HEROES OF THE SKIES

The Smith Brothers and the Great Air Race of 1919

The stories that make us.

The stories that make us.

WHERE IT BEGAN

Mutooroo homestead circa 1900, about which Jessie Smith said ‘I spent 22 very happy years there, and it was a grand experience’. SLSA: PRG 18/2/3

Mutooroo homestead circa 1900, about which Jessie Smith said ‘I spent 22 very happy years there, and it was a grand experience’. SLSA: PRG 18/2/3

Mutooroo homestead circa 1900, about which Jessie Smith said ‘I spent 22 very happy years there, and it was a grand experience’. SLSA: PRG 18/2/3

RESILIENCE BORN AT MUTOOROO STATION

Mutooroo was also a much loved home for the Smith family. The boys spent their childhood on the station, with schooling provided by the station bookkeeper, George Bullwinkel. Later at boarding school, Ross and Keith eagerly awaited the school holidays to return home, with their bags packed a week beforehand.

Mutooroo Station covers some 7,770 square kilometres in far north South Australia. Andrew Smith was its highly regarded manager for some 42 years, and was considered to be responsible for some of the finest pastoral work in South Australia. He improved an arid region of saltbush and bluebush with only 20 cm of annual rainfall into a productive wool country capable of shearing 130,000 sheep a year.

Poem by Andrew Honan Barrier Miner 26 November 1924. SLSA South Australiana Collection

Poem by Andrew Honan Barrier Miner 26 November 1924. SLSA: South Australiana Collection

Poem by Andrew Honan Barrier Miner 26 November 1924. SLSA: South Australiana Collection

They learnt to ride anything from a horse to a camel or a bullock, and also learnt bushcraft.

His experience flying over the deserts of Sinai and the mountains of Palestine during the war won Ross the reputation of being the smartest observer on the Eastern Front.

Jessie Smith, with her husband Andrew Smith, and son Ross Smith, enjoying a family picnic at Mutooroo Station, South Australia. Ross is leaning against a car, and is wearing his Air Force uniform and holding a rifle, 1920. SLSA: PRG 18/2/14

Jessie Smith, with her husband Andrew Smith, and son Ross Smith, enjoying a family picnic at Mutooroo Station, South Australia. Ross is leaning against a car, and is wearing his Air Force uniform and holding a rifle, 1920. SLSA: PRG 18/2/14

Jessie Smith, with her husband Andrew Smith, and son Ross Smith, enjoying a family picnic at Mutooroo Station, South Australia. Ross is leaning against a car, and is wearing his Air Force uniform and holding a rifle, 1920. SLSA: PRG 18/2/14

Ross Smith at Mutooroo Station, circa 1912. SLSA: PRG 18/3/2/45

Ross Smith at Mutooroo Station, circa 1912. SLSA: PRG 18/3/2/45

Ross Smith at Mutooroo Station, circa 1912. SLSA: PRG 18/3/2/45

Bales of Mutooroo wool being transported in a Chevrolet truck from the station circa 1927.The merino sheep on Mutooroo were bred hardy enough to walk long distances to water. SLSA: B 61990

Bales of Mutooroo wool being transported in a Chevrolet truck from the station circa 1927. The merino sheep on Mutooroo were bred hardy enough to walk long distances to water. SLSA: B 61990

Bales of Mutooroo wool being transported in a Chevrolet truck from the station circa 1927. The merino sheep on Mutooroo were bred hardy enough to walk long distances to water. SLSA: B 61990

A Parliamentary working party visited Mutooroo Station to inspect its water supply in 1927. Perseverance dam took 10 years to construct. SLSA: B 61988

A Parliamentary working party visited Mutooroo Station to inspect its water supply in 1927. Perseverance dam took 10 years to construct. SLSA: B 61988

A Parliamentary working party visited Mutooroo Station to inspect its water supply in 1927. Perseverance dam took 10 years to construct. SLSA: B 61988

The Mutooroo Pastoral Company Limited after fifty years is a 57 page history of the station by William Findlay (Adelaide: The Company 1951). SLSA South Australiana Collection

The Mutooroo Pastoral Company Limited after fifty years is a 57 page history of the station by William Findlay (Adelaide: The Company1951). SLSA: South Australiana Collection

The Mutooroo Pastoral Company Limited after fifty years is a 57 page history of the station by William Findlay (Adelaide: The Company1951). SLSA: South Australiana Collection

The Mutooroo Pastoral Company Limited after fifty years is a 57 page history of the station by William Findlay (Adelaide: The Company 1951). SLSA South Australiana Collection

The Mutooroo Pastoral Company Limited after fifty years is a 57 page history of the station by William Findlay (Adelaide: The Company1951). SLSA: South Australiana Collection

The Mutooroo Pastoral Company Limited after fifty years is a 57 page history of the station by William Findlay (Adelaide: The Company1951). SLSA: South Australiana Collection

Ross Smith standing fourth from left in the Australian Mounted Cadets, 1910. SLSA: PRG 18/1/21

Ross Smith standing fourth from left in the Australian Mounted Cadets, 1910. SLSA: PRG 18/1/21

Ross Smith standing fourth from left in the Australian Mounted Cadets, 1910. SLSA: PRG 18/1/21

LIGHTING THE SPARK

In 1910, as a 17 year old, Ross Smith was selected in a group of 24 Australian Horse Cadets for a five month overseas tour. The cadets visited military establishments in Great Britain, Europe, the United States and Canada, meeting distinguished people including King Edward VII and former President Theodore Roosevelt.

Ross was fortunate that his parents were able to afford this trip, which probably gave him an advantage for promotion when he began his military career. It certainly qualified him to enlist in the first intake for World War One, which required some military experience.

Ross visited Brooklands, the birthplace of aviation and motor sport in England.

