Captain Cedric Howell
Personal Stories, The England to Australia Air Race
Captain Cedric Howell was one of Australia’s greatest fighter pilots. Initially serving as a sniper with No. 46 Battalion he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in March 1917; part of the original group of 200 Australians recruited from the AIF. He joined No. 45 Squadron, RFC and saw active service with this unit in France and Italy.
Howell claimed nineteen victories during his active service and received the Distinguished Service Order, Military Cross and Distinguished Flying Cross for his skill, gallantry and determination as a patrol leader. On one occasion he took on a formation of fifteen enemy machines, destroying four of them and bringing another down out of control. Two days later he destroyed another enemy machine and on the following day he led three machines against sixteen enemy scouts, destroying two. It was for these events that Howell was awarded the DSO.
After being demobilized in July 1919, Howell was nominated by Martinsyde Ltd, as the pilot of their Martinsyde A1, G-EAMR, for the England-to-Australia air race. A prize of £10,000 had been offered by the Australian government for the first successful flight. He was to be accompanied by fellow Australian, Lieutenant George Henry Fraser, a qualified navigator and engineer.
Howell and Fraser took off from Hounslow aerodrome on 4 December 1919. They were dogged by bad weather before landing at Dijon, France. The next day they reached Pisa, Italy, where they fitted a new tail skid to the aircraft and on 6 December they reached Naples. At noon on 9 December they left Taranto for Athens. At 7.30 p.m. the plane was reported flying over St George's Bay, Corfu, in semi-darkness. A local innkeeper stated that the aircraft circled St. George’s Bay four times, endeavouring to find a landing place. He then saw the machine land in the water about 230 metres from the shore, and heard two distinct voices calling for help. As the weather was rough he was unable to put out in his boat, but walked down to the coast with a lantern to show the coast. After an hour the cries ceased. In the morning, as soon as it was daylight, the innkeeper saw the aeroplane still afloat with no one, apparently, in it.
Some days later Howell’s body was washed ashore. He was dressed in two sweaters and pants; he had taken his flying clothes and boots off. His watch was also found on him, which had stopped at 2.50, presumably am. He was buried with full military honours by the English chaplain, the Reverend Page, at the foot of the Aphiona Mountain, at the northern end of St. George’s Bay. Lieutenant Fraser was reported on 17 December as having been lost at sea, and was officially posted as missing.
Many conflicting reports were given concerning the loss of the aircraft and crew. Some effects, including the log, were later recovered from the aircraft, confirming that the A1 had left Taranto at 11.15 am on December 9th with 155 gallons of petrol on board. It was also established that there was an adverse wind which increased in force during the day. However it is conjecture that Howell endeavoured to reach the African coast and on finding that he could not do so in daylight, turned back with the idea of reaching Taranto, an aerodrome which he knew well. But evidently he attempted to make a landing near St. George’s Bay.
Howell's remains were exhumed in February 1920 and returned to Australia. On 22 April 1920 he was buried with full military honours in Heidelberg cemetery, Victoria. In 1930 Fraser's fate was formally promulgated "Died at sea, San Georgia Bay, Corfu, 9/12/1919 – wreck of aeroplane." He is commemorated on the Australian War Memorial's Roll of Honour, while Captain Howell's name is recorded in the Commemorative Roll. Lieutenant Fraser's body has never been found.