The New York Times hailed Ross Smith as the world’s “foremost living aviator” after he completed the awe-inspiring flight from England to Australia in 1919.

The young aviator’s love of heights began early – and a world away from the media spotlight – in the red dust of the South Australian outback.

Born on 4 December 1892, Ross was the third child of Scottish-born sheep station manager Andrew Smith and his wife Jessie. Their first child, Janet, had lived only a month after being born on the remote Mutooroo Station, so Jessie travelled to Adelaide for the birth of her three remaining children: Keith, Ross and Colin.

Andrew Smith managed the 7700sqkm sheep run for prominent South Australian pastoralist Peter Waite (business partner to Thomas Elder and Robert Barr-Smith). And, according to Waite, he did it in exemplary fashion. “Some of the greatest work in this State has been done by Andrew Smith,” he told The Register after Andrew Smith’s death in 1924. “He arrived at Paratoo [another Waite run] in 1879, proceeded to Mutooroo, and has built up, improved, and converted the waterless region into a productive wool country. Last year 129,000 sheep were shorn on the run.”

Peter Waite also told The Register he’d always been sure Keith and Ross would succeed because “they are sons of Andrew”.

The boys spent their early years on Mutooroo, often out riding and hunting kangaroos. A former employee by the name of J. Mount wrote to Broken Hill’s Barrier Miner in 1954, recalling a “flying gadget” they created by fastening wires to a gum tree and securely pegged to the ground some distance away. “A gadget was made to fit on the wires which enabled them to slide slowly to the ground,” Mr Mount wrote. When asked what they were doing they replied ‘We are flying’.”

In early 1900 the boys headed to Adelaide for school at Queen’s College in North Adelaide, where Ross quickly made a name for himself as an all-round sportsman. Fellow boarder and close friend Jack Howard, in a letter written after the epic flight, recalled Ross as “a stocky, sandy-haired boy excelling at all kinds of sport and universally popular”. “He was nicknamed ‘Froggy’, why I don’t know, but the name clung to him to the end.”

Neither Ross nor Keith were particularly academic, with both being described as “unassuming boys who would never set the Thames on fire” by the headmaster, Mr Hood. Ross was clearly a born leader, though, captaining the college’s cricket and football teams. A keen runner, he also won both the junior and senior school championships.

In 1906 the boys headed to Scotland with their mother for two years, attending Warriston preparatory school in their father Andrew’s former home town of Moffat. (Among those to send the brothers a telegram on 10 December 1919 was the Warriston headmaster Mr F.W. Gardiner, who wrote: “Captain Ross Smith, Port Darwin. Well done Ross and Keith; Warriston proud of you.- From Gardiner.”)

On the family’s return from Moffat to Adelaide, Ross got a warehouse job with Harris Scarfe, proving his loyalty to management by driving a cart through a crowd of striking workers and suffering a blow to the head.

In 1910, at the age of 17, Ross joined Adelaide’s mounted cadet squadron of the Commonwealth Military Cadet Corps – and promptly headed overseas on the cavalry regiment’s round-the-world expedition. As author Michael Molkentin explains in the Ross Smith biography Anzac & Aviator, it was on this trip that Ross had the pivotal experience of seeing an aircraft for the first time. Fellow cadet Clifford Browne, who kept a diary of the expedition, wrote that four of the youngsters travelled to Brooklands motor racing track during their time in London to watch a flying exhibition, which was a wondrous experience because none of them had seen an aeroplane before. Little did they know that Ross Smith would be back at Brooklands within a decade, at the Vickers Aviation factory preparing the Vimy for the epic flight.

Back in Adelaide before the war, life for Ross was a series of parties, sunny weekends in the Adelaide Hills and motor bike riding (Jack Howard recalls that “as a beginner he was a hopeless rider and never became proficient” and also “could never affect the simplest repair”).

In her autobiography I’m No Lady (printed posthumously by her son), Adelaide Lady Mayoress and arts patron Lady Constance Jean Bonython writes of her childhood friendship with Ross and Keith. She got to know them through her cousin Matthew Woodley, who also boarded at Queen’s College. “He found great friends there in Keith and Ross (later to become famous aviators) … and as a result those three together with Pauline Schomburgk, my sister Bobbie and I became inseparable companions for years. We would frequently meet up at the Smith’s where those at home were Mrs Smith, Keith and Ross and their much-younger brother Colin. Bobbie was in love with Ross, but although Keith married Anita … Ross was still unmarried at the time of his tragic death…”

War service

Ross enlisted in the 3rd Light Horse Regiment the day after war was declared in August 1914, becoming one of the first South Australians to do so. Departing Adelaide in October 1914 in the first South Australia troop ship, he landed at Gallipoli in May 1915 and was quickly promoted to regimental sergeant major and then second lieutenant before being invalided to England by the end of the year. His medical pass held in The University of Adelaide Library collection shows he had scarlet fever, and on the back Ross has written “My ticket when I left Anzac”. After recovering (and being promoted to lieutenant) he returned to Egypt and was involved in heavy fighting at the Battle of Romani in August 1916.

Throughout the war Ross wrote to his “Dearest Maw” Jessie, providing a terrific insight into his years of service on the ground and in the air. The letters are now held by the State Library of South Australia and have been digitised and transcribed.

Ross transferred to the Australian Flying Corps in October 1916, qualifying initially as an observer and then as a pilot, and quickly established himself as an outstanding aviator conducting air defence, ground attacks, bombing and aerial reconnaissance missions.

In March 1917 he was awarded his first Military Cross as an observer when he and his pilot landed their BE2C in the face of hostile tribesman in the desert while rescuing a downed Royal Flying Corps pilot. While his pilot rescued the downed pilot, Ross kept the approaching enemy at bay with his revolver. Several weeks later, he was involved in his first effective victory when he was injured in shooting down a German Albatross fighter. Ross would go onto record a total of eleven victories in the Middle Eastern campaign – a remarkable record given the paucity of aircraft involved compared with the Western Front where the great majority of aces emerged.

He was awarded a second Military Cross in 1918 for conspicuous action and gallantry in conducting photo reconnaissance and bombing.  He conducted a bombing raid in the huge Handley Page 0/400 during the Battle of Armageddon where he destroyed the critical telephone exchange at El Afule and severely damaged the railway junction. He also flew with the famous T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and is praised in Lawrence’s book Seven Pillars of Wisdom for his grit in taking to the skies to drive off enemy aircraft between mouthfuls of breakfast.

By the end of the war, Ross had accumulated more than 600 flying hours and was one of Australia’ most decorated airmen. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross three times to accompany his two Military Crosses. He was later awarded the Air Force Cross for non-operational flying. In the official history of  Australian air operations in WWI, F.M. Cutlack wrote that “there was probably no better example of what a fighting pilot should be than the Australian, Ross Smith”.

War’s end

Following the Armistice, Ross was invited by the two highest ranking Royal Flying Corps officials in the Middle East – Major General W.G.H Salmond and Brigadier General Amyas “Biffy” Borton – on a long-range survey mission in the Handley Page from Cairo to Calcutta. He took two air mechanics with him: Jim Bennett and Wally Shiers, who’d gained valuable experience on the Handley Page’s twin Rolls Royce Eagle VIII engines during the final months of the war.

After enjoying the Viceroy’s Cup horse race in Calcutta, Ross and Biffy joked that they should fly on to Australia for the Melbourne Cup. There was only one problem – after India, airfields were almost non-existent. The British Air Ministry was keenly interested in carving out aviation routes across the Empire, though, and the men were granted permission to travel by ship from India to the Dutch East Indies to scout potential airfields. The first ship, RIMS Sphinx, was laden with 7000 gallons of petrol to deposit at landing sites, and almost killed the men when it exploded into flames on day two. The second, RIMS Minto, safely transported them all the way down to Timor over the following months, with Ross meeting high-level contacts and carrying out landing site reconnaissance that would prove pivotal in the Great Air Race.

Two things happened on their return to India: they learned that the Handley Page had been destroyed in a storm, so there was no possibility of flying on from Calcutta to Australia; and they learned that Billy Hughes had announced a £10,000 prize for the first Australian airmen to fly from London to Darwin, so they needed to high tail it to England and find themselves a new aircraft before any other competitors set off.

The epic flight

Biffy Borton and Ross had become firm friends, so Ross, Wally and Jim were invited to stay at the 15-century Borton family estate ‘Cheveney’ on their arrival in England. Biffy and General Salmond also played an instrumental role in convincing Vickers Aviation to provide Ross with a plane, despite initial reluctance due to the high risk of the pioneering flight to Australia and the fact the company had recently gained massive positive exposure from the first successful trans-Atlantic flight in a Vickers Vimy by Brits John Alock and Arthur Whitten-Brown.

On 12 November 1919, the Smith crew took off from Hounslow in the Vickers Vimy G-EAOU (which Ross joked stood for “God ‘Elp All Of Us”) and set course for France. The weather had been declared totally unfit for all flying but Ross took off anyway, determined to make up ground on popular French aviator Etienne Poulet who was ineligible to win the prizemoney but highly capable of stealing the glory for France. And he was thousands of miles ahead! You’ll find daily posts on the crew’s awe-inspiring flight – including many first-hand accounts from Ross Smith’s memoir 14,000 Miles Through the Air – in our timeline.