The following quote is a reminiscence of this tour by a fellow cadet Clifford Harding Browne appeared in the Queen’s College magazine of December 1928.

The party had been organised to provide an opportunity for a number of boys to see something of the world before settling down to the serious business of life. Ross Smith was one of our party, and throughout the trip it was my good fortune to have much of his company.

August 1 in England is a Bank Holiday. A large motor race meeting was to be held at Brooklands motor track, and there was to be an exhibition of aeroplanes in action, and neither of us had seen an aeroplane, for none had been seen in Australia at that date.

There were some of the hardy pioneers of the air demonstrating at Brooklands that day. Blondeau went out on a Farman biplane and circled around the oval, and I don’t think was ever more than 100 feet up. Coronnier went up in a Hauriot monoplane, rose for a short distance, and fell abruptly into a creek which flowed through the grounds.
~ Clifford Harding Browne
The Times of 20 July 1910 refers to the event that Ross would attend. Vickers Aviation Ltd would later establish their business at Brooklands in 1911. SLSA Times Digital Archive

The Times of 20 July 1910 refers to the event that Ross would attend. Vickers Aviation Ltd would later establish their businessat Brooklands in 1911. SLSA: Times Digital Archive

The Times of 20 July 1910 refers to the event that Ross would attend. Vickers Aviation Ltd would later establish their businessat Brooklands in 1911. SLSA: Times Digital Archive

Cropped image of Ross Smith standing fourth from left in the Australian Mounted Cadets, 1910. SLSA: PRG 18/1/21

Cropped image of Ross Smith standing fourth from left in the Australian Mounted Cadets, 1910. SLSA: PRG 18/1/21

Cropped image of Ross Smith standing fourth from left in the Australian Mounted Cadets, 1910. SLSA: PRG 18/1/21

The Advertiser, 10 August 1910. SLSA: South Australiana Collection

The Advertiser, 10 August 1910. SLSA: South Australiana Collection

The Advertiser, 10 August 1910. SLSA: South Australiana Collection

Ross and mount ready for action in camp near Romani, c1916. SLSA: PRG 18/4/21/37

Ross and mount ready for action in camp near Romani, c1916. SLSA: PRG 18/4/21/37

Ross and mount ready for action in camp near Romani, c1916. SLSA: PRG 18/4/21/37

IN THE HOT SEAT, FROM SADDLE TO COCKPIT

It was no accident that the recruits for the newly formed Australian Flying Corps were largely found from the Light Horse brigades. Riding a horse and flying a plane demand respect, courage, physical balance, and understanding of how the individual horse or plane best functions, and what its individual quirks and pitfalls are.

An exquisite community grows up between machine and pilot; each, as it were, merges into the other. The machine is rudimentary and the pilot the intellectual force. The aeroplane is the nearest thing to animate life that man has created. In the air a machine ceases indeed to be a mere piece of mechanism; it becomes animate and is capable not only of primary guidance and control, but actually of expressing a pilot’s temperament. Aeroplanes are like horses in some respects and if I fly a machine much I always get very attached to it.
~ Ross writes eloquently about flying in his book.
Ross named his horses Tango and Two-Step after dances, c1916. SLSA: PRG 18/4/21/89

Ross named his horses Tango and Two-Step after dances, c1916. SLSA: PRG 18/4/21/89

Ross named his horses Tango and Two-Step after dances, c1916. SLSA: PRG 18/4/21/89

Shutting off both engines, we glided down, and I held up the machine so that we were going as slowly as possible—only about forty miles an hour. The sensation was akin to the captain navigating a vessel in uncharted shoaling seas—expecting every moment to feel a bump.
~ Ross wrote about flying in heavy cloud over mountains and having to fly by instinct.

Background image: Men and horses of the 9th Light Horse Brigade taking time out in the sea in the Middle East, c1916. SLSA: B 70023/3

Men and horses of the 9th Light Horse Brigade taking time out in the sea in the Middle East, c1916. SLSA: B 70023/3

LAWRENCE AND THE ARABIAN DESERT

Ross Smith, the first Australian airman to fly over Jerusalem

Ross Smith was the first Australian airman to fly over Jerusalem, after which he acquired the nickname ‘Hadji’, a title given to pilgrims both Christian and Muslim who have travelled to their holy cities of Jerusalem or Mecca, and which is also used as an honorary title of respect.

A lot of the country is under cultivation. It was quite like a picture from the Bible. Lots of Bedouin camps with their flocks of goats and some men ploughing, one chap had two camels in his plough, tandem. Others were sowing grain but not the way we do it, they just had a dish and were throwing the grain out with their hands.
~ Having lived on arid farming land, Ross Smith was interested to note in his diary.
The vocabulary of Beduin dialect. To be carried in the coat pocket by all pilots and observers on desert reconnaissance. Barr Smith Library Archives and Special Collections

The vocabulary of Beduin dialect. To be carried in the coat pocket by all pilots and observers on desert reconnaissance. Barr Smith Library Archives and Special Collections

The vocabulary of Beduin dialect. To be carried in the coat pocket by all pilots and observers on desert reconnaissance. Barr Smith Library Archives and Special Collections

The vocabulary of Beduin dialect. Barr Smith Library Archives and Special Collections

The vocabulary of Beduin dialect. Barr Smith Library Archives and Special Collections

The vocabulary of Beduin dialect. Barr Smith Library Archives and Special Collections

This was his first meeting with Colonel TE Lawrence ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ who described a later encounter with Ross ‘my old pilot’ in his memoir, Seven pillars of wisdom:

