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. For a comprehensive rundown of his medals (held in the Australian War Memorial collection) and exactly how he earned them, please click here.
At 11.48am on 10 December 1919 – the final day of the epic flight – Ross and Keith Smith spotted a plume of smoke from HMAS Sydney, which had been ordered to patrol the sea between Timor and Port Darwin in case the Vimy crew needed assistance. Ross flew low and Keith dropped a hastily-written message of thanks in an Escoffier pickle jar with a little parachute. Keith’s message read:
“The Air, 10/12/19, Vickers Vimy, The Commander, H.M.A.S., Very glad to see you. Many thanks for looking after us. Going strong. Keith Smith, Ross Smith, Sgt. J. Bennett, Sgt. W. H. Shiers”
In 1922, Captain H. Cayley, Commander of HMAS Sydney, donated the message and pickle jar to the State Library of New South Wales, which also holds some of Keith Smith’s flight maps and souvenirs of the epic flight in its Vickers Vimy collection. Images courtesy of the State Library of NSW.
Ross Smith was a prolific letter writer during and after WWI, and a number of his own letters formed the 350-odd pieces of inaugural international airmail brought into Australia aboard the Vickers Vimy. This is a letter written to his father Andrew Smith just before the epic flight from the Hand & Spear Hotel, near the Vickers Aviation factory at Brooklands (the historic hotel is still there today). These letters are now highly prized by aviation history enthusiasts and philatelists. Many are privately owned but some have been donated to institutions such as the State Library of South Australia. The library also holds a fantastic collection of letters written by Ross Smith to his mother Jessie during the war. This letter is displayed courtesy of SA philatelist Martin Walker.
In 1920, as Smith brothers hysteria gripped Australia, Ross and Keith were presented with life membership from the NSW Ad-Men’s Institute, which had been formed in 1917 by the growing number of advertising agencies in Sydney. Both men received a small medal measuring about 2cm in diameter. Keith’s read:
Life Membership pres to Sir Keith Smith KBE by the Ad Mens Institute Sydney 1919-20
Shared courtesy of Lainie Anderson.
This brass lectern was donated to North Road Cemetery by Andrew and Jessie Smith after the death of their son Ross. His body was laid to rest at the cemetery on 15 June 1922 after he was killed in a test flight accident in Weybridge, England.
The inscription (worn) reads:
AND IN LOVING MEMORY OF
Ross M. Smith
Died April 13th 1922. Age 29 years.
also Colin M. Smith
Died Oct. 6th 1917. Aged 22 years.
Information and photos courtesy of Helen Stein, North Road Cemetery.
Ross Smith was a gifted sportsman, winning both the junior and senior athletic championships at Queen’s College and leading the cricket and football teams. Every member of the 1908 Queen’s College XI cricket team enlisted in the war, and five did not return. This medallion was presented to a young Ross Smith, 14, in 1906. Shared courtesy of Gary Lloyd.
Vickers Ltd, makers of the Vickers Vimy aircraft, presented this gold watch to Sir Ross Smith “as a memento of the first flight from England to Australia Nov 12 – Dec 10, 1919”. It’s today held in a private collection in Australia and valued at more than $50,000. These photos are shared courtesy of the owner.
Ross Smith was a member of the Adelaide Harriers running club before the war. In honour of his epic feat, a set of wings was added to the club’s “A” insignia, and remains to this day (pictured below). He was also named at the top of the Adelaide Harriers Roll of Honour, dedicated to club members who served in WWI. These images are shared courtesy of club member Roger Frisby.
Future aviator Ross Smith, 16, drew this picture of a sporting frog in an autograph book in 1909. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Ross Smith’s nickname at school was ‘Froggy’. Keith Smith’s artwork below is from the same autograph book. The drawings are shared courtesy of Peter Eaton, whose grandmother grew up with the Smith brothers.
Keith Smith worked as an instructor for the Royal Flying Corps during WWI, and by war’s end he’d flown more than 443 hours. He remained a strong advocate for aviation throughout his life. His six medal miniatures are stitched to a thin rectangular metal badge strip with back clasp.
Medals from left to right: