Sir Ross MacPherson SMITH KBE, DFC+2 Bars, MC+Bar, AFC, MiD

SMITH, Ross MacPherson

Service Number: 217
Enlisted: 19 August 1914, Morphettville, South Australia
Last Rank: Captain
Last Unit: Australian Flying Corps (AFC)
Born: Semaphore, South Australia, 4 December 1892
Home Town: Adelaide, South Australia
Schooling: Adelaide Queen's School and Warriston School, Scotland
Occupation: Warehouseman (Harris Scarfe & Co)
Died: Accidental (air crash), Brooklands, Surrey, England, 14 April 1922, aged 29 years
Cemetery: North Road Cemetery, Nailsworth, South Australia
Buried with parents and brother Keith with a commemoration to his brother Colin, directly behind the Chapel and Rotunda.
Memorials: North Adelaide Queens School Honour Board, Walkerville St. Andrew's Anglican Church Honour Roll, West Beach The Vickers Vimy Collection
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World War 1 Service

19 Aug 1914: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 217, Morphettville, South Australia
22 Oct 1914: Involvement AIF WW1, Sergeant, SN 217, 3rd Light Horse Regiment, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
13 May 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Sergeant, SN 217, 3rd Light Horse Regiment, 'ANZAC' / Gallipoli
11 Aug 1915: Promoted AIF WW1, Regimental Sergeant Major, 3rd Light Horse Regiment
5 Sep 1915: Promoted AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, 3rd Light Horse Regiment
22 Jan 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, SN 217, 3rd Light Horse Regiment, Egypt and Palestine - Light Horse and AFC Operations
22 Mar 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Lieutenant, 1st Light Horse Brigade Machine Gun Squadron
24 Oct 1916: Involvement Captain, SN 217, No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, AFC / RFC operations Western Front / Middle East
23 May 1920: Discharged Captain, Australian Flying Corps (AFC)

The First Airmail to Australia - onboard the VIMY 26/2/1920

A Postage STAMP was ordered by the Prime Minister's Department (by no less than PM 'Billy' Hughes!) via Treasury, and printed by the Note Printing Branch on watermarked paper - the same wide crown watermark as we find on 1914 KGV heads or 'Second' watermark Kangaroos.

The records show that the "On Active Service" mail written Jan 10 and 11 1919, was collected from the AIF 1st Australian Wireless Squadron ex Baghdad around that date and this "OAS" tropp mail was handed to Brigadier General MacEwen.

MacEwen handed this mail to Ross Smith in Simla India, knowing he planned a flight to Australia. Smith carried it on the historic flight ex London in November 1919.

Trooper Sainsbury was in fact de-mobbed from the Army, and safely back in Australia for SIX MONTHS, before his letter arrived in Darwin in 1919! Some EIGHTEEN months after he wrote it.

It took near 3 more months for his letter to arrive in Melbourne, where the "26 February, 1920" date-stamps were all applied to the hastily affixed Vignette "stamps" and all delivered under separate cover.

My cover is signed on back by the Engineer “James Bennett, Darwin 12/12/1919”. AAMC says 29 are recorded in total signed by Jim Bennett. It is also “O.A.S.” (On Active Service) ex Baghdad, that AAMC says only 26 covers are recorded with.

How many are from Mesopotamia AND also signed by Bennett - they will be VERY few!

It is from Lance Corporal Rupert Sainsbury. He was in "Baghdad" from 18-9-1918,and "Basrah" returning to Bombay on 5/3/1919, then shipped to Sydney.

Sourced and submitted by Julianne T Ryan. 26 September 2014. Lest we forget.


Personal Story & the ENGLAND to AUSTRALIA AIR RACE in the Vickers Vimy IV G-EAOU (God 'elp All Of Us)

(A compilation by Julianne T Ryan, John McCarthy, and the Australian Flying Corps).

Sir Keith Macpherson Smith (b.1890-d.1955) and Sir Ross Macpherson Smith (b.1892-d.1922), airmen, were born on 20 December 1890 in Adelaide, and on 4 December 1892 at Semaphore, Adelaide. Sons of Scottish-born Andrew Bell Smith, Station Manager, and his wife Jessie (née Macpherson), born in Western Australia. In 1897 Andrew Smith became the Manager of the Mutooroo Pastoral Co. and Mutooroo Station, a property of some 3000 sq. miles (7700 km²). Both Keith and Ross were educated at Queen's School, Adelaide (as boarders), and for two years at Warriston School, Moffat, Scotland, their father's birthplace.

On returning to Australia, Ross joined the Australian Mounted Cadets and was selected in 1910 to tour Britain and the United States of America as a South Australian representative. He then joined the 10th Australian Regiment, the Adelaide Rifles. Before the outbreak of war in 1914 Ross was employed as a warehouseman in Adelaide for G. P. Harris Scarfe & Co. In August 1914 he enlisted as a private in the 3rd Light Horse Regiment, Australian Imperial Force, and on 1 October was promoted sergeant. He embarked for Egypt on 22 October and landed on Gallipoli on 13 May 1915. On 11 August he attained the rank of regimental sergeant major and was commissioned second lieutenant on 5 September. Invalided to England in October, he was promoted lieutenant on 1 March 1916 and three weeks later embarked for Egypt to rejoin his old regiment. With the 1st Light Horse Brigade, 1st Machine-Gun Squadron, his principal action occurred during the battle of Romani on 4 August 1916. In July 1917 he responded to a call for volunteers to join the Australian Flying Corps, the transfer taking effect on 4 August.

Keith's early career was different, yet both were to enter aviation within weeks of each other. Employed by Elder Smith & Co. in Adelaide on the outbreak of war, Keith was rejected for service with the A.I.F. on medical grounds. He underwent medical treatment and paid his own passage to England to enlist in the Royal Flying Corps. Accepted in July 1917 into the Officer Cadet Wing, he was posted in November to No. 58 Squadron, a newly formed bomber unit which left for France in January 1918. Keith, however, was not to see active service. On 24 February 1918 he was posted to No. 75 Squadron, a home-defence formation, as a gunnery instructor. On 1 April he was promoted Lieutenant and spent the rest of the war in Britain with training establishments. He was placed on the unemployed list, R.A.F., on 5 November 1919.

In contrast, Ross's air war was most active. Qualifying as an observer in December 1916, and later as a pilot, he served mainly with No.1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps (No. 67 Squadron R.F.C.), a general purpose squadron flying a variety of aircraft in defence of the Suez Canal zone. In January 1918 it was re-equipped with the Bristol Fighter and designated a fighter squadron. As such the squadron was an important element of General (Lord) Allenby's 1918 offensive and took part in the overwhelming air attacks on the Turkish armies in the Wady Fara. By the end of the war Ross had twice been decorated with the Military Cross and three times with the Distinguished Flying Cross. Later he was to add the Air Force Cross for non-operational flying. The first Military Cross was awarded while Ross, still an observer, landed in the face of the enemy to rescue a fellow officer who had been brought down. Bombing and photography and air to air combats brought the other operational awards.

By the end of World War One Ross had acquired considerable experience flying the twin-engined Handley Page 0/400 bomber which had been attached to the squadron. He had flown it not only on bombing operations in Palestine but also on long photographic flights.
He was consequently selected to co-pilot the aircraft in a pioneer flight from Cairo to Calcutta, leaving Cairo on 29 November 1918 and arriving in Calcutta on 10 December 1918. A tentative attempt was made from Calcutta to survey by sea an aerial route through to Australia. This was abandoned at Timor.

Nevertheless the experience gained was of great benefit in the successful attempt later undertaken with his brother to fly from England to Australia within thirty days.

After the Armistice England became enamoured with the idea of planes flying across the Atlantic to North America.

In 1919 the Australian Government in an attempt to raise enthusiasm for opening up air lanes to the Antipodes decided to put up prize money of 10,000 pounds for the first successful flight from England to Australia by an Australian Airmen. The prize money was constrained by the requirement for the flight to start in Great Britain and end in Australia within 720 consecutive hours [30 days], the offer would remain open until the 31 of December 1920, the aircraft and all components having been constructed within the British Empire, the pilots and crew must be of Australian nationality, the entries must be submitted through the Royal Aero Club in London, one machine only is to be used through the flight, the starting place is to be Hounslow aerodrome or Calshot seaplane station in England, the final landing place is to be in the area of Port Darwin.