On 10 December 1919, after covering 18,500km and spending 135 hours in the air over 27 days and 20 hours, the Vimy landed in Darwin. Telegrams streamed in from around the world:

  • King George V: “Delighted at your safe arrival. Your success will bring Australia nearer to the Mother Country, and I warmly congratulate you and your crew.”
  • Lloyd George, British Prime Minister: “Heartiest congratulations. Your flight shows how inventions of war can advance progress of peace.”
  • Winston Churchill, then Secretary of State for War (and later British Prime Minister): “Well done. Your great flight shows conclusively that the new element has been conquered for the use of man.”
  • Billy Hughes, Australian Prime Minister: “You have … proved that with relays of machines and men, Europe can be brought within 12 or 15 days of Australia.”

In Adelaide, The Advertiser quickly informed Jessie Smith of the news at her home in Stephen Terrace, Walkerville. “Oh thank you, thank you,” she said, and The Advertiser noted that “the tone in which the phrase was uttered was more expressive than the words convey”. Immediately afterwards the news was transmitted to the Lord Mayor from The Advertiser office, and a “merry peal was rung from the Town Hall bells in honour of the marvellous feat performed by the gallant young Adelaide aviators”.

The four men became national heroes (and household names internationally) and within a fortnight Ross and Keith were knighted for their achievement by King George V.

When Ross received the £10,000 winner’s cheque he immediately split it four ways – a gesture which went a long way to ensuring the mechanics would be better recognised than merely receiving a bar to their Air Force Medal. Upon discharge from active service later that year, both were made honourary lieutenants in the AIF Reserve of Officers.

Over the next two years the Smith brothers were mobbed wherever they went, with Ross speaking in lecture halls to hundreds of thousands of people across Australia, New Zealand and the UK. He was inundated with marriage proposals and feted by politicians, socialites and royalty alike. As Ross Smith biographer Michael Molkentin writes in Anzac & Aviator, a portrait of Ross painted in 1920, and now hanging in the Australian War Memorial, suggests Ross “seems to have been diminished, not magnified, by fame”.  “The artist, William McInnes, represents Ross as weary and worn thin by four years of war, a flight halfway around the globe and six months living in the glare of publicity,” Molkentin writes. “His hair is receding and his distinctive hooded eyes seem tired – perhaps even sad; he looks considerably older than his 28 years.”

The world mourns

Tragically, Ross died in front of his brother in an aircraft accident on 14 April 1922 at Weybridge in England, where he was test flying a Vickers Viking amphibious aircraft ahead of an around-the-world endurance flight. Jim Bennett was in the plane with him, while Keith missed the test flight after being delayed  in London. He arrived to see the plane nose-diving to the ground. The coronor  ruled that the men died “by misadventure”, while – as noted in Anzac & Aviator – the Air Council attributed the accident to “an error of judgement” that resulted from Ross’s inexperience with the Viking and limited hours in the air since the epic flight.

A large memorial service was held at St Clement Danes, the church of the Royal Air Force in central London, before Keith escorted the bodies home. After lying in state at Adelaide’s St Peter’s Cathedral, Ross was buried at North Road Cemetery on 15 June 1922. It’s estimated that 100,000 people – one fifth of the state’s population – lined the streets to pay their respects as his casket was conveyed on an aeroplane trailer to the cemetery. His devastated mother Jessie told reporters: “Before Ross died he belonged to us, but now he belongs to the Empire.”

Crewsell Gardens monument

A shilling fund was established for the creation of a monument to commemorate South Australia’s “most famous son” and his pioneering flight from England to Australia. British sculptor Frederick Brook Hitch won a competition to design the statue – which was bronze sculpted in Ross’s image on a base of granite sourced from Murray Bridge. Completed in August 1927, the monument was unveiled in Adelaide’s Creswell Gardens on 10 December 1927 by Lieutenant-Governor Sir George Murray, with three Royal Australian Air Force aircraft circling overheard and surviving Vickers Vimy crew members Keith Smith and Wally Shiers in attendance. Creswell Gardens, beside Adelaide Oval, was chosen as a fitting location for the memorial because Sir Ross had advocated that very site for the construction of a monument in honour of those who’d served in the 3rd Light Horse Brigade. The statue gazes towards Mount Lofty, where the Vimy was first spotted when the Smith crew flew into Adelaide on 23 March 1920.

Written and researched by Lainie Anderson, author of Long Flight Home.

Photo gallery

Sources and additional information

  • Molkentin, Michael, Anzac & Aviator, Allen & Unwin, 2019
  • Smith, Sir Ross, 14,000 Miles Through the Air, Macmillan & Co, 1922 (reprinted as Flight to Fame by Wakefield Press in 2019)
  • Price, A. Grenfell, The Skies Remember, Angus & Robertson, 1969
  • Eustis, Nelson, The Greatest Air Race: England–Australia 1919, Rigby Limited 1969
  • The State Library of South Australia’s digitised Sir Ross and Sir Keith Smith collection
  • Sir Ross Smith KBE, an article by A.A. Lendon first published in the Queens College Magazine in December 1928, a reprint of which is held in the State Library [PRG 128 Series list]. Jack Howard’s letter mentioned above was addressed to Dr Lendon and formed part of his research for the article.
  • Ross Smith’s letters to his mother during WWI, now held by the State Library of South Australia, and available in both digitised and transcribed form.
  • State Library of South Australia: Papers of Air Vice-Marshall A.E. (‘Biffy’) Borton [PRG1067]
  • I’m no lady : the reminiscences of Constance Jean, Lady Bonython, O.B.E. 1891-1977, edited by C. Warren Bonython. State Library of South Australia. SA Ready Ref Books 929.2099423 B723
  • Knights of the Air, an essay by Jim Morgan published in The Best Australian Essays 2001 by Peter Craven. Published by Black Inc. 2001
  • Cutlack, Frederic Morley, Volume VIII – The Australian Flying Corps in the Western and Eastern Theatres of War, 1914–1918 (11th edition, 1941) held by the Australian War Memorial
  • Australian Dictionary of Biography
  • South Australian Aviation Museum
  • The University of Adelaide Library’s Sir Keith and Sir Ross Smith collection
  • Warriston School and Moffat Museum websites

Keith Smith was the only member of the Smith crew not to serve with No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, during WWI.

After being rejected for service on medical grounds in Adelaide, he paid his own way to London and signed up with the Royal Flying Corps, serving out the final year of the war as an aviation instructor in the skies over England. His flying experience in wintry European conditions proved crucial on the very first day of the epic flight.

Keith was born in Adelaide on 20 December 1890 – the first son of Scottish-born outback station manager Andrew Smith and his wife Jessie (nee Macpherson). The Smith’s first child Janet survived only one month in the harsh South Australian outback, and is buried near Cockburn on the Barrier Highway. Jessie went on to have three sons: Keith, Ross and Colin.

The boys spent their early years in the red dust of Mutooroo, a 7700sqkm sheep run on the NSW border near Broken Hill, learning to ride, hunt and read the terrain. The property was owned by prominent SA pastoralist Peter Waite (also a business partner to Thomas Elder and Robert Barr Smith) who later said that Andrew Smith had carried out some of the greatest work in South Australia. Innovations including designing massive dams, including ‘Perseverance’ which took 10 years to engineer, and building hundreds of kilometres of fencing and pipelines. As a result, up to 130,000 head of sheep were being shorn on the desert run annually.

Like Ross, Keith attended Queen’s College in Adelaide as a boarder from about 1901, and earned the nickname “Buck” because of his teeth. According to a 1920s article in the Queen’s College Magazine,  the headmaster Mr Hood once noted that the Smith boys were “unassuming” lads who “would never set the Thames on fire” (apparently infuriating Jessie). However, another school master also recalled them as “dear little chaps”. From 1906 to 1908, the boys attended Warriston School, a preparatory school for boys in Moffat, Scotland, where their father had also studied.

On their return to Adelaide, Keith accepted a position at Elder Smith & Co. (In 1920, when the Smith boys made their triumphant return to Adelaide aboard the Vimy, the company had a giant “K” cut  out and adorned on top of the CBD building, and held a “smoking party” in honour of their famous former employee.)

Jack Howard, a fellow Queen’s boarder and close friend of the Smith boys before the war, wrote in a letter in 1927 that they’d “always lunched in a little private room at Kindermann’s Cafe” on Rundle Street. They often spent their weekends at parties in Mt Lofty, sometimes at ‘Nara’, the family home of politician Henry Downer. And when they’d purchased motorcycles, Keith proved to be “a most capable rider and excellent mechanic”, in stark contrast to Ross.

The Smith boys were with Jack Howard and his brother at a dance in Adelaide on the night the war was declared, and all four boys decided to enlist the following day. “In the meantime Ross, who always dominated, decided that Keith being the elder must remain at home and look after his mother,” Jack Howard writes. “Keith never questioned any decision of Ross.”

Medical certificates held in The University of Adelaide Library’s Sir Keith Smith and Sir Ross Smith collection show that Keith attempted to enlist in Adelaide in both July and October of 1916 and was declared medically unfit for duty. The specific medical grounds were not recorded.

In 1917 he paid his own way to London aboard the RMS Medina – a voyage which almost ended in disaster when the ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of Devon. Newspaper reports reveal passengers escaped onto lifeboats with little more than the clothes on their backs.

