Biography

Birth date: 09 February 1897
Birth place: Australia: Queensland, Brisbane
Death date: 06 November 1935
Death place: Burma
Final rank: Sapper
Service number: 1017 - First World War, 1914-1918

Australia's most famous aviator, Charles Kingsford-Smith was born in Brisbane on 9 February 1897. He enlisted in the AIF in February 1915 and, after a brief period in the artillery, was posted to the 2nd Division as a signaller. He served on Gallipoli and then in Egypt and France as a dispatch rider. In October 1916, as a sergeant, Kingsford-Smith transferred to the Australian Flying Corps. In March 1917 he was discharged from the AIF and commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps. Having been promoted to flying officer, he was posted to No. 23 Squadron in France in July 1917. Shot down and wounded a month later, Kingsford-Smith was awarded the Military Cross, having shot down four German aircraft in his first month of operational flying.

Kingsford-Smith was promoted to lieutenant in April 1918 and served as an instructor for the rest of the war. In the years after the war, he worked in varying capacities as a pilot, including a brief period as a stunt flyer in California, before joining the fledgling aviation industry in Australia.

In 1927 he and his flying partner, Charles Ulm, became the first airmen to fly around Australia. The following year, with the support of wealthy businessmen and government grant money - Kingsford-Smith, Ulm and two Americans, Harry Lyon and Jim Warner, became the first airmen to cross the Pacific. The following August, Kingsford Smith and his crew flew the Southern Cross from Point Cook to Perth and, shortly afterwards, from Sydney to Christchurch, becoming the first airmen to cross the Tasman Sea. His next aerial adventure, a planned flight to England ended in disaster when he made a forced landing in remote north-western Australia. Rescued after more than two weeks in the wilderness, Kingsford-Smith and his crew resumed the journey, eventually breaking the record for a flight between Australia and England.

In England, he and Ulm purchased a fleet of four aircraft with which to open an inter-capital air service in Australia. Australian National Airways, as the company was called, commenced operations in January 1930. Business interests in Australia notwithstanding, Kingsford-Smith made an east-west crossing of the Atlantic, receiving a rousing welcome in New York in June 1930. In October he broke the record for a flight between England and Australia, and in November was made an air commodore.

In 1932 he received a knighthood for his services to aviation but he was dogged by business failures and periods of ill-health. In May 1935 he began a trans-Tasman airmail service. But for the bravery of his co-pilot who climbed out onto the wing of their aircraft over the Tasman Sea to repair a damaged engine, the inaugural flight would have ended in disaster.

On 6 November 1935, he and another airman, J. T. Pethybridge, took off from England in an attempt to break yet another aviation record, but the pair were lost when their aircraft crashed into the sea off Burma.

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Rolls and Awards

  • Rank: Sapper
  • Date of embarkation: 31 May 1915
  • Place of embarkation: Sydney

Collection Items

Photograph

Digitised Collection

Timeline

Date of birth 1897-02-09 Bisbane, QLD.
Date and unit at enlistment (ORs) 1915-02-10 Enlisted in the AIF.
Other 1915-02-10 Posted as a sapper to the 4th Light Horse Regiment,
Date of embarkation 1915-05-31
Other 1916-10 As a sergeant Kingsford Smith transferred into the Australian Flying Corps.
Other 1917-03-16 Discharged from the AIF and commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps.
Date promoted 1917-07 Promoted to flying officer and posted to No. 23 Squadron in France.
Date wounded 1917-08 Shot down during an operation, resulting in the need to amputate three of his toes. He recieved the Military Cross for his actions.
Date promoted 1918-04 Promoted to lieutenant and served for the rest of the war as an instructor.
Other 1927 He and his flying partner Charles Ulm became the first airmen to fly around Australia.
Other 1928 Kingsford Smith, Ulm, and two Americans, Harry Lyon and Jim Warner, became the first airmen to cross the Pacific.
Date of honour or award 1928-06-19 Air Force Cross. Recieved for first trans-pacific flight.
Other 1930-01 Started a company with Ulm, Australian National Airways.
Other 1930-06 Completed an east-west crossing of the Atlantic landing in the United States.
Other 1930-10 Broke the record for a flight between England and Australia.
Date promoted 1930-11 Made air commodore.
Date of honour or award 1932-06-03 Became Knight Bachelor. Kingsford-Smith was knighted for services to aviation.
Date of death 1935-11-06 Kingsford-Smith and another airman, J T Pethybridge, took off from England in an attempt to break yet another aviation record, but the pair were lost when their aircraft crashed into the sea off Burma.