A total of six entries started in the race, plus Frenchman Etiennne Poulet who departed from Paris for Australia ahead of the pack but had to withdraw from his attempt to fly to Australia at Moulmein, Burma.

The first Australian entry to depart was the Vickers Vimy G-EAOU under the command of Captain Ross Smith and his crew, the navigator (his brother) Keith Smith, Sergeant J.M. Bennett and Sergeant W.H. Shiers in the Vickers Vimy G-EAOS. Keith Smith was a veteran of the Royal Air Force, the two mechanics and riggers (Jim M Bennett and Sergeant Wally H Shiers) for the trip were both veterans of 1 Squadron Australian Flying Corps campaign through Syria and Palestine. The Vimy was capable of carrying 865 gallons of petrol and was capable of a cruising range of 2,400 miles. Smith had previously reconnoitred by sea for possible landing places and fuel supplies points through the East Indies for the planned trip, returning to England in September with the route in mind and a spiel for the Vickers aircraft manufacturer.

The last to depart was the only other entry to actually make it to Australia - Airco DH9 G-EAQM P.D. under the command of Lieutenant Ray Parer. Parer and his co-pilot Lieutenant John McIntosh departed London on 8 January 1920 and completed their flight in an epic 206 days later, earning Parer the sobriquet "Battling Ray Parer".

The Vimy and crew left Hounslow, England on 12 November 1919, between bursts of freezing bad weather. Leaving the aerodrome at 8.00 AM and flying in the bitter cold of the Northern Hemisphere. The flight across Europe to Taranto in Italy taking five days through rain, frost, snow and constant heavy cloud. The Crew avoided Rome due to bad weather and travelled to Crete, staying at Suda Bay before arriving at Cairo at 1 Squadrons old stamping ground of Heliopolis. Smith wrote;

"On November 19th we left Cairo for Damascus. Our route lay over the old battlefields, Romani, El Arish, Gaza and Nazareth. It revived many memories for me, for this land over which we were passing was the arena of my war service."

Flying conditions were very poor and most hazardous until they reached Basra on 22 November 1919.

As the Vimy and crew flew over Mesopotamia they finally hit good weather and continued on to Delhi, spending twenty six hours out of fifty four in the air before flying onto Calcutta and then to Rangoon.

From Basra to Delhi, a distance of 1600 miles (2575 km), they spent 25½ hours in the air out of 54.

A poor landing-area at Singora and torrential rain almost brought disaster on 3 December.

The Vimy now on the end leg of its journey travelled through Siam [modern day Thailand] and the Dutch East Indies [modern day Indonesia]. The aircraft and crew landed at a specially constructed landing ground at Kalidjati where the East Indian Governor learning of the Australian Air Challenge had aerodromes constructed at different points in the island chain.

The crew landed the aircraft at Sourabaya where the aerodrome had no surface but soft reclaimed land. Ross Smith wrote;

"The thirty days of the competition were now closing in, and anxieties increased. We extracted the machine with the greatest difficulty, and at one time I feared it would be impossible ever to start off from that aerodrome again. I had a roadway of bamboo mats laid down, 350 yards long and 40 yards wide. The machine was hauled from the bog by a swarm of natives to this improvised pathway. We made a perilous take-off, with bamboo flying in all directions from our propellers."

December 1920 - Had a brief ‘emergency’ stop in Charleville (north Queesland).
Harry Corones 1883-1972
Recognition of his business acumen and his popularity came first in 1916 when he was invited to serve on the Charleville Hospital Board. Then in 1919 he was a member of the original committee of the Ambulance Centre and some time after that he was invited to serve on the Fire Brigade Board. He gave himself wholeheartedly to these activities, yet still he wanted to do more to help end the town’s isolation.
His inspiration for this came in 1919 when, on a flight from England to Australia, Sir Keith and Sir Ross Smith made a landing at Charleville for fuel and urgently needed repairs.
Harry entertained the two aviators as his guests (naturally) while repairs were carried out on the plane and it was refuelled from four-gallon petrol tins. Overwhelmed by the hospitality they received for three months and the splendid farewell dinner which Harry provided, the two aviators offered to take Jim up in their plane. Though very nervous, Jim went for a flight over Charleville and the surrounding countryside, seeing the vastness of his new homeland from the air for the first time, and being the envy of many other young men in the town!
The spectacle of a plane landing at Charleville fired Harry’s imagination as a way to end Charleville’s remoteness, and he became passionately interested in the fledgeling aviation industry in Australia.