On Keith’s arrival in England he worked briefly as a scrutineer for the Australian Government, helping to oversee voting by soldiers in the second conscription referendum (which failed). He was accepted by the Royal Flying Corps’ Officer Cadet Wing in July 1917 and in January 1918 was posted to France with No. 58 Sqn – a newly formed bombing unit. He didn’t see action over the Western Front, however, as by 24 February 1918 he was back in England as a gunnery instructor with No. 75 Sqn. He was promoted to Lieutenant on 1 April and spent the rest of the war instructing pilots and navigators.

In an interview for Vickers News in January 1949 (a copy of which is held by the State Library of South Australia in the A. Grenfell Price collection), Keith said that Ross had contacted him from India in 1919 to say he’d heard about Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes’ plans for the Great Air Race, and asking him to stay on in England while Ross and the mechanics made their way to London.

The article also reveals how tough it was for Keith as navigator: “The Vimy carried no radio, and, with navigation dependent on visual contact with the ground, the only map of Siam available, printed in Siamese characters, did not make it easy to keep on course.”

Charles Tullett, who was working as an erector on the Vickers Aviation assembly line in Weybridge in 1919 and helped to build the Vimy, was interviewed by the Daily Mail for the 50th anniversary of the epic flight in 1969 and recalled working with the Smith boys ahead of the race.

“I knew both the Smith bothers,” he told the newspaper. “I think Keith (the navigator) was the more forceful of the two. I remember the excitement building up among the lads in the Weybridge factory as the day approached for the flight. I can also remember the jubilation when the news came that they had reached Australia. We were all given a day off to celebrate.” (You can read the full article below.)

Ross’s faith in his brother as the Vimy’s navigator paid off on day one of the epic flight, when the weather at Hounslow aerodrome was declared totally unfit for all flying but Ross took off anyway in a bid to claw back the huge lead of Frenchman Etienne Poulet.

A fierce snowstorm over France forced Ross to take the Vickers Vimy G-EAOU to 9000ft. Their goggles froze, their gauges froze – even their sandwiches froze! Keith, unable to make out any landmarks below, sat with a compass and marked tiny lines on a map to indicate the Vimy’s approximate location. After six long hours, Ross spotted a break in the clouds and spiraled down, to find they were only 40 miles from their destination in Lyons.

You’ll learn lots more about Keith’s role in the epic flight – including his ingenious idea of laying bamboo matting for a runway over mud in Surabaya – in our timeline. Many of the photos you see of the epic flight and places along the route were taken by Keith. Kodak offered £1000 in prizes for the best photographs taken as part of the Great Air Race, with all Australian competitors on every plane receiving a camera and film. Keith and the Smith crew won. Some parts of the world were photographed from the air for the very first time.

Like Ross, Keith received a knighthood from King George V on 22 December 1919, for his role in the pioneering flight from England to Australia. The next two years were taken up in a lecture tour of Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, in which Keith often shielded his incredibly popular brother from the media and increasingly zealous crowds.

By 1922, Keith and Ross were planning to circumnavigate the globe in a Vickers Viking amphibious aircraft. Vimy mechanic Jim Bennett had joined them in Weybridge for final preparations, and on 14 April both he and Ross were taking part in a test flight when the Viking spiralled to the ground from about 300 metres. Both men died within minutes.

The Melbourne Herald reported on 15 April 1922 that Keith had arrived late for the test flight, “having been detained at a wireless school”.

“We looked up and saw the machine about 1000 feet up commence to spiral down,” the article states. “The movement became swifter and the sweep of the circles narrower… Sir Keith stood petrified with horror, and when the machine neared the earth he buried his face in his hands and flung himself to the earth in order to avoid seeing his brother crash to his terrible fate.”

Keith sent a cable home with the tragic news to ensure his parents didn’t hear about it from the press: “Ross and Bennett killed instantaneously this morning knew nothing I am all right inform mother love Keith Smith.” He also personally oversaw the repatriation of both bodies to Australia.

Keith initially said he would merely postpone the attempt to circumnavigate the globe, however it never took place. In 1923 he became involved with the Aviation Department of Vickers and soon became the company’s general representative in Australia.

He married Anita Crawford (nee Schmidt) in 1924. They had no children. Their great niece Penelope McGorm (nee Saunders) remembers them both. “Sir Keith married my grandmother’s younger sister after the epic flight,” she says. “They lived in Sydney when I was small, so I only met Uncle Keith two or three times. I knew Auntie Anita better when she came to live in Adelaide after he died. She lived in Brougham Place, North Adelaide, and we would visit her there. My mother Judith Saunders (nee Goss) would make her deviled almonds and sugared almonds, which she loved. The epic journey was always discussed in my family. As a teenager, going to the tennis at Memorial Drive or the cricket at Adelaide Oval, we were always dropped off and picked up at OUR statue (of Sir Ross Smith) in Creswell Gardens.”

Keith was actively involved in RAAF recruitment during WWII, with other roles throughout his life including vice-president of British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines and a director of Qantas and Tasman Airways. He also played an instrumental role in relocating the Vickers Vimy from Canberra to Adelaide in the late 1950s after it was mothballed from the Australian War Memorial.

Sir Keith Smith died of cancer in Sydney on 19 December 1955, a day before his 65th birthday.

Written and researched by Lainie Anderson, author of Long Flight Home.

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Sources and additional information

Daily Mail article from 1969 featuring interviews with Vickers factory workers who knew the Smith brothers. Courtesy Brooklands Museum library.

Melbourne-born James Mallett (Jim) Bennett was five years younger than fellow Vimy mechanic Wally Shiers and only 25 at time of the epic flight.

Born on 14 January 1894 at St Kilda, Jim was the third child (and only son) of tick-maker James Thomas Bennett his wife Henrietta Augusta, née McKendrick.

Not a lot is known about his early childhood, however Melbourne’s Age newspaper reported on 13 March 1909 that a 15-year-old boy by the name of James Mallett Bennett was missing from his Hawthorn home. It noted that “ships had a strong attraction for him”. Subsequent reports – including an interview with his sister Brenda in the wake of Jim Bennett’s death in 1922 – reveal he’d stowed away on a ship to Fremantle in a bid to get out of his apprenticeship with printing firm Sands and McDougall. Far from being angry, Jim’s father at first asked the ship’s captain to take good care of his son, and when Jim returned home his father helped him to secure a motor mechanic traineeship at a local garage. In 1912 he joined the militia and served for three years with the 49th Battalion.

An article in Britain’s Flight magazine on 6 November 1919, just before the epic flight, noted that Jim spent 14 years of his early life at Hawthorn, Melbourne, “where he received a public school education, and attended night technical classes”.

“He took great interest in all things connected with the early progress of the internal combustion engine,” according to the Flight article, “both for car and aviation use, received a thorough and early training with Salway motor engineers, and was employed for a considerable time with other prominent motor firms in Australia. At the outbreak of war in 1914, he was on the mechanical staff of Messrs. Denny Lascells, Motor Department, Melbourne, but enlisted in the Mechanical Transport, Australian Imperial Forces…”

According to his entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Jim enlisted in the AIF on 14 July 1915 and the following year was posted as a mechanic with the Australian Flying Corps. “On arrival in Egypt in mid-April, the squadron’s mechanics were split up into several parties and assigned to British units for training,” the entry states. “Bennett joined No. 14 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, and trained as a fitter and turner. After returning to his own unit he was promoted Corporal on 24 August.” Later in 1916 he began duty with No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps (where he met Ross Smith and Wally Shiers) and was promoted Sergeant in March 1918. Jim was mentioned in dispatches soon afterwards and was later awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for distinguished service as an air mechanic.

By war’s end Jim was working with fellow mechanic Wally Shiers on the twin Rolls Royce Eagle VIII engines of the monster Handley Page 0/400 aircraft flown with devastating effect over Palestine by Captain Ross Smith.

When the war ended, Ross Smith was invited by the two highest ranking Royal Flying Corps officials in the Middle East – Major General W.G.H Salmond and Brigadier General Amyas “Biffy” Borton – on a long-range survey mission in the Handley Page from Cairo to Calcutta. Ross chose Jim and Wally Shiers as the mechanics to accompany him on what was to become the longest endurance flight in the world up to that time. For their efforts in maintaining the huge engines and manually refilling the 1000-litre fuel tanks, both men were awarded the Air Force Medal.

During their time in India, Jim and Wally Shiers were briefly attached to 31 Squadron (RAF) to oversee the rigging of aircraft flown in the 3rd Afghanistan Campaign on the North West Frontier. The men were still out East when they learned about the  Great Air Race from England to Australia. Not surprisingly, when Ross Smith jumped on a ship to London to enter the race, he took his two highly experienced air mechanics with him.

During the epic flight from England to Australia, the role of the Vickers Vimy mechanics was pivotal. Despite rapid advances in WWI, aircraft were still incredibly rudimentary: made of wood, wire and fabric; open cockpits; little more than a compass for navigation. With no support crew, and indeed very few airfields after India, the mechanics often worked all night under spotlights in all extremes of temperature. Jim was responsible for the starboard engine and Wally Shiers the port engine. The Vimy wasn’t once under cover, and more often than not the mechanics slept with the aircraft. When the plane was in the air, for up to nine hours at a time, they were squeezed into the back cockpit with their tools and spare parts.