Meanwhile it was breakfast time with a smell of sausage in the air. We sat round, very ready: but the watcher on the tower yelled ‘Aeroplane up’. Ross Smith, with his observer, leaped into his machine and climbed like a cat up the sky. Ross Smith fastened on the big one, and after five minutes of sharp machine-gun rattle, the German dived suddenly. Five minutes later Ross Smith was back, and jumped gaily out of his machine, swearing that the Arab front was the place. Our sausages were still hot; we ate them and drank tea…’
~ TE Lawrence
An illustration of TE Lawrence, from his book Seven pillars of wisdom:a triumph (London, Cape 1935). SLSA: Reference Collection

An illustration of TE Lawrence, from his book Seven pillars of wisdom: a triumph (London, Cape 1935). SLSA: Reference Collection

An illustration of TE Lawrence, from his book Seven pillars of wisdom: a triumph (London, Cape 1935). SLSA: Reference Collection

Ross Smith's written codes for communicating events should he be forced to land. Barr Smith Library Archives and Special Collections

Ross Smith's written codes for communicating events should he be forced to land. Barr Smith Library Archives and Special Collections

Ross Smith's written codes for communicating events should he be forced to land. Barr Smith Library Archives and Special Collections

THE AVIATORS

Lieutenant Keith Smith, Captain Ross Smith, and Sergeants Bennett and Shiers in England. SLSA: PRG 18/1/27

Lieutenant Keith Smith, Captain Ross Smith, and Sergeants Bennett and Shiers in England. SLSA: PRG 18/1/27

Lieutenant Keith Smith, Captain Ross Smith, and Sergeants Bennett and Shiers in England. SLSA: PRG 18/1/27

ROSS SMITH

The golden haired boy

Ross Smith was handsome, charming, charismatic, modest, diplomatic and respected by all. He had an aura of confidence that made anything seem possible. Who knows what he would have gone on to achieve had his life not been cut so short?

Born on 4 December 1892 in Semaphore, at Queen’s School Ross was an outstanding sportsman, captaining the cricket and football teams. After school, he worked for Harris Scarfe as a warehouseman. Ross grew up in a socially well-connected family – he loved dancing and celebratory ‘fizz’.

When war broke out, Ross enlisted as a private in the 3rd Light Horse Regiment AIF in August 1914. He was promoted Sergeant while still at Morphettville training camp, leaving with his horse for Egypt in October. He was in the thick of the action in the trenches of Gallipoli in May 1915, then led a machine gun section in Egypt with distinction.

Ross joined the Australian Flying Corps in October 1916, qualifying as an observer and then as a pilot, winning accolade after accolade. Appointed Captain in September 1917 he was a popular commander of 60 officers and men. ‘His smile was one of the sunniest things in Palestine’, wrote the Australian war correspondent.

To us, who first knew him in khaki, he was a solid lump of a chap, five feet 10 inches high, fair and fresh complexioned. For an Aussie he had a fine command of English and an unusually impressive diction. He had a lovable smile, was intensely athletic and was man all through. He was not a seeker of the other sex, but women found him fascinating. He did not avoid them. A leader born, he was absolutely fearless. He was thrice valuable on the Eastern Front, because, on top of his other war qualities, he was a great pilot, a deadly gunner, and he had brains. Troops of all units out on our front worshipped his name.
— So wrote tent-mate Les Sutherland in Aces and kings, his account of No. 1 Squadron Australian Flying Corps.
Ross wrote regularly to his dearest Mother or Maw, sharing fun moments like playing cricket, and expressing his emotions about a beautiful sunset and being with her. SLSA: PRG 18/17/40

Ross wrote regularly to his dearest Mother or Maw, sharing fun moments like playing cricket, and expressing his emotions about a beautiful sunset and being with her. SLSA: PRG 18/17/40

Ross wrote regularly to his dearest Mother or Maw, sharing fun moments like playing cricket, and expressing his emotions about a beautiful sunset and being with her. SLSA: PRG 18/17/40

Ross wrote regularly to his dearest Mother or Maw, sharing fun moments like playing cricket, and expressing his emotions about ta beautiful sunset and being with her. SLSA: PRG 18/17/40

Ross wrote regularly to his dearest Mother or Maw, sharing fun moments like playing cricket, and expressing his emotions about a beautiful sunset and being with her. SLSA: PRG 18/17/40

Ross wrote regularly to his dearest Mother or Maw, sharing fun moments like playing cricket, and expressing his emotions about a beautiful sunset and being with her. SLSA: PRG 18/17/40

Ross was the most decorated Australian airman of World War One, winning his first valuable on the Eastern Front, because, on top of Military Cross while still an observer, landing in the face of the enemy to rescue a fellow officer, c1920. SLSA: PRG 18/7/79

Ross was the most decorated Australian airman of World War One, winning his first valuable on the Eastern Front, because, on top of Military Cross while still an observer, landing in the face of the enemy to rescue a fellow officer, c1920. SLSA: PRG 18/7/79

Ross was the most decorated Australian airman of World War One, winning his first valuable on the Eastern Front, because, on top of Military Cross while still an observer, landing in the face of the enemy to rescue a fellow officer, c1920. SLSA: PRG 18/7/79

Looking every inch the sportsman at the Egyptian coastal town of Canopus on the outskirts of Alexandria, c1915. SLSA: PRG 18/56/84

Looking every inch the sportsman at the Egyptian coastal town of Canopus on the outskirts of Alexandria, c1915. SLSA: PRG 18/56/84

Looking every inch the sportsman at the Egyptian coastal town of Canopus on the outskirts of Alexandria, c1915. SLSA: PRG 18/56/84

In Ross’ attestation paper, his medical description gives his age as 21, height 5 feet 9 inches, weight 157 pounds, chest 36 inches, complexion fair, eyes green and hair fair. His distinctive marks are a vaccination, appendix scar and a tattoo of a butterfly crest on his left arm. Image courtesy of the National Archives of Australia. NAA: B2455, SMITH R P

