Wednesday 13 February 2008 by Peter Burness. 9 comments
Aircraft 1914 - 1918, The England to Australia Air Race

In March 1919, four months after the war was over, the Australian government announced that it would give a £10,000 prize for the first successful flight from England to Australia. Despite the obvious dangers, this appealed to some airmen, not yet discharged, who were awaiting repatriation home. There were plenty of war surplus aircraft available and six crews eventually took part. However only two crews finished. The winning team was the brothers Ross and Keith Smith and their mechanics James Bennett and Wally Shiers, flying a Vickers Vimy two-engine former bomber. They embarked from England on 12 November 1919 and reached Darwin on 10 December - a journey of 28 days. Both Ross and Keith were immediately knighted while Sergeants W. H. Shiers and J. M. Bennett, the mechanics, were commissioned and awarded Bars to their Air Force Medals. The £10,000 prize money was divided into four equal shares.

cas.awm.gov.au/photograph/106074 Members of the winning crew standing in front of their Vickers Vimy twin-engined bomber. Identified are, from left to right: Sir Keith Smith; Sir Ross Smith; Sergeant (Sgt) Jim Bennett and Sgt Wally Shiers.

The second team consisting of Lieutenants Ray Parer and John McIntosh didn't start until 20 January 1920 when the race was already won. However this did not deter them. The pair set off and took 237 days to reach home, encountering almost every possible misadventure on the way. Their aircraft, an Airco DH9, was damaged by storms, fires, forced landings, and numerous crashes. At Moulmein in Burma they had a bad accident while trying to avoid the welcoming crowd. Darwin was finally reached on 2 August. They then headed for the southern capitals, crashing again. The aircraft finally arrived in Melbourne on the back of a truck to a huge public reception.

 

cas.awm.gov.au/photograph/P00281.012 The extensive damage caused by Ray Parer\'s forced landing at Moulmein, Burma in April 1920. P00281.012

Despite setting the foundations for long distance air travel as we know it today, the Air Race was marred by four tragic losses of life. Two crews fatally crashed attempting to complete the race. They were: Lieutenants James Ross and Roger Douglas on 13 November 1919 at Surbiton, London and Captain Cedric Howell and Lieutenant George Fraser on 10 December 1919 at St. George's Bay, Corfu.

The final two crews - Captain George Matthews and Sergeant Mechanic Tom Kay and Lieutenants Valdemar Rendle, David Williams, Garnsey Potts and Captain Hubert Wilkins abandoned their flights due to aircraft damage caused by a crash and a forced landing respectively.

Comments

Neil Eddy

One of those who died in accidents during the race was Cedric ("Spike") Howell, an Australian who flew with 45 Sqn RFC/RAF in Italy and who scored 19 victories and was awarded the DFC, DSO and a MC. Spike is a bit of a 'forgotten man' and it would be nice to see him get some recognition.

Amanda Rebbeck says:

Hi Neil Thank you for your comment. You are quite right about Captain Howell being one of the 'forgetten men' of the England-to-Australia air race. Unfortunately the main reason for this is that the Memorial does not hold any items in its collection relating to Howell or his exploits as a pilot. We would be very interested however, in representing Howell in our collection, and to receive any historical material that you may be aware of that relates to him. In saying this i did manage to find one photograph of Howell amongst a donation of material relating to another First World War flyer. I've used this image to illustrate a post on Captain Howell, which you can read here. Regards Amanda Rebbeck

Mick Breen

I also attended St Stanislaus College from 1966 to 1969 and at that time Raymond's plane was stored in a specially built three sided shed (not exactly a hanger). From memory the wings were hanging up on the back wall. I often wondered how anyone could possibly fly a plane like that all the way from England !

Steve Farrelly

If anyone has any info on Thomas Kay or George Matthews who also flew in this race about their lives afterwards, would you pls contact me on farrelly.s@bigpond.com. I believe Tom Kay ended up working for Shell in Qld.

Michaela

Hi, I'm Michaela Bennetts and Thomas Kay is my great Grandpa his son his Len Kay. I love this blog. Michaela

Barry Hayes

Last I knew was that Tom Kay's son John moved from Corinella Vic. recently to live with his son in Queensland. They both worked for Mobil at one stage. John is in his 80s, married to Beth, and very fit. You might be able to trace John better than I. We had lots of talks after he asked me to find out the final demise of the Sopwith Wallaby, which crashed near Yass in circa 1927. I had mentioned Tom in my/my brother's book, Billy Stutt and the Richmond Flyboys, as one of the planes in the 1919 race included two chaps who trained at Richmond in 1916 - David Williams and Garnsey Potts. Barry Hayes

Wendy Kay

To Steve, Hi, I'm the granddaughter of Tom Kay. I'm not sure if you ever received the information about Pop Kay you needed, but should you require more, my father, Len, the brother of John, would be happy to provide it. Sincerely Wendy

Steve

I've rung Len a few times Wendy and left messages but haven't yet spoken with him. I'd love to get in touch. I have met John and beth Kay and Barry Hayes before has been magnificent. Can you email me on farrelly.s@bigpond.com and let me know how best and when to get in touch? Steve

John Bergin

Hi to all the Kay's, I'm descended from Tom's brother John so would love to share any further information or photos etc . I have a great photo of Tom's father and grandfather outside their blacksmith's business in Springhill/Creswick. Contact me at iaf@optusnet.com,au Cheers.......John