“Battling Ray Parer” & the 1919 England to Australia Air Race

Sir Ross and Sir Keith Smith with their mechanics Jim Bennett and Wally Shiers famously won the first England to Australia Air Race in 1919. They completed this record-breaking flight in 27 days and 20 hours to become the first men to ever complete such a flight and claim the £10,000 prize offered by the Australian Government to be the first to cross the line in Darwin within 30 consecutive days by midnight on December 31st, 1920.

In my previous post I discussed the Smith brothers and their aircraft, the twin-engine Vickers Vimy bomber but I also mentioned the only other competitor of the 6 entrants in that race to actually finish it was pilot Lieutenant Ray Parer and co-pilot Lieutenant John McIntosh, flying a much smaller single engine Airco DH.9 G-EAQM. Of the other competitors 2 entrants with 4 crew were sadly lost in accidents and the other 2 suffered serious aircraft damage also in a crash and a heavy landing and could not go on (all Australians as per the rules of the great race).

Keith Smith, Ross Smith, Sgt. Jim Bennett and Sgt. Wally Shiers in front of the Vickers Vimy in 1919
Keith Smith, Ross Smith, Sgt. Jim Bennett and Sgt. Wally Shiers in front of the Vickers Vimy in 1919 (Photo Source: Australian War Memorial)

In June 1919 Ray Parer decided to partner with John McIntosh (who surprisingly was a relatively new pilot and very inexperienced in flying!) and enter the England to Australia Air Race. They sought out Peter Dawson, the Scottish whisky magnate to back the venture. He agreed and the Airco DH.9 was purchased (P.D. was painted in large letters on the fuselage in recognition of their sponsor)

Ray Parer laying on the ground looking at his oil splattered Airco DH9 in St. Raphael, France on January 20th, 1920 (Photo Source: Australian War Memorial)
Ray Parer laying on the ground looking at his oil splattered Airco DH.9 in St. Raphael, France on January 20th, 1920 (Photo Source: Australian War Memorial)

The Pilots

Ray Parer poses beside the oil splattered Airco DH9 at St. Raphael, France on January 20th, 1920 - the rubber connections on the oil and fuel systems had been giving them a lot of trouble on the flight (Photo Source: Australian War Memorial)
Ray Parer poses beside the oil splattered Airco DH.9 at St. Raphael, France on January 20th, 1920 – the rubber connections on the oil and fuel systems had been giving them a lot of trouble on the flight (Photo Source: Australian War Memorial)

Lieutenant Raymond John Paul Parer (1894-1967) enlisted in the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) in 1916, first as a mechanic (a skill that would come in handy in the air race) but by 1917 was trained as a pilot at Point Cook. Commissioned as a second lieutenant on June 1st, 1917 he was then sent to England. Completing his pilot training in February 1918 he then flew with the Royal Air Force Central Despatch Pool as a test and ferry pilot (flying aircraft to units in England and France). During his military career he was twice recommended for the Air Force Cross for his utmost professionalism.

Lieutenant John Cowe McIntosh (1892-1921) enlisted in the Australian Medical Corps in 1914 and served at Gallipoli in 1915. He transferred to the Australian Flying Corps in 1918 and began his flying training in England. He was commissioned as a pilot in April 1919. Less than a year later he was flying halfway around the world! He sadly died in an aircraft crash in Western Australia in March 1921.

The England to Australia Air Race

Now these men knew the meaning of never giving up and despite not departing Hounslow, England until January 8th, 1920 which was well after the race had already been won. They soldiered on taking a massive 208 days to complete the race, Arriving on August 2nd, 1920 into Darwin (plus another 29 days to get to Melbourne where they were officially welcomed at Flemington Racecourse), plagued by problems and accidents all the way! Despite all this trouble they became the first to fly a single engine aircraft from England to Australia and were each awarded the Air Force Cross and £500 for their adventurous undertaking! Upon finishing the race they presented Australian Prime Minister William Morris “Billy” Hughes with a bottle of PD Whisky from their sponsor but I am surprised they didn’t drink it themselves!