In Ross’ attestation paper, his medical description gives his age as 21, height 5 feet 9 inches, weight 157 pounds, chest 36 inches, complexion fair, eyes green and hair fair. His distinctive marks are a vaccination, appendix scar and a tattoo of a butterfly crest on his left arm. Image courtesy of the National Archives of Australia. NAA: B2455, SMITH R P

In Ross’ attestation paper, his medical description gives his age as 21, height 5 feet 9 inches, weight 157 pounds, chest 36 inches, complexion fair, eyes green and hair fair. His distinctive marks are a vaccination, appendix scar and a tattoo of a butterfly crest on his left arm. Image courtesy of the National Archives of Australia. NAA: B2455, SMITH R P

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Ross wrote regularly to his dearest Mother or Maw, sharing fun moments like playing cricket, and expressing his emotions about a beautiful sunset and being with her. SLSA: PRG 18/17/40

Ross wrote regularly to his dearest Mother or Maw, sharing fun moments like playing cricket, and expressing his emotions about a beautiful sunset and being with her. SLSA: PRG 18/17/40

Ross wrote regularly to his dearest Mother or Maw, sharing fun moments like playing cricket, and expressing his emotions about a beautiful sunset and being with her. SLSA: PRG 18/17/40

Ross wrote regularly to his dearest Mother or Maw, sharing fun moments like playing cricket, and expressing his emotions about ta beautiful sunset and being with her. SLSA: PRG 18/17/40

Ross wrote regularly to his dearest Mother or Maw, sharing fun moments like playing cricket, and expressing his emotions about a beautiful sunset and being with her. SLSA: PRG 18/17/40

Ross wrote regularly to his dearest Mother or Maw, sharing fun moments like playing cricket, and expressing his emotions about a beautiful sunset and being with her. SLSA: PRG 18/17/40

Ross was the most decorated Australian airman of World War One, winning his first valuable on the Eastern Front, because, on top of Military Cross while still an observer, landing in the face of the enemy to rescue a fellow officer, c1920. SLSA: PRG 18/7/79

Ross was the most decorated Australian airman of World War One, winning his first valuable on the Eastern Front, because, on top of Military Cross while still an observer, landing in the face of the enemy to rescue a fellow officer, c1920. SLSA: PRG 18/7/79

Ross was the most decorated Australian airman of World War One, winning his first valuable on the Eastern Front, because, on top of Military Cross while still an observer, landing in the face of the enemy to rescue a fellow officer, c1920. SLSA: PRG 18/7/79

Looking every inch the sportsman at the Egyptian coastal town of Canopus on the outskirts of Alexandria, c1915. SLSA: PRG 18/56/84

Looking every inch the sportsman at the Egyptian coastal town of Canopus on the outskirts of Alexandria, c1915. SLSA: PRG 18/56/84

Looking every inch the sportsman at the Egyptian coastal town of Canopus on the outskirts of Alexandria, c1915. SLSA: PRG 18/56/84

In Ross’ attestation paper, his medical description gives his age as 21, height 5 feet 9 inches, weight 157 pounds, chest 36 inches, complexion fair, eyes green and hair fair. His distinctive marks are a vaccination, appendix scar and a tattoo of a butterfly crest on his left arm. Image courtesy of the National Archives of Australia. NAA: B2455, SMITH R P

In Ross’ attestation paper, his medical description gives his age as 21, height 5 feet 9 inches, weight 157 pounds, chest 36 inches, complexion fair, eyes green and hair fair. His distinctive marks are a vaccination, appendix scar and a tattoo of a butterfly crest on his left arm. Image courtesy of the National Archives of Australia. NAA: B2455, SMITH R P

In Ross’ attestation paper, his medical description gives his age as 21, height 5 feet 9 inches, weight 157 pounds, chest 36 inches, complexion fair, eyes green and hair fair. His distinctive marks are a vaccination, appendix scar and a tattoo of a butterfly crest on his left arm. Image courtesy of the National Archives of Australia. NAA: B2455, SMITH R P

Keith second from right with four other airmen from the Royal Flying Corps, 1917. SLSA: PRG 18/5/12

Keith second from right with four other airmen from the Royal Flying Corps, 1917. SLSA: PRG 18/5/12

Keith second from right with four other airmen from the Royal Flying Corps, 1917. SLSA: PRG 18/5/12

KEITH SMITH

The supreme navigator

Keith Smith was the older brother to Ross, but always deferred to him as the natural leader. Keith was highly regarded for his many fine qualities and capabilities. Along with his determination and level-headedness, he was above all loyal to his country, his colleagues and to Ross. In his later life he became a leading entrepreneur and advocate for Australian aviation.

Born on 20 December 1890 in Adelaide, after leaving Queen’s School Keith worked for station agents, Elder Smith & Co. On the outbreak of war Keith offered his services to the AIF, but was rejected on medical grounds. After corrective surgery for varicose veins, he travelled by ship to England at his own expense and joined the Royal Flying Corps as an officer cadet in July 1917. In April 1918 he was promoted to Lieutenant, and became a very useful instructor of pilots and navigators in the RAF until Armistice. By the close of the war he had flown over 443 hours.

After witnessing the test flight crash that took the lives of his brother Ross and mechanic Jim Bennett, Keith brought their embalmed bodies back to Australia for state funerals.

Later, Keith was approached to develop and promote commercial air services in Australia as an agent for Vickers, and travelled extensively on behalf of the company. While in London, Keith met up with Anita Crawford of Adelaide and they married at Kensington, England in June 1924. They had no children. For the rest of his life, Keith provided valuable service to Australian aviation. He was vice president of the British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines, a director of Qantas and Tasman Airways, and earnt a place amongst the respected industrialists of the time. The Chairman of BHP, Essington Smith, said that ‘Keith was one of the great men of the age’. Keith died on 19 December 1955 in Sydney at the age of 64 and is buried at North Road cemetery.