The Crew passed over the HMAS Sydney in the Torres Strait where Smith had asked it to be in case they hit difficulties, before landing in Darwin on 10 December 1919, after travelling 11,240 miles in 28 days. Smith wrote;

"The land speedily assumed more definite contours; and details became manifest. Darwin came into view. In a few minutes we were circling above the town. Then down, down, in a steep descending spiral - and we had touched Australian soil."

By 9 December, however, they were at Timor, only 350 miles (563 km) from Darwin.

The crossing was made next day and at 3.50pm on 10 December they landed in Darwin.

The distance covered in this epic flight was 11,340 miles (18,250 km).

It took just under 27 days 20 hours with an actual flying time of 135 hours at an average speed of 85 mph (137 km ph).

Both Ross and Keith were immediately knighted; Sergeants Wally H Shiers and Jim M Bennett, the mechanics, were commissioned and awarded Bars to their Air Force Medals, and the £10,000 prize money was divided into four equal shares.

Interestingly a Frenchman, Lieutenant Poulet had left France before the Vickers Vimy of Smith but had been overtaken by the Vimy enroute. The Caudron aircraft Poulet was flying was under-powered for the task and Poulet abandoned his flight at Rangoon. When the Smith brothers with Bennett and Shiers landed in Port Darwin, two of the onlookers to greet the crew were Hudson Fysh and "Ginty" McGuiness, both former squadron members with Smith. Seeing the Vimy land convinced Fysh and McGinness there was future in commercial civil aviation, the pair would soon after start the Queensland And Northern Territory Aviation Service, or better known by its modern name, QANTAS.

As a result of the 1919 Air Race knowledgeable people speculated that, with relays of crews and machines, the trip from England to Australia could be reduced to five days. However, it would be another quarter century before such a service would be available to the public.

After arriving in Australia in 1919, the Smiths, Bennett and Shiers flew Vickers Vimy IV G-EAOU (God 'elp All Of Us) to Point Cook, Victoria.

Ross Smith visited Katoomba in 1920 and was afforded a civic welcome in front of a large crowd at the top of Katoomba Street, near the site of the present roundabout and former railway crossing.

On 19 March 1920 it was formally handed over from Vickers to Billy Hughes, Prime Minister of Australia, on behalf of the Commonwealth. The handover caused something of an outcry, Hughes apparently being the only member of the Government who was aware of the arrangement!

The Prime Minister immediately gave the crew permission to fly the aircraft to their home town of Adelaide, and they duly departed on 23 March, arriving at 1.55 pm into Northfield - to great excitement and a cheering crowd of 20,000.

In 1921 the aircraft was entered on the RAAF Register as A5-1 (the only Vimy to officially serve with the RAAF).
The next proposal, to fly round the world in a Vickers Viking amphibian, ended in disaster.

Both brothers travelled to England to prepare for the trip and on 13 April 1922, while Ross and his long-serving crew member Bennett were test-flying the aircraft at Weybridge near London, it spun into the ground from 1000 feet (305 m), killing both.

Keith, who arrived late for the test flight witnessed the accident, he cradled his dead brother in his arms, sobbing uncontrollably.
Ross had not flown at all for many months and had never flown this type of aircraft. The investigating committee concluded that the accident had been the result of pilot error. The flight was abandoned.

Keith, after corresponding with his and Jim Bennett’s parents, had the bodies embalmed and accompanied them back to Australia where they were honoured with a State Funeral. Ross was buried at North Road Cemetery, Adelaide, SA.

The bodies of Sir Ross Smith and Lieutenant Bennett were brought home to Australia and after a state funeral Sir Ross Smith was buried in the North Road Anglican Cemetery, Adelaide on 15 June 1922.

Football being brought to a halt mid-quarter is unusual, and with a couple of exceptions like lights going out, sprinklers coming on or perhaps even "Plugger's Pig", the interruptions have usually been predictable and linked to Someone-or-Other booting his 100th goal for the season. But for a funeral ... ???
It was expected by many, but some of the spectators at the St. Kilda and Essendon match on June 17, 1922 at the Junction Oval got a surprise late in the third quarter when a lone bugler in military uniform strode onto the ground just after a goal had been kicked by the Saint's Cyril Gambetta.
Outside the ground, the State Funeral procession of Lieutenant James Mallett Bennett had come to rest on its way to St. Kilda Cemetery from Parliament House.
Players running back to their positions stopped as the somber notes of 'The Dead March' drifted across the oval from the R.A.A.F. Band accompanying the procession, and the crowd of over 20,000 stood bare-headed as the bugler sounded the plaintive notes of the Last Post.

