Inside Sir Ross Smith’s Diary

Take a look inside Sir Ross Smith's Great Air Race diary, and experience all the emotions he felt before, during, and after his flight half way across the world!

Date Published August 23, 2018
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Ross Smith was a fastidious man when it came to recording his thoughts in his diary. In the years 1916 to 1921, he constantly filled his personal diary. His war diary covered the years 1916-1919 and still exists today, as does the diary that he carried on his 1919 England-Australia flight!

 

Let’s take a look at some of the entries:

Diary Entry One: En-route to Lyon, November 12 

the cold grew more intense. Our hands and feet lost all feeling and our bodies became well-nigh frozen. The icy wind penetrated our thick clothing and it was with the greatest difficulty that I could work the machine. Our breaths condensed on our faces and face masks and iced up our goggles and our helmets.” 

Diary Entry Two: In Pisa, November 15 
“On our arrival at the hangers we found, to our dismay, that the aerodrome looked more like a lake than a landing ground. As we were taking off from Pisa the plane tipped forward onto the nose-skid. To overcome this difficulty Sergeant Bennett applied the whole of his weight on the tale-plane and once more opened the engines full out. Some of the Italian mechanics pulled forward on the wing tips, and this time the machine started to move forward slowly. Suddenly I realised that Bennett was not on board, but as I got the machine moving at last, I was afraid to stop her again. I felt sure he would clamber on board somehow, as I had previously told him that as soon as the machine started to move he would have to make a flying jump for it or else take the next train to Rome. We gathered speed very rapidly and, after leaving the ground, I was delighted to see Sergeant Bennett on board when I looked around”. 
Diary Entry Three: Flying over Naples, November 16 
the mighty Vesuvius was buried somewhere beneath the sea of clouds so, reluctantly, I turned away and resumed our course to Taranto. Our course now lay due east across the Apennines. From some breaks in the cloud, the sun beamed down on the vales of great loveliness. Numerous small waterfalls dashed the mountain sides and streams like silken threads rippled away through the valleys. The lower steps of the mountains were terraced, and wherever homesteads nestled, surrounded by cultivation. Sometimes we would be only a few hundred feet above the ground when crossing the crest of a ridge, then we would burst out over the valley several thousand feet deep.”

 

Shot of the front cover of Sir Ross Smith's wartime diary
Front cover of Sir Ross Smith’s wartime diary, thanks to the State Library of South Australia
Diary Entry Four: En-route to Bandar Abbas, November 23 
“Some of the country presents a remarkable sight, and it appears as if a mighty harrow had torn down the mountain sides into abysmal furrows. Fantastic shaped ridges and razorbacks rise precipitously from deep valleys of vegetation and desolate of life. The whole earth appeared as though some terrific convulsion had swept it and left in its wake this fantastic chaos of scarred mountains and gouged valleys.”
 
Diary Entry Five: In Karachi, November 29 
“My brother and I generally filled the tanks, while Bennett and Shiers worked on the engines. It was not much fun, after piloting the machine for eight and a half hours in the air, to land with the knowledge that we had to lift on a ton of petrol, besides doing innumerable jobs, before we could go off to rest. In addition 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 everyone’s generous kindness, but I fear on some occasions people must have thought me very discourteous.” 
Diary Entry Six: Departing Calcutta, November 29 
“A large number of kit hawks were flying round, alarmed by the size and noise of this new great bird in their midst. There was a crash as if a stone had hit the blade, and then a scatter of feathers. It was a breathless, not to say a terrifying moment. For we fully expected to hear the crash of broken propeller blades. I have never known so tiny an object as a cigarette end thrown carelessly into a propeller to cause the whirling blades to fly to pieces.” 
Diary Entry Seven: En-route from Rangoon, December 1 
“The moment one plunges into heavy cloud there is misty blankness, all objects are lost to view, and as time wears on, a helpless feeling grows upon one that all sense of direction is lost. At first all went well but while turning to check over an engine, I apparently, and unconsciously, with the natural movement of my body, pushed one foot which was on the rudder bar forward. This turned the machine off its course, and when I next looked down at my compass I was ten degrees off course. I then kicked on the opposite rudder to bring the machine back but found I had put on too much rudder. In my attempt to correct the course and bring the needle back on to its correct reading, I glanced at the air-speed indicator and found it registering over one hundred miles an hour – twenty-five miles above normal flying speed and we were flying at an inclined angle of forty degrees. I realised that the machine was slipping sideways and that if I did not get matters right at once the machine would get out of control and go spinning down to earth. It is useless to describe how I acted. A pilot does things instinctively and presently my instruments told me that we were once again on our course and on an even reel. All this took but a few seconds, but they were anxious moments as a single mistake or the losing of one’s head would have been fatal. This happened several times and at the end of what seemed to be several hours, I glanced at my watch and found we had only been in the clouds for twelve minutes”. 
 Diary Entry Eight: In Surabaya, Indonesia, December 7-8 
“My brother and I had decided that it would be impossible to get the Vimy into the air in the usual way, so we consulted with our invaluable friend, the harbour board engineer, and he agreed to collect bamboo matting from far and wide, so that we might construct a mat-paved roadway. I observed that this matting formed the principal covering of the native huts, and subsequently learned that entire villages in the immediate vicinity were stripped bare to provide us with the necessary materials. Next morning saw the aerodrome by daylight and a gladsome sight met our eyes. Natives were steaming in from every direction bearing sheets of bamboo matting- they were literally carrying their houses on their backs and already a great pile of it lay by the Vimy. So just twenty-four hours after our arrival at Surabaya, We made a sensational take-off with the mats flying in all directions”. 
 Diary Entry Nine: In Timor, the night before departing for Darwin, December 9 
Tomorrow would be the great day whereupon reposed the destiny of our hopes, labours, and ideals”. 
 Diary Entry Ten: Over Bathurst Island, December 10 
“An hour later both of us saw ahead what appeared to be haze but which we hoped was land, though neither dared express his hopes…Ten minutes later, hailing Bennett and Shiers, we pointed joyfully to Bathurst Island Lighthouse.” 
Diary Entry Eleven: On Landing in Darwin, December 10 
“Almost reverently we looked over the Vimy and unspoken admiration crept over us as we paid a silent tribute to those in far-off England for their sterling and honest craftsmanship. The successful issue of the venture, in a great degree, was due to them, and surely they merited and deserved a large proportion of the praise”. 
Click HERE to read Ross Smith’s entire diary, thanks to the State Library of South Australia!

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