It is acknowledged today that Sir Ross Smith was one of the world’s greatest aviators—for his ground-breaking flight from England to Australia in 1919. However, his WWI record is just as impressive! He became one of Australia’s most highly decorated servicemen and was certainly a man of great bravery.
His is a story of passion, courage, and determination; Ross’s patriotism encouraged him to save his country. He was first posted to Gallipoli on May 15th, 1915, where he remained for 5 months. He then fought in Egypt in the Battle of Romani, and finally, when he was an ace pilot based in Jerusalem, he was credited with having downed eleven Turkish planes.
Historians do not usually describe the awards conferred to pilots in any great length; however, Nelson Eustis has explained Ross Smith’s achievements in full.
The awards officially read:
11 May 1917
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when his pilot descended to the rescue of an office who had been forced to land. On landing, he held the enemy at bay with his revolver, thus enabling his pilot to rescue the officer and to fly safely away with his machine.
Bar To Military Cross
26 March 1918
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He was one of two pilots who carried out a remarkable series of photographs in one flight, covering an area of 45 square miles. On a later occasion, he successfully bombed an important bridge-head from a low altitude, and his work throughout, as well as photography, has been invaluable and characterized by the most consistent gallantry.
Distinguished Flying Cross
8 February 1919
During the month of June, 1918, these officers (Captain Smith and Lieutenant A.Kirk, D.F.C) accounted for two enemy machines, and they have been conspicuous for gallantry, and initiative attacking ground targets, frequently at low altitudes. The keenness and fine example set by these officers cannot be over-estimated.
Bar To Distinguished Flying Cross
8 February 1919
During the operations prior to October, 1918, he took part in numerous engagements involving flights of 150 to 200 miles, and succeeded in doing extensive damage to the enemy’s hangars, railways, etc. Captain Smith displayed most consistent gallantry with marked ability in all his work, whether bombing by night or day, or in personal encounters in the air. While operating with the Sheridan forces, he destroyed one enemy machine and brought down two others out of control in the desert.
Second Bar To Distinguished Flying Cross
8 February 1919
On 19 October 1918, the officer, with Lieutenant Ashley Vernon McCann as observer, engaged and drove down an enemy two-seater. As it appeared to land intact, he descended at a low altitude and, with machine-gun fire, forced the occupants to abandon the machine; he then landed alongside it and, whilst his observer covered the enemy officers, he set light to their machine and completely destroyed it. To have effected a landing in an unknown country, many miles in the rear of the enemy’s defence troops, demanded courage and skill of a very high order.
Air Force Cross
This officer accompanied Major-General Sir W.G.H. Salmond on an aerial journey from Cairo to Calcutta—a trip of 2,548 miles, in a machine that had previously flown from London to Cairo.
Order of El Nahda
This specific order was awarded by the King of Hejaz for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.
Finally, he was made a Knight Commander of the British Empire for his flight from England to Australia, which was announced on 22 December 1919.
Material sourced from: Eustis, Nelson. The Greatest Air Race: England- Australia 1919. Rigby Limited, 1969.