The aircraft was never flown and it was successively stored, then exhibited by the Australian War Memorial until 1957.

Sir Keith Smith was appointed Australian agent for Vickers and retained the connexion with this British company until his death. Between the wars, however, Vickers took little interest in the small Australian market and despite Smith's efforts, there was no sale of aircraft until the arrival of the Viscount in 1954. One promising venture strongly supported by Smith in the early 1920s was to employ Vickers-built airships on Imperial air routes. A British airship had successfully crossed the Atlantic in July 1919, but projects failed to materialize. The British government changed and so did policy while the airship itself which had crossed the Atlantic, the R34, was destroyed in a sudden and violent storm.

Keith remained, however, possibly the leading Australian spokesman on aviation matters and travelled extensively on Vickers' behalf. He held firmly to the view that Imperial co-operation was vital in aviation and looked for complete standardisation of British and Australian equipment. Superior American aircraft and British indifference were to defeat this aspiration.

He was to become, however, vice-president of British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines, a director of Qantas and Tasman Airways and by the end of his career was in control of the many Australian-based Vickers companies.

In World War II he was vice-chairman of the Royal Australian Air Force Recruiting Drive Committee and strongly supported the idea of an Empire air force.

In 1924 Keith married Anita Crawford of Adelaide who survived him when he died of cancer in Sydney on 19 December 1955. He had no children. He left an estate valued in two States at £33,723. Included in his will was a bequest of £100 to Wally H. Shiers, the sole remaining crew member of the England-Australia flight.

Sir Keith Smith was buried near his brother, father and mother in the North Road Anglican cemetery, Adelaide.

In 1986 Lady (Anita) Smith, widow of Sir Keith Smith, bequeathed her entire estate to the establishment of the Sir Ross & Sir Keith Smith Fund and directed that the income of the Fund be applied in perpetuity for "advancement in the State of South Australia of the science of aeronautics and of education therein".

Lady Smith recognised the need to stimulate local knowledge and innovation in aerospace technology. Her vision encompassed "each and every aspect of all means of human conveyance or transportation through the air and inner and outer space". (see website attached).

More recently a replica Vickers Vimy built in Queensland, Australia retraced the England to Australia route flown by Smith and his crew. The same Vimy is currently been repainted to represent the Vimy flown by Alcock and Brown which crossed the Atlantic.

With the opening of the new Adelaide/West Beach Airport in 1954, the opportunity arose to create a fitting permanent home for G-EAOU. Although the aircraft was partially burnt during transfer, and had to be rebuilt, in 1958 it was installed in a purpose-built, fully enclosed shelter located adjacent to the airport passenger terminal. The shelter also includes a statue depicting the aircraft's crew.

In 2009 exterior shelter screens had been erected around the glass front and sides of the shelter to prevent the aircraft being damaged by exposure to sunlight. The original Terminal closed in February 2006, replaced by a new Terminal some distance away, and the Vimy shelter is now something of an orphan. Nevertheless, the Vimy G-EAOU remains perhaps the most historically significant aircraft in Australia today.

Sourced and submitted by Julianne T Ryan. 26 September 2014. Lest we forget.

Showing 2 of 2 stories


Sir Ross Smith (1892-1922)

A joint biography of Ross and Keith Smith, by John McCarthy was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988. 

The full ADB article is HERE  ( 

ROSS SMITH was one of the greatest aviators of the First World War and the early civil aviation era of the 1920's. Smith was the leading ace of the Middle Eastern theatre and a pivotal leader with No.1 Sqadron AFC, respected by all, even those on the ground fighting with the Lighthorse. Graduating from the Peninsula, as the veterans of Gallipoli called it back then, to dominating the skies over Palestine with a mixture of dedication, leadership, aggressiveness and aviator skill. Smith's effect on aviation was epic; he opened up Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and Thailand to the world by air.

