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Centenary of the "NSW State Aviation School", Richmond NSW.

Sunday 28th August, 2016.


Chief Instructor Billy Stutt.  A highly-experienced test pilot who returned to Australia from the UK to start the School. 
Very unusually for the time, he was able to conduct all of his six courses, up until the end of WW1, without any fatal accidents amongst his student-pilots. 
Ironically, he himself was lost in a (still-mysterious) crash in 1920, undertaking a noble but risky search-and-rescue mission over Bass Strait.  At that time he was serving with the Australian Air Corps.
[Thanks to Barry Hayes for his detective work on the image above.]  This photograph was circulated by Billy for publicity purposes, since his appointment in 1916 had made him quite a significant public figure in NSW. 
The original photograph was taken in England - the aircraft is actually a Sopwith 1½ Strutter.  Billy then had a Sydney photo-studio erase the figure of a ground-crew member behind the front cockpit, before duplicating the picture. 

The founding of the NSW State Aviation School in 1916 represented a major step in Australia's aviation history.  The school trained several 3AFC aviators in World War One. 
[For more background history, please see our book review "Billy Stutt and the Richmond Flyboys"]. 

Our Centennial ceremony was held in perfect weather, exactly 100 years (to the day) after the opening of the school. 

[And the weather at the original 1916 opening ceremony had been cold and rainy; so we were lucky not to duplicate that aspect of the commemoration!] 

We had a small crowd of 30 people with deep connections to the events of 100 years ago.  There was representation from State and Local Government, plus the RAAF, the Australian Army, historical and veterans' groups. 

All had an interest in the pioneering events at Richmond 100 years ago.  In 1916 this land had become the first Government-owned "civil" airport in Australian history.  Many of the NSW Aviation School's graduates went on to fly in the First World War.  (And sadly, seven died, either in combat or in later training.)  The aerodrome infrastructure created at that time then became the "kernel" around which grew today's vast Richmond RAAF base.

The Commemorative Plaque was designed and installed by the Australian Society of World War One Aero-Historians (with funding support from the Federal Government's Saluting their Service grants) and unveiled by the State Member for Hawkesbury, the Hon. Mr. Dominic Perrottet MP.

Three of the families attending the ceremony were related to 1916 graduates of the first course of the Richmond Aviation School:

- Nigel Love, who flew in combat with 3rd Squadron of the Australian Flying Corps [3AFC] on the Western Front in France and who returned to Australia to establish Mascot Airport and set-up Australia's first commercial aircraft factory.

- Jack Weingarth, who flew in France with 4AFC, flying Sopwith Camel fighters and totalling 151 combat missions over the front.  Sadly Jack was killed in 1919 in England in a peace-time crash, while instructing a trainee pilot.  [The un-necessary loss of such a distinguished pilot resulted in the termination of the AFC's post-war "make-work" training programme in Europe.]

- David Williams, who was retained as an instructor after training at Richmond, before travelling to Europe and serving as a "ferry pilot" with the AFC - flying newly-manufactured aircraft from England to the front in France.

The plaque was placed on one of the four main pillars of the imposing RAAF Memorial, situated on the Hawkesbury Valley Way, 300m west of Clarendon railway station (towards Richmond) and overlooking the modern-day RAAF Base.


The attractive photo-etched plaque design.

ORDER OF PROCEEDINGS.

- Introduction by the Master of Ceremonies, Mr. Gareth Morgan, President of the Australian Society of World War One Aero Historians (ASWW1AH).

- Address by the NSW Minister for Finance, Services and Property and Member for Hawkesbury, the Honourable Dominic Perrottet, MP.


The Minister.

- Address by Mr. John G. Love (son of NSW S.A.S. 1st-course graduate, Nigel Love):

My father was born on the 16th of January 1892, at historic “Belmont Park”, North Richmond, the home of his uncle Major Philip Charley (Nigel’s mother Rebecca was Philip’s sister) and he spent much of his boyhood growing up there.  [Major Philip Charley was one of a syndicate of seven who founded BHP Limited in 1885, following the discovery of valuable minerals.  Purchasing 2000 acres at Richmond, he imported from England hackney and carriage horses and Red Poll cattle for breeding, identifying himself with the Hawkesbury District Agricultural Association, of which he was President.]

Our family has had a close association with the Richmond District for over 130 years.  My brother Jeff periodically used the RAAF Base during his WW2 years with his Mosquito Squadron and I attended Annual Camp there, as a cadet of Air Training Corps.

