18 November, 1919
Ross Smith and his Vickers Vimy crew had a highly-eventful, 650-mile flight across the Mediterranean from Crete to Cairo, on the sixth leg of their epic journey from England to Australia.
First they had a hairy crossing from north to south over the craggy island of Crete, clearing a pass in the mountains by only a few feet.
Then, four spare inner tubes that had been inflated by Wally Shiers and Jim Bennett (in case the crew ditched into the sea and needed life buoys) started to cause trouble in the back cockpit. In a taped interview with oral historian Hazel de Berg in 1966, Wally Shiers describes the incident: “All of a sudden these blessed tubes started to move about … and I said to Benny ‘They’re expanding Benny! Blimey, what are we going to do?’ He said ‘Oh, we can’t put up with this, Wal, next they’ll lift us out of the cockpit,’ and sure enough, one of them did bulge me out that much that we had to get the jack knife and puncture it … we punctured the lot of them.”
When the Vimy crossed over the north coast of Africa, the port engine began running hot and was throttled right back. On landing in Cairo, a cracked induction pipe was found to be the cause. This was a disaster in terms of the race’s 30-day deadline because the only remedy was a new Rolls Royce engine being shipped out from England. To our storyteller Wally Shiers: “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 (supplied to all crews by race sponsor Wrigleys) 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.”
Hear Wally’s full interview with Hazel de Berg on the National Library of Australia website: https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-220866315/listen
The feature photo of the Pyramids from the air was taken from aboard the Vickers Vimy, and forms part of the superb digitised Sir Ross and Sir Keith Collection at the State Library of South Australia.