SMITH, Sir Ross Macpherson (1892-1922)


SMITH, Sir Ross Macpherson (1892-1922)
aviator
was born at Adelaide on 4 December 1892, the second son of Andrew Smith, manager of Mutooroo station. Both parents were born in Scotland. Smith was educated at Queen's School, North Adelaide, where he was captain of the eleven in 1908, and at Warriston School in Scotland. In 1910 he was one of the three South Australian representatives chosen to form a company of mounted cadets which visited Great Britain and the United States. On leaving school he entered the hardware firm of Harris Scarfe and Company of Adelaide, and when the 1914-18 war broke out enlisted on 10 August. He was made a sergeant while in camp, and left Australia on 22 October 1914 with the 3rd Light Horse. He was at Gallipoli for four and a half months from May 1915, and then was invalided to England. He had in the meantime been promoted lieutenant. In April 1916 he was sent to the middle east and in October joined the air force. He soon won his wings and during the Palestine campaign showed great gallantry, being awarded the M.C., and bar, the D.F.C. with two bars, and the A.F.C. He did a large amount of observation and bombing work, was the first aviator to fly over Jerusalem, and in May 1918 was selected to take Lieut.-colonel T. E. Lawrence to the Sherif Nazir's camp to carry out his work of arranging Arab co-operation. He also made a remarkable flight from Cairo to Calcutta in a large Handley-Page machine soon after the armistice was signed. The distance was 2348 miles, the longest flight that had been made up to this time.
In 1919 the Australian government offered a prize of £10,000 for the first machine manned by Australians to fly from London to Australia in 30 days. Smith decided to enter for the competition and Messrs Vickers were asked to supply a machine. They agreed to do so in October, and on 12 November Ross Smith accompanied by his brother, Keith, and Sergeants Bennett and Shiers, who had been his mechanics during the flight from Cairo to Calcutta, started on their long journey. The machine carried 865 gallons of petrol and had a cruising range of 2400 miles. Bad weather was encountered soon after starting and during the five days spent in flying to Taranto most of the time the plane was driving through clouds, snow and rain, and often they were obliged to keep to dangerously low altitudes. From Taranto they went to Crete, and then to Cairo, where they arrived on 18 November. Making for Damascus and then Bagdad, a simoon swept up on the night of arrival, and only the help of a squadron of Indian lancers prevented the machine being smashed on the ground. Keeping to the south of Persia the route took them to Karachi, Delhi, Calcutta, Rangoon, Bangkok and Singapore. The governor-general of the Dutch East Indies had ordered aerodromes to be constructed at various points on the islands, which proved to be of the greatest use. But at Sourabaya the aerodrome had been made on reclaimed land which was soft underneath. The machine got bogged, and the position seemed almost hopeless. However, with the help of a large number of natives, a roadway of bamboo mats 350 yards long was laid down, the plane was dug out and hauled on to the mats and a successful take off was made with the mats flying in all directions. Darwin was reached on 10 December by way of Bima and Timor. The task was completed in just under 28 days, the actual flying time being 135 hours, and the distance covered 11,340 miles. The journey was continued across Australia and at Melbourne the prize of £10,000 was handed over and divided equally among the four members of the crew. The machine was presented to the Commonwealth by Messrs Vickers Ltd as a memorial of the first flight from London to Australia. At the request of the authorities it was flown to Adelaide, the birthplace of three of the crew. The brothers Smith were both created K.B.E. Smith wrote a short account of the journey which was published in Sydney in March 1920, illustrated with photographs, under the title, The First Aeroplane Voyage from England to Australia. Lecture tours followed in Australia and England, and early in 1922 it was intended to make a flight round the world. On 13 April Ross Smith and Lieutenant Bennett took the machine, a Vickers Viking amphibian, for a trial flight. The machine developed a spin, nose dived, and both men were killed. Smith was unmarried. His book on the journey to Australia, 14,000 Miles Through the Air, appeared a few weeks after his death.
A man of cheerful and modest disposition, Smith had great courage, determination and foresight. He had a remarkable war record, and considering the conditions his flight to Australia was an extraordinary feat. His brother, Sir Keith Macpherson Smith, born in 1890, also had a good war record. He had intended to go on the flight round the world but returned to Australia and became the representative of Vickers Ltd at Sydney.
The Register, Adelaide and The Advertiser, Adelaide, 14 April 1922; F. M. Cutlack, The Australian Flying Corps; Ross Smith, The First Aeroplane Journey from England to Australia and 14,000 Miles Through the Air; Who's Who in Australia, 1941.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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