Dad’s call for duty to serve his country came in 1915, joining the army at the age of 23.  Scheduled to sail as a reinforcement for 18th Battalion at Gallipoli, he was given leave, after successfully responding to a circular seeking applicants for pilot training at the Richmond State Aviation School.  He was one of only 25 selected, from a field of 230.

The Aviation School was officially opened this day, one hundred years ago, by the State Governor Gerald Strickland.  It was not however, without political controversy, with a negative response from the Central Flying School at Point Cook, Victoria who resisted the School’s formation.  This was a period shortly after Federation in 1901 and State jealousies were still rampant.

An important move came with the appointment of two qualified instructors Billy Stutt and Andrew Lang, both from the Royal Flying Corps, England.  Stutt was the Chief Flight-Tester of machines at the Royal Aircraft Factory, Farnborough.  The School’s opening saw two Curtiss 'Jenny' JN-4  trainers imported from the USA.

Dad commented in his autobiography:

“I am afraid that flying an aeroplane had not developed very significantly up to this point of time.  Aerobatics, as we afterwards knew them, did not exist at all at this stage.  Straight-and-level flying with S-turns, requiring the appropriate amount of bank and even going on to a vertical-bank turn, was all that was indulged in.  Such things as looping, spinning, nose-dives, rolling and half-rolling were quite unknown.”

Graduating from the School, as an officer/pilot of Australian Flying Corps (AFC), he was posted, in early 1917, to England for further specialised combat training with the “Top Guns”.  This honed his skills in aerobatics, aerial tactics and warfare, before being transferred to the Western Front.  ...Where the war was raging!

Joining 3rd Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, in January 1918 - as part of General Sir John Monash’s restructured Australian Army Corps - he was witness to big changes that were occurring in warfare strategy in the Somme (northern France).  Monash initiated the move from the static Trench warfare to Mobile Warfare.  This was a huge change from previously-conceived ideas and encompassed a major role-change for 3 Squadron.  Bombing and strafing of forward trench positions, dropping aerial supplies by mini-parachutes ahead of advancing troops, taking out hostile gun-battery positions and the non-stop detailed mapping of enemy positions on the ground were all part of a meticulously-rehearsed plan of attack.

Participant in Australia’s Front-Line successes, the Battle of Hamel and the Battle of Amiens in the Somme Valley, Dad realized that the Great War was coming to an end, and his thoughts turned to life on his return home.  He visualized the place aviation would take in the Australia of the future.  At the time he was the oldest surviving pilot of 3 Squadron.  He flew 200 hours over enemy lines, where the survival rate averaged 60 hours.  Life was brutally short.

Inspired by the opportunity to pioneer and establish a new aircraft business, he signed a three-year agreement with A. V. Roe ['AVRO'] for the sole agency in Australia.  On arriving home in Sydney in June 1919, he set about searching for a suitable aerodrome. 

Dad was to become one of Australia’s early pioneer aviators, with a number of firsts:-

·        He personally selected Mascot aerodrome, 1919.

·        Established Australia’s first aircraft manufacturing company: Australian Aircraft & Engineering Co. Ltd., at Mascot.

·        Sold six Avro 504K aircraft to the RAAF - built with Australian materials.

·        Built the first commercial (civil) 5-passenger plane in Australia – the "B1", designed by aeronautical engineer, Harry Broadsmith.

·        Flew the first fare-paying passenger from Sydney to Melbourne, 1920.

·        Built and sold to Qantas, in 1921, its very first aircraft, an AVRO 504K.

CONCLUSION:  Despite early negative sentiment, the NSW State Aviation School, Richmond, went on to make a significant contribution to both the WW1 Victory and peacetime; training pilots at a critical time in the new science of Aviation.

 

- Address by the Deputy Mayor of Hawkesbury City, Councillor (Dr) Warwick Mackay OAM.

- Book presentation to Hawkesbury City Library by Mr. Jeff Love.


- Mr Jeff Love pointing out the men of the School's first course [photographed on 28 August 1916].  Several large-format prints were presented to Hawkesbury City Deputy Mayor, Dr. Warwick Mackay OAM.

 

- Address by WGCDR Matthew Hetherington, Commanding Officer of RAAF Air Mobility Training and Development Unit
(With details of the seven SAS graduates who died in AFC, RFC or RAF service, plus Chief Instructor Billy Stutt).

THE SEVEN WAR CASUALTIES AMONGST THE 58 GRADUATES OF THE SCHOOL:

- 2nd Lieutenant Hector Kingsley Portus TIDDY (first NSW SAS Course).  No.7 Sqn RFC; on 26 July 1917, only five days after arriving at the Front, he was alone in RE8 A3714 practising landings.  This aeroplane had been delivered to the squadron a month before and was totally wrecked in this fatal crash, near Droglandt aerodrome.