The success of the flight from England to Australia was due to the skills of all on board the Vimy, but it was Keith’s ability to plot their course with compass and maps with great accuracy, without other navigation aids or radio, through the most hazardous weather, that enabled the members of the crew to arrive at their destinations despite ‘flying blind’ through snow storms, battling high winds and other extremes of weather and terrain.
~ Ross Smith
Lady Smith received many telegrams and letters of condolence on Keith’s death, such as this one from the Minister of Civil Aviation. SLSA: PRG 301

Lady Smith received many telegrams and letters of condolence on Keith’s death, such as this one from the Minister of Civil Aviation. SLSA: PRG 301

Lady Smith received many telegrams and letters of condolence on Keith’s death, such as this one from the Minister of Civil Aviation. SLSA: PRG 301

Lady Smith received many telegrams and letters of condolence on Keith’s death, such as this one from the Minister of Civil Aviation. SLSA: PRG 301

Lady Smith received many telegrams and letters of condolence on Keith’s death, such as this one from the Minister of Civil Aviation. SLSA: PRG 301

Lady Smith received many telegrams and letters of condolence on Keith’s death, such as this one from the Minister of Civil Aviation. SLSA: PRG 301

Signed studio portrait of Keith, c1920. SLSA: PRG 18/53/7

Signed studio portrait of Keith, c1920. SLSA: PRG 18/53/7

Signed studio portrait of Keith, c1920. SLSA: PRG 18/53/7

Caricature of Keith, artist unknown, c1930. SLSA: PRG 18/56/60

Caricature of Keith, artist unknown, c1930. SLSA: PRG 18/56/60

Caricature of Keith, artist unknown, c1930. SLSA: PRG 18/56/60

Extract from Keith’s diary of the ‘good ship Vickers Vimy’, 1919. SLSA: PRG 18/31/1

Extract from Keith’s diary of the ‘good ship Vickers Vimy’, 1919. SLSA: PRG 18/31/1

Extract from Keith’s diary of the ‘good ship Vickers Vimy’, 1919. SLSA: PRG 18/31/1

Extract from Keith’s diary of the ‘good shipVickers Vimy’, 1919. SLSA: PRG 18/31/1

Extract from Keith’s diary of the ‘good shipVickers Vimy’, 1919. SLSA: PRG 18/31/1

Extract from Keith’s diary of the ‘good shipVickers Vimy’, 1919. SLSA: PRG 18/31/1

Sir Keith and Lady Smith on their marriage in 1924. SLSA: PRG 18/14/4

Sir Keith and Lady Smith on their marriage in 1924. SLSA: PRG 18/14/4

Sir Keith and Lady Smith on their marriage in 1924. SLSA: PRG 18/14/4

Studio portrait of Anita, Lady Smith c1929, who donated the Smith Archive to the State Library of South Australia. SLSA: PRG 18/53/10

Studio portrait of Anita, Lady Smith c1929, who donated the Smith Archive to the State Library of South Australia. SLSA: PRG 18/53/10

Studio portrait of Anita, Lady Smith c1929, who donated the Smith Archive to the State Library of South Australia. SLSA: PRG 18/53/10

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Lady Smith received many telegrams and letters of condolence on Keith’s death, such as this one from the Minister of Civil Aviation. SLSA: PRG 301

Lady Smith received many telegrams and letters of condolence on Keith’s death, such as this one from the Minister of Civil Aviation. SLSA: PRG 301

Lady Smith received many telegrams and letters of condolence on Keith’s death, such as this one from the Minister of Civil Aviation. SLSA: PRG 301

Lady Smith received many telegrams and letters of condolence on Keith’s death, such as this one from the Minister of Civil Aviation. SLSA: PRG 301

Lady Smith received many telegrams and letters of condolence on Keith’s death, such as this one from the Minister of Civil Aviation. SLSA: PRG 301

Lady Smith received many telegrams and letters of condolence on Keith’s death, such as this one from the Minister of Civil Aviation. SLSA: PRG 301

Signed studio portrait of Keith, c1920. SLSA: PRG 18/53/7

Signed studio portrait of Keith, c1920. SLSA: PRG 18/53/7

Signed studio portrait of Keith, c1920. SLSA: PRG 18/53/7

Caricature of Keith, artist unknown, c1930. SLSA: PRG 18/56/60

Caricature of Keith, artist unknown, c1930. SLSA: PRG 18/56/60

Caricature of Keith, artist unknown, c1930. SLSA: PRG 18/56/60

Extract from Keith’s diary of the ‘good ship Vickers Vimy’, 1919. SLSA: PRG 18/31/1

Extract from Keith’s diary of the ‘good ship Vickers Vimy’, 1919. SLSA: PRG 18/31/1

Extract from Keith’s diary of the ‘good ship Vickers Vimy’, 1919. SLSA: PRG 18/31/1

Extract from Keith’s diary of the ‘good shipVickers Vimy’, 1919. SLSA: PRG 18/31/1

Extract from Keith’s diary of the ‘good shipVickers Vimy’, 1919. SLSA: PRG 18/31/1

Extract from Keith’s diary of the ‘good shipVickers Vimy’, 1919. SLSA: PRG 18/31/1

Sir Keith and Lady Smith on their marriage in 1924. SLSA: PRG 18/14/4

Sir Keith and Lady Smith on their marriage in 1924. SLSA: PRG 18/14/4

Sir Keith and Lady Smith on their marriage in 1924. SLSA: PRG 18/14/4

Studio portrait of Anita, Lady Smith c1929, who donated the Smith Archive to the State Library of South Australia. SLSA: PRG 18/53/10

Studio portrait of Anita, Lady Smith c1929, who donated the Smith Archive to the State Library of South Australia. SLSA: PRG 18/53/10

Studio portrait of Anita, Lady Smith c1929, who donated the Smith Archive to the State Library of South Australia. SLSA: PRG 18/53/10

Flight engineers Wally Shiers and James Bennett assessing the engine and propellerof the Vickers Vimy c1919. SLSA: PRG 18/8/7

Flight engineers Wally Shiers and James Bennett assessing the engine and propellerof the Vickers Vimy c1919. SLSA: PRG 18/8/7

Flight engineers Wally Shiers and James Bennett assessing the engine and propellerof the Vickers Vimy c1919. SLSA: PRG 18/8/7

WALLY AND JIM

The mighty mechanics

Ross and Keith knew they were incredibly fortunate to have two mechanical geniuses, who were also trusted friends, as part of their team. Without the expertise, innovation and endurance of Wally Shiers and Jim Bennett, the Vickers Vimy would not have completed the epic flight from England to Australia within 30 days.