Ray Parer and John McIntosh standing alongside their Airco DH.9 before setting off for Bathurst in 1920 (Photo Source: Australian War Memorial - copied from Sea, Land and Air, September 1920).
Ray Parer and John McIntosh standing alongside their Airco DH.9 before setting off for Bathurst in 1920 (Photo Source: Australian War Memorial – copied from Sea, Land and Air, September 1920).
Goode Aerodrome - Athens, Greece in Feburary 1920 - Ray Parer stands to the left of the Airco DH9 (Photo Source: Australian War Memorial)
Goode Aerodrome – Athens, Greece in February 1920 – Ray Parer stands to the left of the Airco DH.9 (Photo Source: Australian War Memorial)
Ray Parer England to Australia The Airco DH.9 at Chah Bahar, Iran in early March 1920
The Airco DH.9 at Chah Bahar, Iran in early March 1920 (Photo Source: Australian War Memorial)

Following the great air race Ray Parer became known as “Battling Ray Parer”. The poor old Airco DH.9 under his command suffered damage from storms, fire (the engine twice caught on fire), forced landings and even a number of crashes along the way (broken propellers, destroyed radiators, damaged undercarriage and tail-skids, bent and damaged wings and fuselage, you name it and it happened to them!). By the time they had reached India, their finances were getting low and they conducted advertising flights over Calcutta with the DH.9 emblazoned with advertising slogans for whisky and tea! They even had an accident in Moulmein, Burma trying to avoid the crowd awaiting their arrival, yet somehow they got it back into the air each time!

England to Australia air race The extensive damage caused to the Airco DH9 during a forced landing at Moulmein, Burma in April 1920
The extensive damage caused to the Airco DH.9 during a forced landing at Moulmein, Burma in April 1920 (Photo Source: Australian War Memorial)
Ray Parer Airco DH9 Bima, Soembawa Island in Indonesia mid 1920
Another rough landing! This time in Bima, Soembawa Island in Indonesia mid 1920 (Photo Source: Australian War Memorial)

Even whilst heading south towards Melbourne they had more accidents along the way. Following one last mishap near Culcairn, New South Wales the aircraft was eventually transported by rail and then shown to the waiting public at Flemington on the back of a truck!

Ray Parer The Airco DH9 near Culcairn, NSW mid 1920 following a landing mishap in fading light on a rough freshly cultivated paddock. It was then transported by rail to Melbourne England to Australia Air Race
The Airco DH.9 near Culcairn, NSW mid 1920 following a landing mishap in fading light on a rough freshly cultivated paddock. It was then transported by rail to Melbourne (Photo Source: Australian War Memorial)

Airco DH.9

Amazingly despite all the mishaps along the way the Airco DH.9 aircraft still survives today! It is part of the Australian War Memorial collection in Canberra.

"Battling Ray Parer's" Airco DH9 at the Australian War Memorial
“Battling Ray Parer’s” Airco DH.9 at the Australian War Memorial (photos taken during my 2009 visit to the AWM)

In later years Ray Parer became somewhat of an aviation pioneer and record setter in his own right. He won the first Victorian Aerial Derby in a D.H.4 on December 27th, 1920 and competed once again in an England to Australia Air Race in 1934 but was out of the race pretty early, whilst barely over the English Channel due to mechanical issues with his ex-RAF Fairey Fox biplane G-ACXO. In true “Battling Ray Parer” style he kept going though and finished the race in 177 days (once again, long after the winner of the race). Later he established aviation services in New Guinea and served as an engineer in World War Two before settling into farming.

Sometimes it is great to hear stories of the battlers. This is just one of many great tales in aviation history but it kind of puts a smile on your face to think about what they went through yet kept going (luckily they also documented much of the trip with photos along the way). Despite an obvious strong will and determination, I suspect Ray Parer and John McIntosh must have also had a great sense of humour to complete that epic race!.

References:

Airways Museum – England to Australia Air Race 1919

Australian Dictionary of Biography – Ray Parer

Australian War Memorial – The 1919 Air Race

Wikipedia – Ray Parer

Wikipedia – John McIntosh

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2 thoughts on ““Battling Ray Parer” & the 1919 England to Australia Air Race

  1. Astonishing story! I guess the immediate post-WW1 period heralded the great age of air enthusiasm, much of it on the back of war surplus aircraft. I think we ended up with DH9’s in New Zealand’s ‘Permanent Air Force’ for a while in the 1920s.

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