Ross Smith was the second of three brothers the others being Ross and Colin.  They were the sons of Scottish-born Andrew Bell Smith, station manager, and his wife Jessie, née Macpherson, who was born in Western Australia. The brothers were born in Semaphore Port Adelaide in South Australia.  Later they were resident at Gilberton and Molcuta Station via Cockburn near the South Australian / New South Wales border. 

Ross and Keith Smith made history with their crewman Wally Shiers and Jim Bennett, being the first to fly from England to Australia in 1919. 

Ross Smith died in an air crash in 1922 with Jim Bennett preparing for another record attempt.  The third brother, Colin Smith, had died of wounds sustained at Passchendaele in Belgium in October 1917.


Ross Macpherson Smith was born on the 4th of December 1892 in Semaphore, South Australia.

He was the middle son of three to Scottish-born Andrew Bell Smith, Station Manager, and his wife Jessie (née Macpherson), who was born in Western Australia.

His brothers were Sir Keith Macpherson Smith (b.1890 – d.1955) and Lieutenant Colin Macpherson Smith (b. 1895 – d. 6/10/1917).

In 1897 Andrew Smith became the Manager of the Mutooroo Pastoral Co. and Mutooroo Station, a property of some 3000 sq. miles (7700 km²) near Cockburn on the SA & NSW border.  Their city address was Stephen Terrace Gilberton an inner NE suburb of Adelaide. 

Lieutenant Colin Macpherson Smith was the youngest brother and had been born in Semaphore, South Australia was a Bank Clerk when he enlisted on 7/12/1915 and joined the 10th Battalion, 8th Reinforcement. He embarked from Adelaide, South Australia, on board HMAT A68 Anchises on 2 September 1915 and  died of wounds at Passchendaele, Belgium on 6 October 1917.

Both Keith and Ross were educated at Queen's School, Adelaide (as boarders), and for two years at Warriston School, Moffat, Scotland, their father's birthplace.  Colin was educated at St Peter's College. 

Keith Ross and were members of the Adelaide Rowing Club, and their images are displayed on a pictorial Honour Roll held in the Club.

On returning to Australia, after their sojourn inn Scotland, Ross joined the Australian Mounted Cadets and was selected in 1910 to tour Britain and the United States of America as a South Australian representative.  He then joined the 10th Australian Regiment, "the Adelaide Rifles".  He also served with the 24th Light Horse Brigade.

Before the outbreak of war in 1914 Ross was employed as a warehouseman in Adelaide for G. P. Harris Scarfe & Co.

When the war broke out, Ross was at the head of the queue at Morphettville Racecourse.  He was described on enlistment as 21 years old; single; 5' 9" tall; 157 lbs; green eyes; fair hair; Church of England and a tattoo of a butterfly cres on his left arm.

Smith's tent mate with 1 Sqn AFC, Les "Woodie" Sutherland wrote of Smith:-

"To us who knew him first in Khaki, he was a solid lump of a chap, 5' 10" tall, fair and fresh complexioned. For an Aussie, he had a fine command of English, and an unusually impressive diction. He had a lovable smile, was intensely athletic, and was a man all through. ....... A leader born, he was absolutely fearless. He was thrice valuable on the Eastern Front [Syria/Palestine], because, on top of his other war qualities he was a great pilot, a deadly gunner, and he had brains."

"Many is the time I have heard Light horseman say:   'Jacko [The Turks] bombed hell out of us on such and such day, but Ross Smith'll fix the ________.' (description according to heaviness of bombardment).

Smith and Sutherland both fought with the Lighthorse at Gallipoli and met after being evacuated together. 

Joined 1 Sqn AFC on the 24th of October 1916 to the 29th of November 1918.

Flying with No. 1 Squadron AFC, Smith took part in attacks, aerial photography missions, and bombing raids on Turkish forces. On one occasion as an observer, he and his pilot landed in the face of the enemy to rescue a downed comrade.  Smith fought off would be captors with a revolver and then they made good their escape.

During his extensive war service he was twice awarded the Military Cross, received the Distinguished Flying Cross three times, as well as the Air Force Cross.

19 January 1918 the squadron did their first deep reconnaissance in the Turkish rear around the towns of Beit Jibrin, Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Jericho. Performed by Roberts and Smith, escorted by Murray Jones and Ellis in Martinsydes. They discovered enemy railways and troop movements far from the front which needed disrupting.

