During WWI, Australian pilots served in a range of units in the Australian Flying Corps (A.F.C), the Royal Flying Corps (R.F.C), and later, the Royal Airforce (R.A.F). Australia was the only dominion to have its own independent air force during the First World War. Furthermore, pilots were deemed “air aces” after they had shot down five or more enemy planes, and 81 Australians received the Air Ace title! 4 of these air aces would go on to become pilots in the 1919 London to Darwin Great Air Race. These pilots were:
Cedric Howell: Cedric was born in Adelaide in 1896. In 1916 he enlisted in the air force, and in November that year he was accepted into the Royal Flying Corp. Soon after, he graduated as a pilot and was posted to the No. 45 squadron, R.F.C in France, and two months later he was in Italy. Over the next 15 months, he was credited with shooting down 19 enemy aircraft and was thus awarded the distinguished service order. (he had previously been awarded the military cross and the distinguished flying cross.
He entered and competed in the Great Air Race in a Martinsyde A.I. Aircraft. However, he and his navigator, George Fraser, tragically died on December 10, 1919, when the plane crashed just off the coast of Corfu.
Howell’s body washed ashore and was returned to Australia for burial, but unfortunately Fraser’s body was never found. On April 22, 1920, Howell was given a funeral with full military honour in Warringul Cemetery, Heidelberg, VIC. Several hundred people turned up to the funeral to mourn the death of a true aviation hero! Howell will always be remembered as one of Australia’s greatest air aces.
Ross Smith: Sir Ross Smith was born in Adelaide on December 4, 1892. The life of Ross Smith has been discussed in many of our previous blogs, but here’s a little recap of his WWI achievements! Before Ross Smith became internationally famous for winning the Great Air Race, he was already recognised for being a WWI Air Ace. Ross shot down 11 enemy planes, and finished his service as Australia’s most decorated WWI pilot. Over a period of 17 months he was awarded the military cross and the distinguished flying cross three times. Today he is remembered as one of Australia’s greatest heroes.
Hudson Fysh: Hudson Fysh is most mostly remembered as the cofounder of Qantas Airlines. But Fysh was also a WWI Air Ace who shot down 5 enemy planes. Fysh was born on January 7, 1895 in Launceston, TAS. After serving as a ground solider in Gallipoli for seven gruelling months, he went on to write “We lived like rats in holes, and hung on to our Hillside with the enemy on one side ad the beach, a few hundred yards away, on the other”. In July 1917, Fysh was transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, and on January 8, 1919 he was awarded the distinguished Flying Cross. His award read: “For gallantry in air combat and in attacking ground objectives. On August 31, 1918, this officer attacked and destroyed two hostile two-seater aeroplanes. On previous occasions this officer has engaged in combats, resulting in the destruction of enemy aircraft as well as forcing enemy machines to land, and he has always shown great skill and gallantry”.
When Hudson Fysh returned to Australia, he was asked to survey landing fields from Charleville (QLD) to Darwin in preparation for the 1919 Great Air Race, using a T.Model Ford.
Paul McGinness: Paul McGinness was born on February 14th, 1896 in Warrnambool, Victoria. Paul McGinness was not only the co-founder of Qantas with Hudson Fysh, he was also a highly decorated pilot in both WWI and WWII. He was awarded the distinguished Flying Cross and the distinguished conduct medal, and he also received the title of Air Ace! He accomplished many things over his life, and his role in founding Qantas will long be remembered!