- 2Lt. Michael Hugh CLEARY (first NSW SAS Course).  No.62 Sqn RFC; missing on patrol over Villers Bretonneux on the Western Front flying Bristol Fighter B1211 with 2Lt Victor George Stanton (Fort Garry Horse) on 28 March 1918.  Shot down and killed on the enemy side of the front line while strafing.

- 2Lt. Frederic (Derek) HUDSON (second NSW SAS Course).  No.43 Sqn RAF; missing on patrol while flying Sopwith Camel B2431 over the Western Front on 6 April 1918.  Died of wounds in captivity at Paderborn on 27 April.

- Lieutenant Gordon Vincent OXENHAM (second NSW SAS Course).  No.1 Sqn AFC; killed in action in Palestine on 27 June 1918 while flying Bristol F2B A7636 with Lt Laurence Henry Smith, who was taken Prisoner of War.  The airmen were escorting Capt Brown and Lt Finlay in another Bristol on a reconnaissance mission over Kutrani when they became involved in combat with two German AEG C-types.  Capt Brown shot down one of the enemy and Lt Oxenham forced the other to land, only to be killed by ground fire while flying over his victim. 

- 2Lt. George Viner WICKS (third NSW SAS Course) No 7 Training Squadron AFC; killed in an aircraft accident at Leighterton, Gloucestershire, on 13 October 1918 while flying RE8 C2628.  It was 2Lt Wicks’ first flight in an RE8, and the Court of Enquiry determined that he had entered into a flat spin at about 50 feet after apparently turning without banking.

- 2Lt. Raynes Lord Charles ROYLE (second NSW SAS Course).  No 7 Sqn RAF; on 8 November 1918, at Menin aerodrome on the Western Front, he decided to keep a French anti-tank shell, a souvenir picked up from the (by that stage) moving battlefront.   His observer, 2Lt Peter Edward Buckingham M.C. (37th Trench Mortar Battery) thought he could defuse the shell.  However, the shell exploded, killing both airmen.

- Lt. Jack Henry WEINGARTH (first NSW SAS Course).  No.5 Training Squadron AFC; died in an aircraft accident at Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire, on 4 February 1919 when flying as an instructor in Avro 504 E9310 with Lt William Henry Millard (51st Infantry Battalion).  The Avro’s engine was missing, due to a shortage of petrol, when Lt Weingarth opted to land to refuel, and took control.  After a steep left turn, the engine stopped, and the Avro stalled, spun twice and crashed.  The Court of Enquiry determined that due to insufficient fuel the pilot was unable to make use of his engine when turning; hence the crash.  Lt. Millard survived the accident.

 

THE LOSS OF BILLY STUTT

Capt. William John STUTT, (Chief Instructor, Australian Air Corps), presumed to have died on 23 September 1920 while flying a DH9A (aircraft serial E8616) searching for the missing schooner "Amelia J" in Bass Strait.  Lost in the same incident was Stutt's Observer/Mechanic, Sgt. Abner Gilchrist DALZELL (who had served with the ground-crew of 3AFC in WW1).  Billy's aircraft had been accompanied by another DH9A flown by Major Anderson - formerly Commanding Officer of 3AFC when WW1 finished.  (Landing near Hobart on that day, Major Anderson created a record for the second-only crossing in Australia's history of Bass Strait by air, and in fact the first such crossing from north to south.)  Unfortunately the two DH9A aircraft had separated in cloud over Cape Barren Island, and that was the last confirmed sighting of Stutt and Dalzell.  Their crash site has never been located to this day, despite extensive searches.  (Nor was any trace of the Tasmanian 3-masted schooner  "Amelia J", and its crew of eleven, ever found.  The sailing ship had left Newcastle on August 21st for Hobart with 600 tons of coal and had soon afterwards encountered bad gales.  It may well have sunk weeks before the air-search was even launched.)

 

- The Ode of Remembrance, read by Mr. John Love.

- An Army bugler played The Last Post, followed by one minute's silence, and Rouse.  (Reflecting that the Australian Flying Corps was part of the Army during World War I).

 

The ceremony was followed by an enjoyable group lunch at The Richmond Club.


Jeff Love, Steve Weingarth and John Love discuss the "Richmond Flyboys" over lunch.

[Event photos by Wendy Weingarth and Jennifer Ballard]

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