As a pilot he shot down thirteen enemy machines, and the record of his individual exploits reveals courage and skill of a high order.

1 Squadron flew a mixed bag of aircraft.  Smith became experienced in flying his squadron’s twin-engined Handley Page 0/400 bomber; on occasion Lawrence of Arabia was his passenger.

After war's end and while still with the AFC, as co-pilot he made a pioneering flight from Cairo to Calcutta, and from Calcutta to Timor with Brigadier "Biffy" Burton, and Sir Geoffrey Salmond.  Two crewmen, Wally Shiers and Jim Bennett, accompanied them as mechanics.  It was to be an histoic teaming.  An attempt to Australia was contemplated but not undertaken.  However the experience was to stand him in good stead.

Prime Minister Billy Highes had staked a prize of £10,000 for the first to fly England to Australia.  Rossa and Kieth Smith (a navigation isntructor) and their two trusted mechanics Wally Shiers and Jim Bennett set out to take on the challenge.  They could not acccess a Handley Page but they did locate a Vickers Vimy long range twin engined former bomber - exactly the same type used by Alcock and Brown to cross the Atlantic earlier in the year with some help from "Biffy" Burton.

On 12 November 1919, they took off from Hounslow near London. It was an epic 28-day flight, completed at an average speed of 85 knots (137 kilometres) per hour, but not without mishap.

Compared to other competitors, they were better preared and logisitcally supported.  They endured atrocious weather and very difficult conditions along the way.  With very few airstrips properly constructed , every landing and takeoff was a risk.  On one occasion they had to take off on bamboo matting to reduce the risk of bogging - which would have been catastrophic.  On their arrival, the pioneering flyers were welcomed home as national heroes; their £10,000 prize money was shared equally. The two brothers were knighted and Shiers and Bennett were awarded the Air Medal and commissioned.  A detailed account of the flight, by Mike Miln of the SA Aviation Museum Inc, is attached as a resource.  They were feted as national heroes.

In 1922, three of the 'old team' returned to England and were preparing to attempt another record, this time in a flying boat.  Their chosen aircraft was a Vickers Viking amphibian aircraft.  With Keith Smith late,  Ross Smith and Bennett took off for their first flight.  Smith had not flown for some time and they were not familiar with the new aircraft.  It was seen to get into a spin from about 2,000 feet, recovered then spun again and crashed.

Keith Smith, who had arrived just after takeoff, witnessed the death of his brother, who was not yet 30. He was first to the accident scene and cradled his dead brother in his arms, sobbing uncontrollably.

Keith had the bodies embalmed after corresponding with his and Jim Bennett’s parents,  and accompanied the bodies back to Australia where they were honoured with a State Funeral.

Ross Smith was buried with full military honours at a state funeral at St Paul's Cathedral, befitting his status as a "national hero" and was buried at the North Road Anglican Cemetery, South Australia

Jim Bennett is memorialised on an obelisk erected in his honour at St Kilda Cemetery, Victoria.

Their famous Vimy aircraft was displayed in Canberra at the Australian War Memorial until 1958, when it was placed on display at the Adelaide Airport Museum, South Australia (the Smith brothers home town).  A comprehensive description of the circumstances around this are contained in the Resource.


KBE, MC and Bar, DFC and two Bars, AFC, MID


Sir Ross Smith  - service timeline

Pre August 1914  Ross Smith had served in the cadets and the militia before he enlisted.

17/8/1914          Completed medical - fit for service

19/8/1914          Commanding Officer appointed Ross to B Squadron,
                          3rd Light Horse Regiment, Morphettville Camp as a sergeant.

22/10/1914        Embarked  from  Adelaide  on  HMAT Port Lincoln A17, for Egypt

13/5/1915          Landed in Gallipoli, serving with the Light Horse

11/8/1915          He attained the rank of regimental sergeant major

5/9/1915            He was commissioned second lieutenant.