Jim proved his worth many times over during the epic flight from England to Australia. In Pisa he ran beside the Vimy’s fuselage, holding down the tail wing while Ross Smith taxied over the waterlogged airfield, before jumping into the back cockpit as the plane left the ground. In Singapore, he scrambled out of the back cockpit and shimmied down the fuselage to the tail wing to bring the Vimy to an abrupt halt on a tiny racecourse that had been turned into a makeshift landing site.

He really came into his own on the first leg of their journey around the Australian continent from Darwin to Adelaide. They were flying over the Northern Territory desert on day two out of Darwin when they heard a loud crack as an entire blade of the port propeller split from the tip to the centre. Over three days in 50-degree heat that melted the men’s goggles and the Vimy’s windscreens, Jim carried out what Ross Smith later called “a unique piece of skilled workmanship” on the split propeller. He glued tiny bits of wood from an old packing case into the crack and then cut inch-wide strips of galvanised iron to bind around the blade. Screws were taken from the floorboards of the Vimy to fasten the iron into place. The opposite blade was treated in exactly the same manner to avoid vibration.

You’ll learn lots more about the mechanics’ ingenuity in our timeline.

Ross Smith knew better than anyone how crucial Wally and Jim Bennett’s role had been, and later wrote that his “master mechanics” shared equally in the worthiness of the first flight across the world. In fact, the last words of his memoir 14,000 Miles Through The Air read: “Their loyalty and devotion to duty have done much to bind closer the outposts of the Empire through the trails of the skies.”

Following the epic flight, Jim was awarded a Bar to his Air Force Medal and promoted to Senior Warrant Officer, Class 1. Later in 1920 he was made an Honourary Lieutenant in the AIF Reserve of Officers.

Jim used his quarter share of the £10,000 Great Air Race prize money to open a garage on St Kilda Road, before being enticed back to England with Ross and Keith Smith for a bid to circumnavigate the globe. It was there that tragedy struck on 13 April 1922, with Jim losing his life alongside Ross Smith on a test flight of their Vickers Viking amphibious aircraft.

Just as one fifth of the South Australian population turned out for the funeral of Ross Smith, Melbournians also flocked to farewell a popular national hero. Tens of thousands paid their respects as his body lay in state in Queen’s Hall, Parliament House on Melbourne’s Spring Street (then the seat of federal parliament). At his memorial service it was said: “Sir Ross Smith and Lieutenant Bennett were martyrs in the conquest of the air. No men knew better the risks they ran, but cheerfully they were prepared to meet them. If they failed, they failed for all mankind.”

Jim was buried in St Kilda Cemetery on 19 June 1922. A memorial fund was opened, and five years later an obelisk in his honour was unveiled on the St Kilda Esplanade. His entire estate of £2787 was left to his father, and included real estate valued at £800. He’d used part of his £2500 share of the air race prize money to buy a garage in Melbourne.

In 2019, to coincide with the epic flight centenary, Jim and Wally Shiers were inducted into the Australian Aviation Hall of Fame at a ceremony at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Sir Ross and Sir Keith Smith were inaugural inductees in 2012.

Written and researched by Lainie Anderson, author of Long Flight Home.

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Sources and additional information

Adelaide-born Walter Henry (Wally) Shiers was the oldest of the four Smith crew members and one of a dozen Shiers siblings.

Born on 17 May 1889 in Norwood and raised in Hilton, he attended Richmond Public School in Keswick before gaining work in a market garden where he learned the basics of pump and motor mechanics. The earliest known photo of Wally appeared in a 2010 article in The West Torrens Historian. Then about 11 years old, he’s sitting atop a cartload of hay in 1900, outside the home and dairy of George Robert Poole at Torrensville.

Wally’s father William Thomas Shiers was a plasterer of some note in Adelaide. A small obituary which appeared in The Advertiser after his death in 1936 stated that “some years ago he was entrusted with the interior plastering decorations in St Cecilia’s chapel at the Convent of Mercy, Angas street, City. The ceiling is coated with gold leaf, which was put on by Mr Shiers.” The article continues that the chapel “is reputed to be the most beautiful in Australia”. Today it’s known as the Cunningham Memorial Chapel and is located within the grounds of St Aloysuis College. You can see a photo of the chapel’s interior along with other Shiers family images below.

The same Advertiser obituary also noted that five of Mr Shiers’ six sons had served in WWI, with one, William, killed in action. At the time of Mr Shiers’ death, he had 38 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.

Wally’s mother Annie (nee Haire) had died much earlier in 1907. It was then that Wally left Adelaide, joining his oldest brother on the North Mine in Broken Hill. An article in the Barrier Miner in 1919, titled Captain Ross Smith’s Party Includes Broken Hill Man, reveals Wally excelled at gymnastics and football as a member of the Barrier Boys’ Brigade. He was also taken under the wing of the local Meathrill family. “He was with the Meathrill family for years, and they speak very highly of him as a youth of good character, amiable disposition, energetic, enthusiastic, and ambitious, who did his utmost to make up for the somewhat scanty education he received as a boy.” Mr Meathrill helped Wally to study for his electrical tickets, and when WWI broke out he was working as an electrician in the NSW Riverina town of Leeton. During this time he also met his sweetheart (and future wife) Helena Alford in the neighbouring town of Narrandera.

Wally enlisted as a trooper with the 4th Light Horse Regiment in Sydney in April 1915. According to a 1966 interview with oral historian Hazel De Berg, he’d travelled by train to Sydney from the Riverina to buy orange trees and was convinced to enlist by a policemen. He embarked on the HMAT Vestalia on 22 June 1915 and initially served with the Light Horse Ammunition Reserves in southern Egypt and the Sinai, including at the Battle of Romani. In October 1916 he was attached to the Australian Flying Corps as a driver. He was remustered as a fitter and turner in June 1917 and promoted to 1st Class Air Mechanic in December 1917. According to a 6 November article in Britain’s Flight magazine (written just ahead of the epic flight), Wally earned a reputation in the AFC as a a bloke who could fix just about anything: “…owing to his ability and resourcefulness he was on many occasions sent out in the desert to bring in crashed or damaged machines, which was at times a most difficult and arduous task.”

By war’s end Wally was working with fellow mechanic Sgt Jim Bennett on the twin Rolls Royce Eagle VIII engines of the monster Handley Page 0/400 aircraft flown with devastating effect over Palestine by Captain Ross Smith.

When the war ended, Ross Smith was invited by the two highest ranking Royal Flying Corps officials in the Middle East – Major General W.G.H Salmond and Brigadier General Amyas “Biffy” Borton – on a long-range survey mission in the Handley Page from Cairo to Calcutta. Ross chose Wally and Jim Bennett as the mechanics to accompany him on what was to become the longest endurance flight in the world up to that time. For their efforts in maintaining the huge engines and manually refilling the 1000-litre fuel tanks, both men were awarded the Air Force Medal.

During their time in India, Wally and Jim Bennett were briefly attached to 31 Squadron (RAF) to oversee the rigging of aircraft flown in the 3rd Afghanistan Campaign on the North West Frontier. As a result, they were both awarded the India General Service Medal with Afghanistan NWF 1919 bar (and were two of very few AFC personnel to receive it).

The men were still out East when they learned about the  Great Air Race from England to Australia. Not surprisingly, when Ross Smith jumped on a ship to London to enter the race, he took his two highly experienced air mechanics with him. On their arrival in England the men initially stayed at ‘Cheveney’, Biffy Borton’s 15th century estate near Maidstone in Kent. Letters written in the 1960s from Biffy to Smith brothers biographer Grenfell A. Price, author of The Skies Remember, reveal the friendship that developed between Wally and Biffy Borton’s father, Colonel Arthur Borton: “During the weeks they were waiting for their Vimy, they made my home theirs,” Biffy wrote. “Shiers endeared himself to my father who admired his head for heights when put on to prune the top branches of the tallest trees.” Price’s book also notes that “the mechanics attempted to repay the General’s kindness by rehabilitating his electric power plant and two of his motor cars”.

During the epic flight from England to Australia, the role of the Vickers Vimy mechanics was pivotal. Despite rapid advances in WWI, aircraft were still incredibly rudimentary: made of wood, wire and fabric; open cockpits; little more than a compass for navigation. With no support crew, and indeed very few airfields after India, the mechanics often worked all night under spotlights in all extremes of temperature. Wally was responsible for the port engine and Jim Bennett the starboard engine. The Vimy wasn’t once under cover, and more often than not the mechanics slept with the aircraft.

In Cairo, when a cracked induction pipe in the port engine threatened to bring the Smith crew’s race to an end, Wally came up with the idea of using chewing gum supplied by race sponsor Wrigley to fashion a repair. In his 1966 interview with Hazel de Berg, he recalled: “After a while, walking around and thinking it was terrible, terrible … I suddenly thought ‘Blimey, we’ve got chewing gum on that boat.’ We started chewing it up, little flakes you know … until we got quite a ball of it.” Wally flattened out the chewed gum to create a length of tape, before wrapping it around the cracked pipe and covering it with ignition tape and layers of shellac. “Within about an hour or so, we were up in the air flying around, and that was absolutely wonderful.”

You’ll learn lots more about the mechanics’ ingenuity in our timeline.

Ross Smith knew better than anyone how crucial Wally and Jim Bennett’s role had been, and later wrote that his “master mechanics” shared equally in the worthiness of the first flight across the world. In fact, the last words of his memoir 14,000 Miles Through The Air read: “Their loyalty and devotion to duty have done much to bind closer the outposts of the Empire through the trails of the skies.”

