By: Owen Zupp
There and Back Publishing (2016)
Biography is generally not a genre I read with much frequency, but I’m extremely happy that I took the chance to read “Without Precedent” during a recent holiday. Of the biographies I have read, it is by far the most compelling and engaging I’ve read in the context of military or aviation.
Phillip Zupp (1925-1991) had a decades long career in the Australian military and became a very accomplished and respected pilot in both military and civil circles. Phillip’s son, Owen, went to great lengths after his father passed away to compile a detailed biography that not only chronicles the full span of Phillip’s life but also gives the reader a rather intimate view of his personality both in military and civilian life.
Phillip experienced bullying, poverty and privation through much of his childhood and youth. As a result, he developed a very determined and thick-skinned personality and tended to be laconic, pragmatic and stoic in the main. Very few people in his life got a full picture of the man during his lifetime, not even his closest friends and family.
This book is as much a son’s journey to know his father more fully as it is his father’s biography.
Phillip grew up in a farming community and never completed his formal education. He did not have the sort of background one might expect of someone who aspired to a career in aviation, though he was fully captivated by flying from the first time he saw an aircraft and pursued the goal of becoming a pilot with a single minded determination in the face of everything that stood in his way.
He joined the Royal Australian Air Force before the Second World War and began training as a navigator. He took to the military life very well and appreciated the structure and order it gave to his otherwise unpredictable life.
Though he had trained to be a navigator, changing operational priorities during the war resulted in Phillip taking a transfer to the army and training to be a commando. He spent the war fighting the Japanese in the jungles of New Guinea and served in the occupational force in Japan after the war ended. While he was not a particularly philosophical man by nature, standing at ground zero in Hiroshima and taking in the scope of the destruction certainly gave him pause for thought and reflection.
Towards the end of the 1940s, Phillip faced being discharged from the military during post war force reductions. It was in this period, however, that he was able to re-enlist in the RAAF and finally take up training to become the pilot he longed to be. Working his way through DeHavilland Tiger Moth basic trainers and advanced training in Wirraway trainers; Phillip ultimately found himself flying Gloster Meteor fighters in the Korean War.
During that conflict, he distinguished himself as an adept and capable pilot in the ranks of 77 Squadron. During actions in Korea, he was recommended to be awarded a Purple Heart medal by the American forces; it was the first time a member of the Australian military had ever been recommended for that award. However, it took several decades and much bureaucracy before Phillip even learned he had been awarded the medal and for that medal to reach the Zupp family.
After discharge from the RAAF, Phillip found work as an instructor pilot at a flying school near where he and his wife, Edith, had settled and started a family.
Phillip eventually trained on the Lockheed Constellation airliner and took work with the Australian national airline, QANTAS. However, Phillip’s preference for being alone in the cockpit and the strain of him being away for extended periods of time on his family life led him to cut his commercial flying career short.
Eventually, he would find his way into corporate flying and would finish his professional flying career in air ambulance service.
Phillip built up a remarkable pilot’s log through is life and this book gives good insights into many of the types he flew. The sections of the Wirraway trainer and the RAAF Gloster Meteor operations in Korea are particularly enlightening from an Australian aviation standpoint.
In his life, Phillip didn’t talk much about himself and didn’t start opening up to his family about his time in the military until quite late in his life.
It is noted towards the end of the book, that Owen found in his research that many of his father’s closest RAAF friends from Korea had no idea that Phillip had ever been a commando during WWII or had been part of the post war occupying force in Japan.
Following Phillip’s death, Owen Zupp was left with more questions than answers about his beloved father. This book is the result of Owen finding those answers and it’s very satisfying to read as the care Owen put into it is evident from cover to cover.
Phillip Zupp certainly could not have been the easiest man to know, but this book makes it clear that he was certainly worth getting to know if he had let you.
If you like a good biography, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
If you’re a RAAF enthusiast, your library isn’t complete without this book.
This link will take you to Owen Zupp’s own page and give you access to more reviews of this book: