vickers Vimy.
McGinness, Fergus McMaster and Fysh created Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Limited, known as Q.A.N.T.A.S, in 1920. Fysh was appointed Manager in May 1923 and married Elizabeth Eleanor Dove in Sydney in December that year. They had two children, John and Wendy, before the family and Qantas headquarters moved to Brisbane in 1930. While filling the executive role, Fysh remained a regular pilot for the company until 1930.
Fysh wrote many pamphlets promoting aviation and in 1933 wrote his first full-length book, a history of the early settlers of North-West Queensland called “Taming the North”. Fysh became Managing Director of Qantas Empire Airways (QEA) in 1934 and saw the airline through the challenging years of overseas expansion, the introduction of Empire flying boats and the war years between 1939 and 1945. During the war years, Fysh was a Squadron Leader in the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve, and oversaw the use of QEA equipment and expertise against the Japanese.
With government ownership of Qantas and the retirement of foundation chairman Fergus McMaster in 1947, Fysh became Managing Director and Chairman then Chairman from 1955 to his retirement in 1966. While Arthur Baird set the engineering standards for Qantas, it was Fysh who established the day-to-day operational standards on which the airline’s reputation for safety and service were built.
Those high standards led to the 1934 partnership with Imperial Airways which created Qantas Empire Airways and enabled Qantas to expand beyond the region of its name to become a highly-respected international carrier.
Fysh was appointed a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1953 for his services to aviation and wrote the first part of his autobiographical trilogy “Qantas Rising”, published in 1965. “Qantas at War” followed in 1968 and “Wings to the World” in 1970.
Sir Hudson Fysh died at Paddington, Sydney, on 6 April 1974.