Following the epic flight, Wally was awarded a Bar to his Air Force Medal and promoted to Sergeant on 22 December 1919. Upon discharge in 1920, he was made an Honourary Lieutenant in the AIF Reserve of Officers.

During the Smith crew’s victory lap of Australia in early 1920, Wally married his Narrandera girlfriend Helena Alford in a novel ceremony in Sydney. New South Wales politician, theatre promoter and British Empire League president Hugh McIntosh hosted a garden party in honour of the Smith crew and at the last minute it also doubled as the wedding. According to an article in Sydney’s Sunday Times on 22 February 1920, guests included the New South Wales Premier William Holman, Sydney socialites and highly decorated soldiers. “As Capt. Chaplain Wilson remarked, the wedding was arranged by the photographers and not by the clergyman,” the article says. “Sir Ross Smith was best man, and incidentally hastened to kiss the bride after the Chaplain had warned the bridegroom that he had better be quick if he wished to secure the first kiss.”

Wally and Helena moved to Sydney, where he used his quarter share of the £10,000 prize money to buy a garage in Bondi. He did some lectures on the flight, including at Sydney’s 1922 Royal Centenary Show where the Vickers Vimy was on show to raise money for a new Australian War Museum. Wally later gained his pilot’s licence and began barnstorming with a young pilot by the name of Dave Smith, even attempting a flight from Australia to England in 1930. The flight was called off after forced landings in northern WA and Thailand. Wally served for many years as chief engineer with New England Airways, later Airlines of Australia, and during WWII worked with the Light Aircraft Co in Sydney to manufacture parachutes for the war effort.

After Helena’s death in the 1950s, Wally suffered deteriorating health. He was the only surviving crew member at the opening of the Vickers Vimy hangar at Adelaide Airport in 1958. Gary Shiers, whose grandfather was Wally’s brother William (Bill) Shiers killed in Pozieres in WWI, recalls Wally visiting Adelaide in the 1950s: “Telephones were rare in households then, but my father Lawrence had one in his butcher shop in Hilton. When Wally came to visit, he always stayed at Uncle Art’s in Bennett St, around the corner. I helped to clean the shop after school, and on a couple of occasions I witnessed my father answer the phone and I could hear a lady shouting (it was common for people to shout into a phone in the Fifties). It was Lady Anita checking on Wally’s whereabouts. Upon hearing Lady Anita’s voice, my Dad would stand ramrod stiff to attention and he stayed that way until he hung up the phone. I still have a memory of my Dad in full butcher’s gear standing at attention.”

In 1965 Wally moved back to Adelaide permanently to live with his brother Arthur in Bennett St, Hilton. Wally’s close friend Dorothy lived with them too.

Wally died of heart failure at the age of 79 in 1968 and his death was noted with seven brief sentences on the front page of The Advertiser under the headline “Last Flier in Pioneer Crew Dies”. The final paragraph of his entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography notes: “Friends and acquaintances remember Wally as a short nuggety man of great character who had a strong will and abrupt manner. He was generous to a fault, had a disregard of material gain and placed a high value on comradeship.”

Wally is buried in the military graves section of Centennial Park Cemetery.

In 2019, to coincide with the epic flight centenary, Wally and Jim Bennett were inducted into the Australian Aviation Hall of Fame at a ceremony at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Sir Ross and Sir Keith Smith were inaugural inductees in 2012.

In 2019, to coincide with the epic flight centenary, Jim and Wally Shiers were inducted into the Australian Aviation Hall of Fame at a ceremony at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Sir Ross and Sir Keith Smith were inaugural inductees in 2012.

Written and researched by Lainie Anderson, author of Long Flight Home, an historic fiction about the Great Air Race told through the eyes of Wally Shiers.

Photo gallery

Sources and additional information

  • National Library of Australia: Album of Walter (Wally) Shiers memorabilia relating to the 1919 Ross Smith flight, 1919–1986 [NLA MS 8627]
  • National Library of Australia: Papers of Ernest and Virtie Crome, 1784–2005, relating to Ross Smith and Wally Shiers [MS 1925, MS Acc11.005]
  • National Library of Australia: Walter Henry Shiers Interviewed by Hazel De Berg in the Hazel De Berg Collection [Sound Recording]. Oral TRC 1/182-184.
  • State Library of South Australia: Papers of Air Vice-Marshall A.E. (‘Biffy’) Borton [PRG1067]
  • Australian Dictionary of Biography
  • South Australian Aviation Museum profile
  • The West Torrens Historian newsletter 2010
  • National Archives of Australia RecordSearch for WWI service records:
  • Account of the Wrigley chewing gum engine repair, researched by Vickers Vimy enthusiast Arthur Robertson. (PDF)

Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes was flying between England and France for the Paris Peace Conference when he came up with the idea of a Great Air Race across the world to Australia. Soaring high above the English Channel, Hughes quickly realised the potential of aviation to unite the Empire and inspire his young nation after a devastating war. So he offered a £10,000 prize for the first Aussie airmen to fly from London to Darwin in a British-built plane. The catch? They had to land on home soil within 30 days.

The critics called the race a “circus” that would surely end in death. Certainly, the journey was not without risk. Despite technological advances during the war, aircraft of the time were rudimentary, fashioned from wood, wire and fabric with open cockpits and only basic navigation. Along parts of the route, crews would be forced to land on short racetracks and hastily cleared jungle.

Yet as you’ll learn below, six Australian crews took up the challenge. And four were led by South Australian men who’d proven their skill and daring on the ground and in the air in WWI. Two crews perished and two others crashed out. Charismatic French pilot Etienne Poulet also took off from Paris, determined to be the first to Australia.

Only one aircraft reached the destination in the required 30 days – the Vickers Vimy, flown by South Australia’s Ross and Keith Smith.

Sopwith Wallaby

Adelaide’s George Matthews, front, and his mechanic Thomas Kay were the first Australian crew to depart Hounslow Aerodrome, but over the following months they suffered a series of disasters in their Sopwith Wallaby. After being snowbound for weeks in Germany, they eventually made it further south only to be imprisoned as suspected spies for four days on a pig farm in Yugoslavia (escaping only after their guards were sleeping off a big night of drinking). They were finally forced out of the race when they crashed in Bali.

Start: 21 October 1919
Finish: 17 April 1920 in Bali

The Sopwith Wallaby made it all the way to Bali, just a day from Australia, before crashing out. Photos courtesy Flight Global archive.


The fully-enclosed Alliance P.2 Endeavour left Hounslow a day after the Vickers Vimy and was considered a major contender, but within minutes tragedy struck. Spiralling out of control, the aircraft crashed into an apple orchard, killing both the pilot Roger “Dodger” Douglas and his navigator Leslie Ross.

Start: 13 November 1919
Finish: 13 November 1919 in Surbiton, UK

Roger Douglas and Leslie Ross ahead of their departure from Hounslow on 13 November 1919. Photo courtesy the Australian War Memorial [P16232.005]

Blackburn Kangaroo

WWI official Australian war photographer, South Australian-born Hubert Wilkins, led the Blackburn Kangaroo crew who made it as far as Crete before crashing into a ditch. Mishaps plagued the flight to such an extent there was talk of sabotage. Wilkins went on to become Sir Hubert, one of Australia’s most celebrated explorers. The other crew members were Valdemar Rendle, David (Reg) Potts and Garnsey Potts. You can read more about Hubert Wilkins, including the Blackburn Kangaroo’s flight, in The Last Explorer by Simon Nasht.

Start: 21 November 1919
Finish: 8 December 1919 in Suda Bay, Crete

The Blackburn Kangaroo suffered so many setbacks that sabotage was suspected. Photo courtesy Flight Global archive.

Martinsyde A1

Adelaide-born Cedric Howell, right, won three gallantry awards and was credited with destroying 19 enemy aircraft during the war, but his luck ran out in the Air Race. He and mechanic George Fraser both perished when their Martinsyde A1 crashed into stormy seas off the island of Corfu.

Start: 4 December 1919
Finish: 9 December 1919, St George’s Bay, Corfu

When Cedric Howell’s Martinsyde aircraft crashed into stormy seas off the island of Corfu, his new wife was not far away on a ship bound for Australia. No-one had the heart to tell her he’d died until she docked in Adelaide. Photos courtesy of the Flight Global archive.

Airco DH9

Air race officials tried to talk Ray Parer and his co-pilot John McIntosh from departing Hounslow, but they took off anyway despite the Vickers Vimy having landed in Darwin almost a month earlier. Their flight was so plagued with incidents and crash landings that Parer earned the nickname “Battling Ray Parer” (and sometimes “The Re-pairer”). But they did finally make it home, becoming only the second air race crew to land in Darwin. The Airco DH9, bought from a war salvage yard in the UK, became the first single-engine aircraft to fly from London to Australia. It remains on display today at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Start: 8 January 1920
Finish: 2 August 1920 in Darwin

Caudron G4

Frenchman Etienne Poulet was ineligible to claim the £10,000 prize, but he was more than capable of stealing the glory by reaching Australia first. He and his mechanic Jean Benoist left Paris on 14 October (nearly a month before the Smith crew left Hounslow) and made it all the way to Burma in his tiny Caudron G4 before the Vickers Vimy overtook him.

Start: 14 October 1919 in Paris
Finish: 8 December 1919 in Burma (today’s Myanmar)

French pilot Etienne Poulet, left, and his mechanic Jean Benoist prepare to depart Paris in 1919. Image courtesy of the Caudron Museum, France.

Additional information and resources

For a comprehensive list of further reading materials on the Great Air Race and competing crews, visit our Recommended Reading page.

The Vickers Vimy was designed as a strategic bomber to attack German cities, but arrived too late to enter active service in WWI. With a 68ft (22m) wingspan, the huge biplane had a fuselage that looked like a long, thin cigar. At first sight, mechanic Wally Shiers noted to his fellow mechanic Jim Bennett: “My God Benny, fancy trying to fly this to Australia … she’d never last half the journey.” The crew also joked that the Vimy’s registration letters G-EAOU stood for “God ’Elp All Of Us”.

Powered by twin 360-horsepower Rolls-Royce Eagle Mark VIII engines, the Vimy was largely made of spruce pine covered by Irish linen. Twenty-five women workers were in charge of the fabric covering, sewing huge sleeves for the wings which were then stitched together with 10,000 knots. Water was used to shrink the fabric over the wooden skeleton before the plane was covered in multiple layers of dope – a kind of lacquer that was so toxic the women were ordered to drink lemonade to stop them from fainting.

Despite the crew’s trepidation, the Vimy proved her worth, guiding the crew safely home in 27 days and 20 hours. Ross Smith wrote of his admiration for the aircraft in his book 14,000 Miles Through The Air: “Not once, from the time we took our departure from Hounslow, had she ever been under shelter. And now, as I looked over her, aglow with pride, the Vimy loomed up as the zenith of man’s inventive and constructional genius.”

1920: Australian victory lap 

The Vimy caused major delays to Ross Smith’s victory lap of Australia, with the crew almost coming to grief when a propeller split two days out of Darwin, and fire engulfing the port engine in Charleville, Qld, a couple of weeks later. After a seven-week repair job, the Vimy limped her way south to Sydney, Melbourne and, finally, to the Smith brothers’ home town of Adelaide on 23 March 1920. On 5 April, the aircraft made its final flight from Adelaide to Pt Cook in Melbourne. As Ross Smith told a Daily Herald journalist on the day: “In a way I am very sorry to be leaving the Vimy, for during the past few months I have grown attached to it. Today I feel that I am leaving an old and trusty friend that has borne me many thousands of miles.”

You’ll find lots more on the England to Australia flight, and the Vimy’s engine troubles on the Australian leg of the journey, in our timeline.  You’ll also find a list of 120 newspaper articles relating to the Vimy in 1920 on Trove.

1921-22: “Monster” exhibit

The Vickers Vimy was never flown again, but for the next two years the aircraft was regularly out of the hangar and put on show to raise money for the planned Australian War Museum.

Sydney Daily Telegraph article of the “monster” Vickers Vimy on show at Sydney’s Royal Centenary Show with mechanic Wally Shiers in April 1922. Tragically, Ross Smith and Jim Bennett died in England this same weekend. Source: Trove

The Vickers Vimy exhibition, possibly in Sydney. Unidentified newspaper clipping from the collection of the late Adelaide Vimy enthusiast Arthur Robertson.

1922: Australian War Museum, Melbourne

When the Australian War Museum opened in the Melbourne Exhibition Building in the second half of 1922, the Vimy became a star exhibit. You can see it in the background of the image below.

Black and white image of aircraft, bombs, paintings, and photographs displayed in the Australian War Museum, Melbourne Exhibition Building, around 1922, including the … Vickers Vimy. Photo courtesy Museums Victoria.

1925: Australian War Museum, Sydney

The Australian War Museum took up temporary residence in Sydney’s Exhibition Building in 1925, and the Vimy was again on display. Below on the left you can also see the single-engine DH9 flown from England to Australia by Ray Parer in the Great Air Race.

Photo courtesy Australian War Memorial [J02197]

1941: Australian War Memorial, Canberra

When the Australian War Memorial was officially opened in Canberra on 11 November 1941, the Vimy again took centre stage, displayed alongside WWI German bombers and Ray Parer’s DH9.

The Canberra Times’ coverage of the opening of the Australian War Memorial in 1941. Source: Trove

1955: Vimy without a home

On 1 July 1955, Sir Keith Smith wrote to then Prime Minister Robert Menzies to raise his concerns about the fate of the Vickers Vimy, after learning the aircraft had been removed from the Australian War Memorial.

“I venture the suggestion that in the years to come the aircraft will be of increasing historical interest to Australians and visitors alike … I suppose it is too late for anything to be done now, but I felt that I should personally let you know how concerned I am about the matter.”

Prime Minister Menzies was swift to respond, replying on 12 July that “the removal of the machine from the War Memorial building does not carry any imputation that it has suffered, or is likely to suffer, any diminution of its historical value”.

When the machine was first placed in the War Memorial none of us could have foreseen that Australia would be forced to fight in another major war and that we would be required to find room in the building for a great number of exhibits perpetuating our further efforts on the field of battle. That position, however, did arise and the War Museum has had to be re-organised … At this juncture, certain people in Adelaide, a city that has always been proud of being your birthplace, asked if they might have the machine on exhibition in the city.

To view a PDF of both letters, copies of which are held in South Australian Aviation Museum library, please click here.

1956: Public appeal

In 1956, the Royal Aero Club of South Australia and South Australian Senator Keith Laught (among others) established the Sir Ross and Sir Keith Smith War Memorial Committee and launched a public appeal to raise £30,000 to house the Vimy in Adelaide. Donations poured in from all parts of Australia and overseas including England and New Zealand. The Vickers Corporation chipped in £5000.

The high-powered committee secured South Australian Governor Sir Robert George as Vice-Regal Patron and Qantas co-founder Sir Hudson Fysh as one of nine vice-presidents. To view a PDF of a 1958 letter signed by the chairman and showing a full breakdown of the committee, please click here.

Significantly, the South Australian Government insisted that the Federal Government maintain ownership of the aircraft. The Federal Government also provided a prime location outside the original terminal at Adelaide Airport.

1957: Vimy “afire”

At 11.40am on 3 November 1957, disaster struck while the Vickers Vimy was en route to its new home in Adelaide. Fire engulfed one of two RAAF lorries transporting the aircraft, with responding country fire crews pouring water onto the wreckage for three hours. Luckily, the fuselage was undamaged. In an article headed “FAMOUS OLD PLANE AFIRE”, The Advertiser reported:

The mainplane and other parts of Sir Ross Smith’s famous Vickers Vimy aircraft were destroyed near Keith yesterday when fire broke out among crates on one of two RAAF semi-trailers which were bringing the parts to Adelaide. Other parts destroyed included propellers, engine cowlings and radiators. The cause of the fire, which started in the centre of the load, is not known. When the fire broke out the driver of the semi-trailer drove to the side of the road followed by the other vehicle.

Both The News and The Advertiser reported Keith fire officer Roger Gransden as saying the RAAF party had been “most secretive” about the blaze. “The men, particularly the warrant officer who appeared to be in charge, were very upset,” he said.

Within days the memorial building’s scheduled opening on 15 December was postponed, with Memorial Committee chairman Group Captain RM Rechner declaring: “Whatever has been destroyed will be replaced.” The Department of Defence Production, however, was directed to restore the Vimy to “mock-up conditions” only, so that “externally it appears sufficiently like the original to be accepted as such by persons other than those with special knowledge”.

Deane Leicester remembers his father Walter working on the Vimy’s upholstery and wing cladding at Parafield after it was partly destroyed in the fire. “Dad worked at the Department of Aircraft Production with another upholsterer by the name of Alec Gibb – they mostly did the DC-3s so the Vimy was something very different,” Deane says. “I helped him cover another plane once in Irish linen and dope [as Walter and Alec would have done on the Vimy’s outer wings which needed to be replaced] and it was terribly smelly and very volatile.”

On 9 November The Advertiser reported that an RAAF Court of Enquiry at Edinburgh Airfield had completed an investigation into the blaze, with statements also gathered from eyewitnesses in Keith. Rumours spread that a cigarette butt might have sparked the blaze. If the cause was ever officially established, it doesn’t appear to have been made public.

Above you can see the undamaged fuselage, wing stubs and under-carriage of the Vickers Vimy in the unfinished memorial building at Adelaide Airport in 1957. Images copyright: News Corporation.

1958: huge crowd officially welcomes Vimy to Adelaide

On 26 April 1958, 40,000 people flocked to Adelaide Airport to witness Air Marshall Sir Richard Williams officially open the Sir Ross and Sir Keith Smith Memorial and unveil the John Dowie sculpture of the four Vimy crew members. Sir Keith had died of cancer in December 1955 (only months after writing to Prime Minister Menzies about the Vimy) so Wally Shiers was the only surviving Vimy crew member at the opening. Sir Keith’s widow Lady Anita Smith was also a guest of honour.

Sir Richard, who had been Ross Smith’s commanding officer with No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps during WWI, described the aviator as a “most meticulous” pilot. “Had Ross not died so tragically in 1922 I have no doubt he would have made an even greater contribution to aviation,” he said.

The then Premier Sir Thomas Playford  described the memorial as a “fitting commemoration of one of the greatest achievements of SA’s sons”. He continued:

It is fitting that the site chosen for the memorial is the centre of aerial activities of civil aviation in SA, where every person who today enjoys the great advantages of modern transport can stop for a moment and ponder on those who contributed to them.

