Ronald Burns Bannerman was born 21 September 1890, the son of William D. D. Bannerman and Agnes Gibson McEwen. The younger Bannerman's education took him from Otago Boys High School onward to study law at Otago University. He was one of a dozen members of the class enrolled at the New Zealand Flying School in March 1916. He passed his flight tests in December. After a voyage to England, he joined the Royal Flying Corps on 29 March 1917 and undertook further training, amassing 53 hours solo flight time.
He flew a Sopwith Dolphin for 79 Squadron, scoring his initial victory on 4 August 1918 by destroying a Fokker D.VII. During the next three months, he ran his total to 17, with his last triumph coming on 4 November 1918, a week before war's end. His first 15 wins were achieved flying Sopwith Dolphin #C3879; his last two were scored from Dolphin #E4716. His final tally included 16 enemy airplanes destroyed and 22 driven down out of control. He was also a balloon buster, having downed a Drachen on 24 August for his fourth victory. What makes Bannerman's string of victories more remarkable was that 79 Squadron was tasked for ground attack work; none of his victories were scored above 5,000 feet altitude. Indeed, there were only four other aces in the unit: Francis W. Gillet, Frederic Ives Lord, John McNeaney, and Edgar Taylor.
Bannerman ended the war a Captain with two awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross. He had 396 hours flight time in approximately 190 combat sorties. He was New Zealand's top ranking ace.
He continued flying and other duties after the armistice. By the time he closed his pilot's log for good in June 1919, he had more than 500 hours flying time. He was transferred to the RAF's Unemployed List on 16 August 1919. He returned home to begin a distinguished long career as a barrister and solicitor, and had little to do with aviation for the next two decades.
He answered his nation's call during World War II, using his skills as the Air Member for Personnel for the RNZAF from November 1942 through October 1945, achieving the rank of Air Commodore in the process. He was awarded a CBE for his services.
He resumed his legal career after World War II. He died at his home in Gore, New Zealand on 2 August 1978.
Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC)
Lieut. Ronald Burns Bannerman.
During recent operations this officer has done gallant service. While on an offensive patrol with two other machines he was attacked by several Fokker biplanes, and, in the engagement, he shot down one. In addition, he has destroyed four other enemy machines.
Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) Bar
Lieut. (A./Capt.) Ronald Burns Bannerman, D.F.C. (FRANCE)
A bold and resolute leader, whose ability inspires confidence in those who serve with him. During the operations in September he accounted for six enemy machines, displaying marked courage and judgment.