The year was 1919. The war was finally over. Prime Minister Billy Hughes offered £10 000 for the first Australian airmen to fly home from England in 30 days. Six crews took up the challenge in planes that were as rudimentary as they were unreliable. And who won? South Australian brothers Ross and Keith Smith, backed by mechanics Wally Shiers (SA) and Jim Bennett (Vic). Their magnificent Vickers Vimy bomber can still be seen at Adelaide airport.
The Smith Brothers
Ross and Keith Smith spent part of their childhood growing up on Mutooroo Station, near Broken Hill. They were educated in Adelaide, and in 1910, Ross joined the Australian Mounted Cadets and was selected to represent South Australia in an international tour. He enlisted in August 1914, joining the 3rd Light Horse Brigade and served in the Dardanelles and later at Romani. Following an injury he learned to fly and in 1917 he joined the Australian Flying Corps. Keith Smith joined the Royal Flying Corps in Britain in 1917.
Prime Minister Billy Huges developed the idea for the competition with an eye to the potential of aviation technology, and how it could be used to Australia's benefit. The the Commonwealth Government provided the £10 000 prize money and the Royal Aero Club drafted the rules. The challenge was to fly from England to Australia within a period of 30 consecutive days, and competitors had to arrive before midnight on 31 December 1920.
Ross flew as pilot, Keith as assistant pilot and navigator, Wally Shiers and Jim Bennett were the mechanics. The four men left Hounslow in England on 12 November 1919. The journey was difficult, they took off in bad weather, after several delays, and struck more en route making visibility poor and at times forcing Ross Smith to fly low. They were aided in their journey by the Smith brothers' knowledge of parts of the route from their war service. They flew through parts of Europe, the Middle East, India and south east Asia to the finish in Darwin.
The Smith Brothers and their crew were successful in the challenge, and the Smith brothers were knighted for their efforts. Only one of the five other groups to take up the challenge actually made it to Australia.
In 2019 we celebrate the men, the plane, and the centenary of a journey every bit as awe-inspiring as the moon landing. The History Trust of South Australia is preparing a series of programs and events to mark the 100th anniversary of the successful flight. There will be updates here and a dedicated website for the commemoration later in 2018.
The Airways Museum & Civil Aviation Historical Society, 'England-Australia Air Race - 1919', http://www.airwaysmuseum.com/Vickers%20Vimy%20G-EAOU%20crew.htm, accessed 6 April 2017
History Trust of South Australia, 'Ross Smith' in A World Away: South Australia's War, accessed 6 April 2017
State Library of South Australia, Digital Collections: 'First England-Australia Flight', http://digital.collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/nodes/view/2823, accessed 6 April 2017
We've forwarded your message Graeme.
Looking for Skye Lambert to email me to work out a place, date and time for me to show an old family photo. Thankyou. Graeme McVitty. Saturday 13 July 2019
Thanks for sharing Tom.
We are the Aviation Historical Society of Australia, NSW, and for over a year have been investigating ways of commemorating the magnificent Smith flight. We are gathering information with a view to assisting a commemorative flight from Darwin to Adelaide, to arrive on the weekend of 21-22 March, the days before the hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the Vickers Vimy in Adelaide. We have made considerable progress, and the webiste www.ahsansw.com has up to date information. If you would like to get on our email list, or have suggestions, comments etc email email@example.com.
Tom Lockley, secretary, Commemorative flight group. 0403 615 134.
Please... Sky LAMBERT... email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and let us see if arrangements can be made to suit both of us for a 'get together' at which I will have the photo.
I really ''hate saying this'' BUT... as time rattles along, photos of our childhood and youth are important. Look forward to getting the email. :-)) Graeme McVitty
I'll pass your comment & details on to the Epic Flight Centenary committee.
Hello, I am one of the Councillors who represents Northfield Ward on the City of Port Adelaide Enfield and am particularly interested in local history. The Council is intending to hold its own commemorations of this event. Could someone from HTSA please contact me by email to discuss this?
I am also keen to work out the exact location of the landing as articles I have read on this have conflicting locations for the old Northfield aerodrome. Thank you.
I'll pass your information onto the Epic Flight Centenary committee Samantha, their website should be live soon and I'm sure they'll be happy to include the information there.