The Advertiser, 26 April 1958

The unveiling of John Dowie’s sculpture of pioneer aviators Captain Sir Ross Smith, Lieutenant Sir Keith Smith, Lieutenant J M Bennett and Lieutenant W H Shiers at the Vickers Vimy memorial at Adelaide Airport. In the foreground on the dais are Air Marshal Sir Richard Williams, who unveiled the memorial and Lady Smith (Anita), widow of Sir Keith Smith. Behind them (from left) Lord Mayor of Adelaide (Mr. Lancelot (Lance) Morton Spiller Hargrave), the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride), the Premier (Sir Thomas Playford) and the only surviving member of the crew, Mr W. H. (Wally) Shiers, 27 Apr 1958. Image copyright: News Corporation.

Aerial view of the memorial soon after opening. Photo courtesy of the West Torrens Historical Society.

1987: Vimy shielded from the sun

In 1987, protective screens were erected around the Vimy building to protect the aircraft from ultraviolet light. This was largely the result of lobbying efforts by Norman Pointing, a maintenance engineer who’d helped to restore the Vimy in 1957 and carried out a further major restoration in the early 1980s when it became clear the Vimy was deteriorating under extremes of temperature and humidity. South Australian artist Stefan Twain-Wood was contracted to paint a Vimy mural on the screens surrounding the building. Sadly the screens were damaged in the sun, too, and eventually thrown away.

1998: AAL takes responsibility

In May 1998 the Commonwealth privatised Adelaide Airport. Under the terms of the lease agreement, the new airport lessee, Adelaide Airport Limited, took responsibility for the management and operation of the Sir Ross and Sir Keith Smith Memorial, and for maintenance of the building and is contents.

2005: New Adelaide Airport terminal opens

With the opening of Adelaide Airport’s new state-of-the-art Terminal 1 in  2005, the Vickers Vimy no longer had pride of place outside the main terminal entrance.  To link the Vimy with the new Terminal 1 building, Adelaide Airport and Arts SA collaborated to develop the Vimy Walk – marking each stopping point that the Vimy made on its epic route to Australia.

2019: Vimy set for new home

Ahead of Australia’s 2019 federal election it was announced that a new state-of-the-art facility would be built for the Vickers Vimy at Adelaide Airport.

Announcing a $2m funding commitment by the federal Morrison Government, SA Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham said it was a major win for South Australia’s cultural heritage, for tourism, and would serve to educate generations to come of our state’s pioneering and aviation history.

The $2m commitment (matched by the federal Labor opposition) was matched by the South Australian Marshall Government and Adelaide Airport Ltd, taking the combined total for the rehousing project to $6m. The Vimy is set to be moved to a prominent position within the new airport terminal in 2021.

Adelaide’s Sunday Mail, 11 May 2019

As iconic as The Spirit of St Louis

Only two original Vimy aircraft remain in the world – Alcock and Brown’s Vimy at the British Science Museum (where it was installed soon after the famous Atlantic crossing in June 1919) and the Smith crew’s Vimy at Adelaide Airport. Smithsonian Air and Space Museum curator Alex Spencer believes Ross Smith’s Vimy should be as iconic to Australia as Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St Louis is to the United States.

Written and researched by Lainie Anderson, author of Long Flight Home, which tells the story of the Great Air Race through the eyes of Vimy mechanic Wally Shiers. Further information on the Vimy’s move to Adelaide and maintenance and custodianship of the aircraft in subsequent years can be found in a comprehensive profile of Sir Ross Smith and the Vickers Vimy crew, written by Mike Milln at the South Australian Aviation Museum (head to page 16).

Sources and additional information

  • Our guide to additional resources on studying the Vimy
  • The State Library of South Australia’s digitised Sir Ross and Sir Keith Smith collection
  • Copies of official letters relating to the 1950s relocation and restoration of the Vimy are held in the South Australian Aviation Museum library.
  • Lainie Anderson’s Churchill Fellowship report on the 1919 Air Race and the Vickers Vimy
  • Andrews, C.F., Vickers Aircraft Since 1908, Putman & Company, 1969


The weather report in Hounslow, England, was dire on the morning of 12 November 1919: “Totally unfit for all flying.” Ross Smith took off anyway, fearing worse weather with the oncoming European winter, and knowing his French rival Etienne Poulet was already well on the way to Australia.

The snowstorm they encountered that first day over France was so fierce he was forced to fly at 11,000 feet (3,350 metres) to escape towering cloud banks. Their goggles and cockpit dials froze. After six hours of flying blind, they spotted a hole in the clouds and flew down to earth, discovering they were just 40 miles from Keith’s predicted location of Lyon, France.

The epic flight route, published in Ross Smith’s personal account, 14,000 Miles Through The Air, MacMillan & Co 1922.


Ross Smith’s diary of dates, departure times, daily flight duration and distances, published in 14,000 Miles Through The Air (MacMillan & Co, 1922).

Over the following 28 days, they passed through the world’s climatic zones, and the weather threw everything at them: European snowstorms, desert sandstorms and tropical downpours that lashed the skin from their faces. But across the world – from Italy to Indonesia, Crete to Calcutta – people came to their aid.

In Pisa, overnight rain left the Vimy surrounded by a lake of water. Thirty Italian mechanics worked in vain to get the six-tonne plane free of the sludge. Ross Smith told Jim Bennett to run beside the fuselage, holding the Vimy’s tail down and her nose up out of the mud, until they became airborne. When the wheels left the ground, Jim sprinted for the back cockpit and Wally hauled him in.

In Ramadie, near Baghdad, 50 Indian cavalrymen stood sentry over the plane all night, using their weight to prevent her from busting up or being blown away in a raging desert sandstorm.

In Surabaya, Indonesia, villagers took the bamboo matting walls from their homes and “came streaming in from every direction” to lay a 300m runway over soft mud that had threatened to entrap the Vimy. The crew called it Matting Road.

No-one knew the route quite like the Smith brothers. Having served with the Royal Flying Corps in Britain, Keith was experienced at flying in freezing temperatures, while Ross knew the deserts of the Middle East like the back of his hand. Directly after the war Ross had flown from Cairo to Calcutta before scouting possible landing sites by sea all the way down to East Timor.

That knowledge – as well as the contacts Ross made – proved one of the keys to the crew’s success.

At precisely 3pm on 10 December 1919, the Vimy touched down on a makeshift air strip near Fannie Bay Gaol. Darwin was an outpost of just 1500 people but the townsfolk raced to greet her, carrying the exhausted crew shoulder high. At Government House, they received hundreds of telegrams – including messages from King George V, Winston Churchill and Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes.

The journey however wasn’t over. The 3,000-mile (4,800km) flight south to Sydney, Melbourne and finally Adelaide was another series of aviation firsts, but the Vimy was close to collapse. Plagued with breakdowns, the journey took three months (three times longer than the entire flight across the world).

In Melbourne, the crew received their cheque for £10,000 from Prime Minister Billy Hughes before Ross had it evenly split four ways. The Smith brothers received Knighthoods, while Jim Bennett and Wally Shiers both received bars to their Air Force Medals and were later promoted to lieutenants.

A certain race mania ensued after the epic flight. Smith was taken on a world speaking tour using aerial cinematography by his friend Frank Hurley. Souvenir badges and programmes were distributed across the country. People even played the Sir Ross Smith Aeroplane Race Game, a board game for two or more players featuring flight paths between England and Australia dotted with penalties and bonuses.

The Smith crew’s fame by now was unparalleled, feted in newspapers across the globe for their achievement. Ross Smith was hailed as a latter-day Captain Cook, the New York Times said he was ‘the foremost living aviator’. He arguably became his young nation’s first international superstar.

Tragically, Ross didn’t have long to enjoy it. He immediately dedicated himself to the next record-breaking flight – a world circumnavigation in a Vickers Viking amphibious aircraft accompanied by Keith and mechanic Jim Bennett. In 1922, during testing the Viking near London, the aircraft spiralled out of the sky. Keith, who had been delayed for the test flight, watched helplessly as his brother and Jim Bennett plunged to their deaths.

Sir Keith Smith continued working in aviation, representing the Vickers company in Australia, before dying of cancer in 1955. Lieutenant Wally Shiers ran a garage and got his pilot’s licence. He lived out his last years in Hilton, Adelaide, and died in 1969.

Sir Ross Smith was one of the most highly decorated allied airmen of World War I, being awarded the Military Cross and Bar, the Distinguished Cross and two Bars and the Air Force Cross. He was knighted in December 1919 for his flight from England to Australia, and was also awarded the Hejaz Order of the Nahda, Fourth Class, of the Kingdom of Hijaz.

Sir Ross was awarded two Military Crosses.

Military Cross. Gazetted London Gazette 11 May 1917

Lt Ross Macpherson Smith. Australian Light Horse Regiment attached to Australian Royal Flying Corps.

The Citation read:

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when his pilot descended to the rescue of an officer who had been forced to land. On landing, he held the enemy at bat with his revolver, thus enabling his pilot to rescue the officer and to safely fly away his machine.”

Military Cross Bar.  Gazetted London Gazette 24 August 1918

Lt Ross Macpherson Smith. Australian Light Horse Regiment and Australian Flying Corps.

