England-Australia Air Race - 1919

In 1919 the Australian Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Billy Hughes, impressed by the potential for aviation in Australia, offered on behalf of the Commonwealth Government a prize of £10,000 for the first Australians to fly an aircraft from England to Australia. The race was to be conducted under the supervision of, and rules drawn up by, the Royal Aero Club. The rules stipulated, inter alia, that the flight had to be conducted within a period of 30 consecutive days and concluded before midnight on 31 December 1920.

A total of six entries started in the race, plus Frenchman Etiennne Poulet who departed from Paris for Australia ahead of the pack but had to withdraw from his attempt to fly to Australia at Moulmein, Burma. The first Australian entry to depart was the Vickers Vimy G-EAOU under the command of Captain Ross Smith which left London on 12 November 1919. The last to depart was the only other entry to actually make it to Australia - Airco DH9 G-EAQM P.D. under the command of Lieutenant Ray Parer. Parer and his co-pilot Lieutenant John McIntosh departed London on 8 January 1920 and completed their flight in an epic 206 days later, earning Parer the sobriquet "Battling Ray Parer".

The crew of Vimy G-EAOU, seen above, comprised pilots and brothers Capt Ross Smith and Lt Keith Smith, together with mechanics Sergeants Wally Shiers and Jim Bennett. Their winning flight took them 27 days 20 hours, at that time a remarkable time for the journey from England to Australia. Ross and Keith Smith were knighted, and Shiers and Bennett were awarded bars to their AFMs, and later honorary commissions.

As a result of the 1919 Air Race knowledgeable people speculated that, with relays of crews and machines, the trip from England to Australia could be reduced to five days. However, it would be another quarter century before such a service would be available to the public.


The photo above shows a statue erected to the memory of the Vimy's crew at the shelter housing the aircraft at Adelaide/West Beach Airport. From left are depicted Captain Sir Ross Smith KBE MC DFC AFC, Lieutenant Sir Keith Smith KBE, Lieutenant JM Bennett MSM AFM and Lieutenant WH Shiers AFM.

click here to download a 3 MB .pdf file


For the full story of the Vimy's epic flight to Australia, click on the image at left to download a 3 MB .pdf file, The First to Australia by H.G. Castle.

This article was originally published in 1938 by Amalgamated Press, London, in Wonders of World Aviation Vol. 1, edited by Clarence Winchester.

(Photos: Top-CAHS collection / Bottom-Phil Vabre)

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