Just letting you know there is also the 100th anniversary of Captain Harry Butler's flrst flight from Adelaide to Minlaton 3rd August 2019 - being celebrated at Minlaton 3rd August 2019. There will also be a book launch of our (Parsons, Battams, RIley) book 'The Red Devil: The story of South Australian Aviation Pioneer Captain Harry Butler (forthcoming, Wakefield Press). The Northfield airport where the Smith brothers landed was the first airport in SA set up by Butler and Kauper. How can we promote the anniversary of Harry Butler's feat and the book launch through the History Trust?
Hi Sky, I forwarded Leanne's details, without Graeme's permission I can't send his on, but if you'd like me to send your details as well get in touch through here or the Contact us form and I'll do that.
The Epic Flight website is just going through the final checking now, but when it is up the link below will take you to a site that has a list of events on it. I'll check back in and let people know when it's live.
Sorry I just noticed my sister has already responded. Thanks anyway :)
Joan is my mum. Gary, Ian and Helen are my Uncles and Aunty. Wally Shiers was my Pop’s Uncle. We would love to see the photo as we have been digging up more of our Shiers family history lately. Perhaps the history hub can get us in touch with each other?
I am one of a number of descendants of the Bennett Family who are related to James Mallett BENNETT. We are very interested in the dates of your celebrations as a number of us are considering attending. I also have a large framed photograph of Keith and Ross SMITH that was taken in a Brisbane studio, quite possibly when they were passing through.
I'll forward on your e-mail to Graeme so you don't have to leave it up publicly. We're always happy to put people in touch.
Hi Graeme, I am the daughter of Joan Shiers with Gary, Ian and Helen being my aunts and uncles. Wally Shiers was my great, great Uncle. If you would be happy to email me a copy of the photograph my Uncle Gary would love to add it to his family history collection.
Thanks! I'll pass that on to the Epic Flight Centenary 2019 Committee Stephen.
A collector friend of mine has a good collection of halfplate glass negatives of their arrival at Northfield, etc. He also has negatives of Harry Butler from Minlaton who was a contemporary pilot.
He is happy to make them available for displays etc
Thanks for adding that detail Peter. There's quite a bit of information being put together at the moment in the lead up to the centenary commemorations. As we add articles they'll be listed in the related content to the right of this page.
There has been no comment re South Australian input to the restoration. The plane was damaged by fire on the low-loader transporting it to Adelaide. It was taken to Parafield airfield (Government Maintenance) where the propellers were made by hand and several metal panels remade. I worked at Parafield at that time.
Hi Graeme, I'll e-mail you direct for more information.
As a native of South Australia I have recently "dug up" from old papers from the 1930s through to the 1950s, a photograph of 5 children taken during their outing... their names are:- GARY SHIERS, IAN SHIERS, HELEN SHIERS, JOAN SHIERS and Raelene and Valda WILLIAMS, Marilyn LAMPE plus lil ole me... Graeme McVitty.... if you by chance know the names, and are interested, then if you email me at "**********" I will reply with a copy of the photo attached. Cheers now... Graeme McVitty
Thanks for catching that mistake for us Mike. We'll update.
Keith Smith didn't join the RFC until July 1917 after twice being rejected b the AFC for medical reasons and making his own way to England to enlist. See http://www.saam.org.au/south-australian-airmen-of-the-great-war/ and http://www.saam.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/SAAM-Profiles-ROSS-SMI...
Thanks Gary! That's great to know.
I have donated two photos to the RSL port Noarlunga ,one is of Ross Smith funeral..and the other of Wally Shiers wedding..if you would like to follow up on these photos you will find the RSL most obliging......
Hi Kerry, I believe events are still in the planning stages, I will forward your enquiry to the committee involved. Any updates on activity will be shared on the History Trust website here: http://history.sa.gov.au/events/centenary-of-epic-flight/
Hi! I am a teacher and representing Cedar College at Northgate. We are expressing an interest re the 100 year celebrations of the historic 1919 flight, as the school is situated near the Northfield landing site and the Year 2 classes investigate the story of the flight for History. We are enquiring as to how our school might be involved in or participate in the marking of this epic event.
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