The Citation read:

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He was one of two pilots who carried out a remarkable series of photographs in one flight, completely covering an important area of forty-five square mile. On a later occasion he successfully bombed an important bridge head from a low altitude, and his work throughout, as well as his photography, has been invaluable and characterised by the most consistent gallantry.”

The British Military Cross (MC)

The MC is awarded in recognition of “an act or acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land” to all members of the British Armed Forces and formerly of the members of the forces of Commonwealth countries.

It was established during World War I for junior officers, as there was no decoration for them for acts of bravery in the face of the enemy. Awarded to members of the Australian Flying Corps who came under Army control and to junior officers in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. Awards were extended to majors by an amending warrant of 1931. 

The award is no longer awarded in the Australian Honours system.

Description. An ornamental cross with straight arms terminating in broad finials. On the finials of each arm of the cross is an Imperial Crown and in the centre of the cross is the Imperial and Royal Cypher of the reigning sovereign (GV, GVI, or EIIR). The reverse is plain with the year of the award engraved on the lower arm.

Ribbon. A watered white ribbon (1.375″ wide), with a central purple stripe (0.5″ wide). 

Sir Ross was awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses.

Distinguished Flying Cross.  Gazetted London Gazette 8 February 1919

Capt. Ross Macpherson Smith, MC.  Australian Light Horse and Australian Flying Corps. Egypt

The Citation read:

“During the months of June and July, these officers (Smith and his observer Lieut Walter Kirk) accounted for two enemy machines, and they have be conspicuous for gallantry and initiative in attacking ground targets, frequently at very low altitudes. The keenness and fine examples set by these officers cannot be over-estimated.”

Distinguished Flying Cross Bar.  Gazetted London Gazette 8 February 1919

Capt. Ross Macpherson Smith, MC, DFC.  Australian Light Horse and Australian Flying Corps. Egypt

The Citation read:

“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. Whilst operating with the Sheriffian forces he destroyed one enemy machine and brought down two others out of control in the desert.”

Distinguished Flying Cross Second Bar.  Gazetted London Gazette 8 February 1919

Capt. Ross Macpherson Smith, MC, DFC  Australian Light Horse and Australian Flying Corps. Egypt.

The Citation read:

“On the 19th October this officer, with Lieut A.V. McCann as observer, engaged and drove down an enemy two-seater. As it appeared to land intact he descended to a low altitude and, with machine gun fire, forced the occupants to abandon the machine; he then landed alongside it, and while 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 rear of the enemy’s advanced troops, demanded courage and skill of a very high order.”

The British Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC)

The DFC is awarded to officers and Warrant Officers for an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty performed whilst flying in active operations against the enemy. A straight silver bar with an eagle in the centre is awarded for a further act or acts. The year of the award is engraved on the reverse. The award was established on the birthday of King George V, June 3, 1918. Until 1919, the stripes were horizontal.

Description. The award is a cross flory terminating with a rose, surmounted by another cross made of propeller blades charged in the centre with a roundel within a laurel wreath. The horizontal arms bear wings and the crowned RAF monogram at the centre. The reverse has a central circle the Royal Cypher (GV, GVI, EIIR) appears above the date 1918. The year of issue is engraved on the lower arm. 

Ribbon.  The ribbon is 1.25 inches wide, and consists of alternating deep purple and white stripes (0.125 wide) leaning to the left at 45 degrees from the vertical. The deep purple colour is to appear in the bottom left and upper right corners when viewed on the wearer’s chest.  Until 1919, the stripes were horizontal. 

Air Force Cross. Gazetted in London Gazette 3 June 1919

In late 1918 Sir Ross was detached from 1 Squadron for special duty with the Royal Air Force in connection with completing an endurance flight from Cairo to Calcutta in a Handley Page O/400 aircraft.  In early 1919 he reconnoitered a route between India and Australia and in July 1919 was attached to 31 Squadron RAF in India.

The Citation read:

“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.”

Air Force Cross (AFC)

The award was established on 3 June 1918, shortly after the formation of the Royal Air Force (RAF). It was originally awarded to RAF commissioned officers and Warrant Officers, but was later expanded to include Royal Navy and army aviation officers.  The AFC is awarded for gallantry and distinguished service in flying which was not in active operations against the enemy.

Description. The medal is a silver cross, representing aircraft propeller blades, with wings between the arms.  The obverse depicts Hermes, riding on the wings of a hawk holding a laurel wreath. At the top of the upper arm is the royal crown, while the other three arms bear the royal cypher of the reigning monarch at the time of issue. The reverse is plain, except for a central roundel bearing the reigning monarch’s cypher and the date ‘1918’. Originally awarded unnamed, from 1939 the year of issue was engraved on the reverse lower limb of cross, and since 1984 it has been awarded named to the recipient.

Ribbon. The ribbon was originally white with red broad horizontal stripes, but changed in July 1919 to the current white with red broad diagonal stripes at a 45-degree angle.

Knight Commander of the British Empire. Gazetted in London Gazette 26 December 1919

The Citation read:

“In recognition of valuable services tendered to aviation by the recent successful flight from England to Australia.”

Order of the British Empire

The Order ofn the British Empire was established during World War 1 for King George V to reward  services to the war effort by civilians at home and servicemen in support positions. Originally established at only one level, the Order was divided into Civil and Military in 1918 and then evolved into a system of rewards with five levels. The first two (Knight Grand Cross Order of the British Empire and Knight of the Order of the British Empire) confer knighthood, the three lower levels are Commander [top left], Officer [top right] and Member [bottom left]. The order was created mainly to award non-combatant services to the war and included women, whom most orders excluded. It was conferred for services to the Empire at home, in India and in the Dominions and colonies, and at any level could be awarded for gallantry as well as for service.

The medals of the order were changed considerably in 1937 when the insignia was redesigned and the colour of the ribbons were changed. The Commander has a blue enamelled cross, the Officer has a gold cross and the Member has a silver cross.

Hedjaz Order of Nadha, Fourth Class. Gazetted in London Gazette 1 April 1920

The Hejaz Order of the Nahda, 4th Class, was awarded to Captain Ross Macpherson Smith on 1 April 1920 for “Conspicuous services rendered whilst serving with the Australian Imperial Force”.

Hedjaz Order of Nadha

The Order was established to commemorate the revolt of the Hejaz against the Turks during the First World War. The 4th Class of the Order was awarded to Military Officers, Civil Officials of the Fourth Class and local people of corresponding status. It was awarded by the King of Hedjaz, King Hussein Bin Ali. It is believed more than 50 British subjects who fought in the Middle East were awarded the Fourth Class of the Award including several other Australians. Richard Williams, Sir Ross Smith’s Commanding Officer at 1 Squadron was awarded the Third Order of the Award on the same day.

Description. The medal is of hexagonal design bearing a six pointed star with a palm frond between each arm. The bulk of the design bears a central circular plaque of two concentric circles. In the centre there are two crossed Hijazi flags with a five-pointed star in the centre. Affixed to the medal with a piece of red silk are three cords – white, black and green respectively.

This article was researched and written by Group Captain Greg Weller, RAAF Base Edinburgh.  

Keith Smith was employed in the merchandise department at Elder Smith & Co. before the war, and Ross worked in the warehouse for Harris Scarfe. They returned in 1920 as conquering heroes, with more than 20,000 waiting to greet them at Northfield Aerodrome. Tens of thousands more – including school children who were given the day off – climbed onto rooftops and into trees, or trekked into the Adelaide Hills for a view of the record-breaking Vimy.

The plane was spotted low and to the left of Mount Lofty at exactly 1.38pm on 23 March 1920, with The Advertiser reporting that “instantly there was a cry from thousands of throats of ‘there she comes’”. The Vimy charted a course down Cross Road, where family friends had hung welcome signs from balconies, before heading north over the city centre. The crew waved handkerchiefs in response to the “cheer upon cheer” which “rent the air”.

Ross Smith’s old comrades from the 3rd Light Horse Regiment arranged a lavish welcome reception at the Tivoli (now Her Majesty’s Theatre). The Advertiser reported “a scene of such enthusiasm and gaiety … as the theatre has rarely seen”, with Ross Smith telling the crowd the night was “quite the happiest he had ever spent in his life, because he was back in his native city”.

Ross Smith had been a gifted sportsman before the war, winning both the junior and senior athletic championships at Queen’s School and leading the cricket and football teams. Every member of the 1908 Queen’s School XI cricket team enlisted in the war, but sadly, five did not survive to welcome their old captain home. Ross was also a former member of the Adelaide Harriers running club – in his honour a set of wings was added to the club’s “A” insignia (as seen in the photo of 1933 running champion Phyllis Hicks above left) and remains to this day.

The extent to which Ross Smith was adored in Adelaide was never more evident than the day he was buried, just two and a half years after the epic flight, on 15 June 1922. More than 100,000 people (one fifth of the state’s population) lined the streets of Adelaide to honour his funeral cortege.

His coffin lay in St Peter’s Cathedral before being interred in North Road Cemetery. The funeral cortege of more than 100 vehicles, headed by a guard of airmen with the casket borne on an aeroplane trailer, was watched from planes flying overhead and crowds more than a dozen deep lining the streets all the way from St Peter’s Cathedral in North Adelaide to North Road Cemetery.

A statue in Sir Ross Smith’s honour can still be seen outside Adelaide Oval. Lieutenant Jim Bennett was buried on the same day in his native Melbourne – a memorial in his honour can be seen on The Esplanade at St Kilda.