Walter (Wally) Henry Shiers was born at Norwood in May 1889. After leaving Richmond State School, he trained as a mechanic, worked at Broken Hill mine, then started an electrical contracting business in the Riverina. Wally enlisted in New South Wales in 1915 as Trooper in the 4th Light Horse Brigade. The next year he was posted to the Australian Flying Corps as an air mechanic in Ross’ squadron. He became a Sergeant in 1919, Honorary Lieutenant in 1920, and was awarded the Air Force Medal and Bar, and the Afghanistan NWF (north-west frontier) medal in 1919.

After the Race, Wally married in 1920. He operated a garage in Sydney, then became chief engineer of Airlines of Australia ground staff. He obtained his pilot’s licence and was involved with the aviation industry in Sydney into his late 70s. Wally returned to Adelaide a few years later where he died on 2 June 1968 and is buried at Centennial Park Cemetery.

James (Jim) Mallett Bennett was born at St Kilda, Victoria in January 1894. A mechanic by training, Jim enlisted in the AIF in July 1915. He transferred to the Australian Flying Corps as air mechanic and was posted to Ross’ squadron. He became a Sergeant in 1918 and Honorary Lieutenant in 1920. Jim was mentioned in Despatches, won the Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Medal and Bar, and the Afghanistan NWF medal in 1919.

After the Great Air Race, Jim tragically lost his life in the test fight of the Vickers Viking with Ross on 13 April 1922. After lying in state at Queen’s Hall, Federal Parliament House in Melbourne, Jim’s coffin draped in full military honours was taken in procession to the St Kilda Cemetery for burial.

‘In Thailand, it was found necessary to regrind the valves on two of the cylinders of one engine; Bennett and Shiers worked all night to complete it. An electric lamp was rigged up over the engine, and all the flying ants and insects in Siam collected around it, which greatly added to the discomfort and hindrance of the work.’
~ Ross Smith wrote this during the Australian leg of the trip.
Lieutenant Walter Henry Shiers (mechanic) c1918. SLSA: B 6100

Lieutenant Walter Henry Shiers (mechanic) c1918. SLSA: B 6100

Lieutenant Walter Henry Shiers (mechanic) c1918. SLSA: B 6100

Lieutenant James Mallet Bennett (mechanic), c1910. SLSA: B 6099

Lieutenant James Mallet Bennett (mechanic), c1910. SLSA: B 6099

Lieutenant James Mallet Bennett (mechanic), c1910. SLSA: B 6099

Ross Smith, Walter Shiers and Keith Smith at Cobbs Creek SLSA: PRG 18/7/51

Ross Smith, Walter Shiers and Keith Smith at Cobbs Creek SLSA: PRG 18/7/51

Ross Smith, Walter Shiers and Keith Smith at Cobbs Creek SLSA: PRG 18/7/51

Artwork of the famous scene at a boggy Pisa where Jim ran along during take-off holding the plane’s tail down so it could lift off. Jim was able to leap on board at the last second with Wally helping him into the cockpit. SLSA: PRG 18/9/1/10D

Artwork of the famous scene at a boggy Pisa where Jim ran along during take-off holding the plane’s tail down so it could lift off. Jim was able to leap on board at the last second with Wally helping him into the cockpit. SLSA: PRG 18/9/1/10D

Artwork of the famous scene at a boggy Pisa where Jim ran along during take-off holding the plane’s tail down so it could lift off. Jim was able to leap on board at the last second with Wally helping him into the cockpit. SLSA: PRG 18/9/1/10D

James Bennett and Walter Shiers in Vickers Vimy during flight. SLSA: PRG 18/8/6

James Bennett and Walter Shiers in Vickers Vimy during flight. SLSA: PRG 18/8/6

James Bennett and Walter Shiers in Vickers Vimy during flight. SLSA: PRG 18/8/6

Item 1 of 3
Ross Smith, Walter Shiers and Keith Smith at Cobbs Creek SLSA: PRG 18/7/51

Ross Smith, Walter Shiers and Keith Smith at Cobbs Creek SLSA: PRG 18/7/51

Ross Smith, Walter Shiers and Keith Smith at Cobbs Creek SLSA: PRG 18/7/51

Artwork of the famous scene at a boggy Pisa where Jim ran along during take-off holding the plane’s tail down so it could lift off. Jim was able to leap on board at the last second with Wally helping him into the cockpit. SLSA: PRG 18/9/1/10D

Artwork of the famous scene at a boggy Pisa where Jim ran along during take-off holding the plane’s tail down so it could lift off. Jim was able to leap on board at the last second with Wally helping him into the cockpit. SLSA: PRG 18/9/1/10D

Artwork of the famous scene at a boggy Pisa where Jim ran along during take-off holding the plane’s tail down so it could lift off. Jim was able to leap on board at the last second with Wally helping him into the cockpit. SLSA: PRG 18/9/1/10D

