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).
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)
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!.