Oct/1915            Invalided to England

1/3/1916            Promoted to Lieutenant

22/3/1916          Embarked for Egypt to rejoin his old regiment. 1st Light Horse Brigade, 1st Machine-Gun Squadron           

4/8/1916            His principal action occurred during the ‘Battle of Romani’  (in Sinai)

11/5/1917          AWARD - Military Cross

July 1917            Responded to a call for volunteers to join the Australian Flying Corps (AFC)

4/8/1917            Joined No1 Squadron Australian Flying Corps as an observer

26/3/1918          AWARD - Bar to Military Cross

8/2/1919            AWARD - Distinguished Flying Cross  (whilst Captain in AFC)

8/2/1919            AWARD - Bar to Distinguished Flying Cross (whilst Captain in AFC)

8/2/1919            AWARD - 2nd Bar to Distinguished Flying Cross

3/6/1919            AWARD - Air Force Cross

26/12/1919        AWARD - Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire

1/4/1920            AWARD - Hejaz Order of the Nahda, Fourth Class

12/11/1919        Commenced return to Australia by aeroplane in the England to Australia Race

20/3/1920          Landed at Port Darwin

23/3/1920          Landed at Northfield, South Australia

23/5/1920          Discharged (appointment terminated) in Adelaide


In Honour of Sir Ross Smith and his crew:

20/5/1923     MONUMENT – Darwin NT
                     The unveiling of the monument to the late Sir Ross Smith took place at East Point
                     Road, Fannie Bay, over three miles from Darwin, where the aerial flight from
                     England to Australia was completed. A large crowd of people went out from Darwin
                     and Parap in motor cars and other vehicles, and pedestrians arrived from all around.
                     The Darwin Brass Band played a number of selections, after which a landing party
                     from the Naval survey sloop Geranium, towed by a small-launch ,came ashore while
                     the sloop was lying at anchor in the bay.
                     contingent of school children, under the direction of Mesdames Ward and Herkes,
                     sang, "Now pray we for our country".
                     The Queenslander (Brisbane), 26th May 1923.
                     Inscription: “Erected by the Commonwealth of Australia to commemorate the
                                         landing at Port Darwin of the first aerial flight from England
                                         10th December 1919.”

1927     The Sir Ross Smith Statue was unveiled on the 10 December 1927.
             The sculptor was created by F. Brook Hitch, A.R.B.S. and paid for by public subscription.
             In the Creswell Gardens, infront of the Adelaide Oval
             (corner of King William Road and War Memorial Drive, Adelaide, South Australia.

"One of the most impressive ceremonies witnessed in the history of Adelaide took place
at Creswell Gardens, on Saturday morning, when a statue was unveiled as a memorial to
Sir Ross Smith (reports the "Advertiser"). On a mild summer day, and in the presence of a
large gathering, honour was paid to the memory of one whose name for many a day to
come will continue as a household word, and be revered in the history of the State as an
example of glorious Australian manhood."

In unveiling the memorial statue, the Lieutenant-Governor (Sir George Murray) said it was
a tribute to the memory of South Australia's most famous son. Dr. Lendon, in handing over
the care of the statue to the Lord Mayor, said Sir Ross's greatest exploit was no chance
stunt. The Lord Mayor, in accepting the statue on behalf of the citizens of South Australia,
remarked that they were paying homage to a pioneer in the latest methods of transport.

1958    Adelaide Airport memorial (/explore/memorials/5) - A purpose built shelter for the Vimy aeroplane was constructed at Adelaide Airport.  A Statue erected to the memory of the Vimy'screw   was constructed at the shelter housing the Vimy, at the Adelaide Airport. It depicts L-R  Captain Sir Ross Smith KBE MC DFC AFC, Lieutenant Sir Keith Smith KBE, Lieutenant JM Bennett MSM AFM and Lieutenant WH Shiers AFM.

1996     Ross Smith Secondary School was a high school in Northfield, South Australia
             (his original landing place on his England to Australia flight in 1919).            
             Est. 1996 as a result of the amalgamation of Nailsworth and Northfield High Schools.
             The school had classes from Year 8 to 12. The school's last principal was Judith O' Brian.
             The motto of the school was "Building a culture of success."            
             It closed 2011 and is now part of Roma Mitchell Secondary College.

The great Australian cricketer Keith Ross Miller was named after Smith and his brother.

A Boulevard named after him:-
Sir Ross Smith Boulevard in Oakden, South Australia  (see map attached - red line)


Sourced and submitted by Julianne T Ryan.   23 September 2014.  Lest we forget.

Biography by Steve Larkins