James Bennett and Walter Shiers in Vickers Vimy during flight. SLSA: PRG 18/8/6

James Bennett and Walter Shiers in Vickers Vimy during flight. SLSA: PRG 18/8/6

James Bennett and Walter Shiers in Vickers Vimy during flight. SLSA: PRG 18/8/6

THE RACE

Cartoon by book illustrator and political cartoonist Percy Leason captioned ‘Ross Smith’s machine on the flight to Australia carries a crew of four.Rough guess at how they are employed en route’. Date unknown. Barr Smith Library Archives and Special Collections

Cartoon by book illustrator and political cartoonist Percy Leason captioned ‘Ross Smith’s machine on the flight to Australia carries a crew of four.Rough guess at how they are employed en route’. Date unknown. Barr Smith Library Archives and Special Collections

Cartoon by book illustrator and political cartoonist Percy Leason captioned ‘Ross Smith’s machine on the flight to Australia carries a crew of four.Rough guess at how they are employed en route’. Date unknown. Barr Smith Library Archives and Special Collections

AN AVIATOR'S WORK IS NEVER DONE

Ross Smith described what was required of each of the crew at the end of the day’s flying in his account of the Great Air Race, 14,000 miles through the air.

‘We adopted a set program which we always carried out religiously. Fortunately, we had talked about it before we started; each man knew exactly what he had to do, and never once was there a misunderstanding amongst our four selves. We would land tired after several hours in the air and then start on really hard work again for three or four hours every day. The temptation was always to let someone else do it and go off and rest, but other people might have done something wrong. We decided before we started that we would do all the work on the machine ourselves and as far as possible we carried this out.’
‘As soon as the machine landed Bennett and Shiers would don their overalls and set to work on the engines; on this work to a large extent depended on our success or failure.’

The engines were inspected, overhauled and cleaned, sparking plugs were taken out and cleaned, and magnetos were examined.

‘We had to run the gauntlet of functions and ceremonies, and it was difficult to make folk understand that work had to be done. We deeply appreciated every one’s generous kindness, but I fear that on some occasions people must have thought us very discourteous’.
~ Ross and Keith would ‘sweet talk’ the people who had come out to meet them.

Ross would then go to the post office to send off cables to Keith Murdoch’s United Cable Service which reached 250 newspapers around the world.

Keith and Ross would lift up to a ton of petrol in four-gallon cans up six feet into the tanks, and pour ‘Castrol’ into the oil tanks—Ross regarded these jobs as the hardest part of the flight. Tired and oily, they put the covers over the cockpit and pegged the machine down for the night.

‘On many occasions it was 9 or 10 pm before we left the machine for the night; we would then go off to either a hotel or some kind friend’s house, bathe, dine, and in due course—to bed. Each day we arose at 4.30 am and we never once had more than five hours’ sleep a night, usually it was about four. Add to this the thrill, excitement, and strain of the whole race against time and one realizes that it is fortunate that we had gone into training and got ourselves very fit before leaving England.’
Ross and Keith Smith (centre) and James Bennett (right, behind wing), posing with the Vickers Vimy at Surabaya, Indonesia, 7/12/1919. SLSA: PRG 18/7/32
 Ross and Keith Smith and James Bennett the Vickers Vimy. SLSA: PRG 18/7/32
 Ross and Keith Smith and James Bennett the Vickers Vimy. SLSA: PRG 18/7/32
Supplies ready for loading in Delhi between 25 and 27 November 1919. SLSA: PRG 18/7/11B
The Governor, Sir Henry Galway watches the Vickers Vimy flying over the towers of the Adelaide Town Hall and the GPOon 23 March at 1.55pm when cannons were fired. SLSA: PRG 280/1/22/354

The Governor, Sir Henry Galway watches the Vickers Vimy flying over the towers of the Adelaide Town Hall and the GPO on 23 March at 1.55pm when cannons were fired. SLSA: PRG 280/1/22/354

The Governor, Sir Henry Galway watches the Vickers Vimy flying over the towers of the Adelaide Town Hall and the GPO on 23 March at 1.55pm when cannons were fired. SLSA: PRG 280/1/22/354

Map by William Herbert Edmunds showing the landing place of the Vickers Vimy at Northfield Aerodrome, 1926. SLSA Map collection

Map by William Herbert Edmunds showing the landing place of the Vickers Vimy at Northfield Aerodrome, 1926. SLSA: Map collection

Map by William Herbert Edmunds showing the landing place of the Vickers Vimy at Northfield Aerodrome, 1926. SLSA: Map collection

HOME AT LAST

The return to Adelaide

Returning to Adelaide was the moment that Ross had anticipated for so long during the flight.

People stood on boxes to gain a better view of the Vimy at Captain Harry Butler’s aerodrome at Northfield. SLSA: PRG 280/1/19/55

People stood on boxes to gain a better view of the Vimy at Captain Harry Butler’s aerodrome at Northfield. SLSA: PRG 280/1/19/55

People stood on boxes to gain a better view of the Vimy at Captain Harry Butler’s aerodrome at Northfield. SLSA: PRG 280/1/19/55

I flew the machine on to Adelaide, my native city, and thus realized to the full my ambition and dream of flying from London to my own home. It would be hard indeed to comprehend the feelings that surged through me as I landed the Vimy on the sod of my native city—the recognition of familiar faces; the greeting of well-known voices; the hand-clasp of innumerable friends; but, greatest of all, the reunion with my parents after five long years.
~ Ross Smith
My brother Keith shares equally any worthiness that the effort might merit, as also do my two master mechanics, Sergeants Bennett and Shiers, whose loyalty and devotion to duty have done much to bind closer the outposts of the Empire through the trails of the skies.
~ Ross Smith
Staff at Elders painted a huge ‘K’ for Keith on the roof of his workplaceElder House in Currie Street, taken by Frank Hurley. SLSA: B 74368/35

