On 13 August 1940 an RAAF Lockheed Hudson aircraft crashed near the Canberra aerodrome, killing all passengers and crew on board. This crash was to have a significant impact on the Australian government as the passengers on board included three cabinet ministers: Geoffrey Street, Minister for the Army and Repatriation; James Fairbairn, Minster for Air and Civil Aviation; and Sir Henry Gullett, Minister of Scientific and Industrial Research. Also killed was General Sir Cyril Brudenell White, Chief of the General Staff. The deaths of the three ministers severely weakened Robert Menzies’s United Australia Party (UAP) and contributed to its fall in 1941.

As the air crash took place only a month before the September 1940 federal election, no by-elections were held. Sir Henry Gullet’s seat of Henty was lost to Arthur Coles, one of two independents now holding the balance of power in the House of Representatives. In October 1941 both independents crossed the floor in a no-confidence motion against the UAP, and in doing so installed John Curtin of the Australian Labor Party as prime minster.

Two RAAF personnel on guard duty at the crash site Two RAAF personnel on guard duty at the crash site P02295.001

An armed RAAF guard was placed on the main road and near the scene of the crash, to protect the aircraft’s contents, including personal possessions and classified documents, from the many sightseers who rushed to the scene of the disaster.

This rotor flywheel was recovered from the wreck of the Lockheed Hudson by Harold Smith, an RAAF instrument-maker stationed in Canberra at the time of the crash. He had been placed on guard duty at the crash site.