Staff at Elders painted a huge ‘K’ for Keith on the roof of his workplace Elder House in Currie Street, taken by Frank Hurley. SLSA: B 74368/35

Staff at Elders painted a huge ‘K’ for Keith on the roof of his workplace Elder House in Currie Street, taken by Frank Hurley. SLSA: B 74368/35

Extract from The Register 24 March 1920 page 9. SLSA: South Australiana Collection

Extract from The Register 24 March 1920 page 9. SLSA: South Australiana Collection

Extract from The Register 24 March 1920 page 9. SLSA: South Australiana Collection

Extract from The Register 24 March 1920 page 9. SLSA: South Australiana Collection

Extract from The Register 24 March 1920 page 9-2. SLSA: South Australiana Collection

Extract from The Register 24 March 1920 page 9-2. SLSA: South Australiana Collection

Extract from The Register 24 March 1920 page 9-3. SLSA: South Australiana Collection

Extract from The Register 24 March 1920 page 9-3. SLSA: South Australiana Collection

Extract from The Register 24 March 1920 page 9-3. SLSA: South Australiana Collection

Item 1 of 3
Extract from The Register 24 March 1920 page 9. SLSA: South Australiana Collection

Extract from The Register 24 March 1920 page 9. SLSA: South Australiana Collection

Extract from The Register 24 March 1920 page 9. SLSA: South Australiana Collection

Extract from The Register 24 March 1920 page 9. SLSA: South Australiana Collection

Extract from The Register 24 March 1920 page 9-2. SLSA: South Australiana Collection

Extract from The Register 24 March 1920 page 9-2. SLSA: South Australiana Collection

Extract from The Register 24 March 1920 page 9-3. SLSA: South Australiana Collection

Extract from The Register 24 March 1920 page 9-3. SLSA: South Australiana Collection

Extract from The Register 24 March 1920 page 9-3. SLSA: South Australiana Collection

AFTERWARDS

The crash was shown in The Illustrated London News of 22 April 1922. SLSA Reference Collection

The crash was shown in The Illustrated London News of 22 April 1922. SLSA: Reference Collection

The crash was shown in The Illustrated London News of 22 April 1922. SLSA: Reference Collection

THE FATEFUL CRASH

After their triumphant England to Australia flight, Ross and Keith planned an ambitious round-the-world flight in a Vickers Viking single-engine amphibian aeroplane. The route would take them from the south coast of England east through France, over the Red Sea to India, Japan, Alaska, then either Halifax or New York, and back to France.

The brothers asked Jim Bennett to join them as mechanic, but not the newly married Wally Shiers, as Keith considered the risky flight fit only for single men.

One of the last photographs of Ross at left with his brother Keith at Brooklands in April 1922. SLSA: PRG 18/13/1

One of the last photographs of Ross at left with his brother Keith at Brooklands in April 1922. SLSA: PRG 18/13/1

One of the last photographs of Ross at left with his brother Keith at Brooklands in April 1922. SLSA: PRG 18/13/1

On 13 April 1922 an early morning test flight of the Viking was organised at Brooklands aerodrome in Surrey. Because Ross had never flown that Viking before, he first went up as an observer with an experienced pilot. Then Ross took the controls with Jim Bennett on board, Keith having been delayed and arriving shortly after the plane took off. Keith was devastated to watch the Viking go into a spin and head straight to earth several minutes later, something which affected him for the rest of his life. An inquest into the tragedy was held with the verdict declared as ‘death by misadventure’.

Telegram from Keith to his parents at Mutooroo Station. SLSA: PRG 18/65 kindly donated by John Adamson

Telegram from Keith to his parents at Mutooroo Station. SLSA: PRG 18/65 kindly donated by John Adamson

Telegram from Keith to his parents at Mutooroo Station. SLSA: PRG 18/65 kindly donated by John Adamson

The shocking news spread quickly around the world. Messages of sympathy flooded into Keith and his parents from dignitaries, celebrities and ordinary people touched by the tragedy. A memorial service was held for Ross in a hangar at Vickers works, Weybridge, and Keith accompanied the embalmed bodies of his brother and Jim Bennett back to Australia

SOUTH AUSTRALIA MOURNS A FAVOURITE SON

The unexpected and tragic death of Sir Ross Smith plunged South Australia into mourning. He was the first person other than a Governor to be accorded a lying- in-state in South Australia.

‘Before Ross died he belonged to us, but now he belongs to the Empire’.
~ Jessie Smith, mother of Ross Smith.

His state funeral on 15 June 1922 was the largest ever seen in Adelaide. It took place in St Peter’s Cathedral, after which the funeral cortege of more than a hundred vehicles proceeded to the North Road Cemetery, with huge crowds of people lining the route. Businesses closed and traffic lay silent.

Crowds lining the procession led by mounted police from the cathedral to North Road cemetery. SLSA: PRG 280/1/36/344

Crowds lining the procession led by mounted police from the cathedral to North Road cemetery. SLSA: PRG 280/1/36/344

Crowds lining the procession led by mounted police from the cathedral to North Road cemetery. SLSA: PRG 280/1/36/344

It is said that one in five South Australians attended, while draped aeroplanes circled overhead. A country student from Rose Park remembers missing a day’s school to attend the funeral.

‘His teacher was annoyed but his mother insisted it was an educational occasion’.

Since then there has been a commemorative service for Ross each year at North Road Cemetery.

Andrew and Jessie and Keith Smith stand as the last post is sounded at the burial plot at North Road Cemetery. Pipers played a lament in honour of Ross’ Scottish heritage. SLSA: B 899
Catafalque guard LAC Richards, ACI Story, ACI Wood and ACI Hawks at the garlanded casket above the chancel steps in the sanctuary. SLSA: SRG 94/A1/71/26
The flower laden bier with Ross’ goggles and gloves on his flag draped coffin passing the Children’s Hospital. SLSA: B 876