|THE parade had been dismissed. Sergeant C. Kingsford
Smith hurried back to his billet. He was excited. Here was another chance, and this time he was going to take it. The
first one was in 1915-when he was in Egypt. There was a chance of transferring to the newly-formed Australian
Flying Corps. But at that time "Chilla"-that's what his pals called him-was too eager to get into action. Already
there had been too much delay for his liking, and he knew there would be many months of training in the A.F.C.
before he could become a war bird. His parents had refused to allow him to enlist until his eighteenth birthday.
Now, surely, his unit, the Signalers, was the quicker way to the
"line." It was. Young Corporal Charles, as he was then, went into action on Gallipoli. Then there was Sinai, and afterwards France, and action enough to satisfy any
fire-eater. But by now Chilla had seen the air force at work. This, he decided, was the life for him! Besides, be bad beard that motor cyclists made good pilots. And when be bad been a dispatch rider hadn't he held the speed record-over a mile a minute on a busy road-between brigade headquarters and Cairo.?
Yes, it was a special chance. This day in 1916 the Sergeant-Major bad read out on parade that applications were invited for transfer to the Royal Flying Corps. It was the first time such an opportunity bad presented itself and, there were thousands of applications from the
AIF. But only one hundred and fifty Diggers were chosen for this special course.
Chilla was one of the successful ones.
My intentions are to take up flying in Australia after the war," be wrote to his parents when he got the good news. "It is an
honourable and an interesting career, and at home there will be possibilities for our services." How very right this young soldier was!
Chilla had been a fine young soldier. Although it was a stern course learning to be both an officer and a war bird, he was still full of fun, bubbling over with life. As in boyhood and youth, many was the spot of mischief
he was in. But there must have been flying blood in his veins, for after five hours' instruction he was flying solo. "It was grand having the old bus up in the air by myself," be wrote. In that letter he used a term that was to figure in the world's flying history. Do you recognize it?
A SPAD similar to
the type Smithy flew.
In France Second Lieutenant C. Kingsford Smith was posted to No. 23, a scout squadron of the R.F.C. The pilots
had to fill in a report every time they went aloft on active service. In the regulation form this is the story of his first victory.
|| 11,000 ft.
|| Offensive patrol
|| Brought one Hun down. Gun
jammed and had to leave fight.
You see, war birds were not expected to write long
descriptive stories about their doings. The authorities wanted only the important details. But in that particular patrol,
Smithy shot up a lot of troops and the huts were burning when he sped away from that Hun camp. He knew the fire
from the ground had been severe and unpleasantly accurate.
But until be reached his 'drome be did not realize how narrow had been his escape. For there was a slanting hole gouged
in the collar of his tunic. The man who owns that tunic is one of the proudest men in Sydney. But what was a narrow, escape or two? Only part of the
game. It was stiff luck not getting official confirmation for a couple of Huns he had downed. But, as his O.C. was to say,
young Kingsford Smith was one of the best fighters in the unit, full of grit and a splendid pilot.
Besides, thought the young airman, there were plenty more Huns to down. He'd
get them. But be didn't. The boot was on the other foot. This is how it happened. 14 August 1917. A dawn patrol. Cold up there in the
drifting clouds. Visibility bad. But that was the kind of weather the Huns liked for snooping around. Nothing doing
this morning, though. Not a sign of them.
The patrol leader looked at his
wristlet watch. His keen experienced eyes again swept the skies. Still empty. He fired his Verey pistol. It was the signal to go home. The patrol broke up. Now each pilot
was his own master. His the choice of route, of adventure, on the homeward flight.
Lieutenant Kingsford Smith was in no hurry, Plenty of fuel in the tank. Plenty of time. And a razor-keen eagerness to add to his tally of Huns. His glance sweeping the skies suddenly
halted, deepened. Through the rifts be could see ...yes, there were two Hun two-seaters. Down through the clouds the little Spad dived, down, down with ever-increasing speed. Then for the pilot a sudden, a dreadful shock. The world spun about him. There was only one clear realization -a fearful pain in his foot. Just as his dazed senses recognized the new sounds pinging past his head and chipping into the cockpit, he slumped forward, unconscious.
His a terrible awakening. The plane was in a spin. Little holes were suddenly appearing all around him, as bullets bit into wood and fabric. Death was racing up to
meet him. And as his trained mind knew full well, Death was speeding right behind him. The pilot sensed, too, what had happened. As he dived on the two-seater, another Hun, a scout ambushed in the clouds above, had dived on him. And this Hun
still had him in his sights. Yes, Smithy had been hit-badly hit. Blood was pouring from his foot, and he was feeling
And here was this Hun plane, its Spandaus
spitting still on his tail. Desperately Smithy struggled at the controls. First he had to pull her out of this sickening hurtling spin.
Yes, he had her now. Now this Hun-how to get clear of him. That dreadful pain was growing in intensity. Blood was squelching in his boot. A deadly nausea was
clouding his vision. There was only one thing for it-he had to try to speed up his
dive and thus out-speed that screeching devil on his tail. The race was on, with the Hun both a
contestant and a leaden spur. Down from the sky slanted the pursued and the pursuer. And when at last the British lines were crossed, the anti-aircraft guns
thundered into action. Under fire the Hun broke off the chase, wheeled,
Now Smithy had only one enemy to contend with-that ever growing faintness. He did not know until later that the Hun's first burst bad shattered a group of nerves in his foot and that two of his toes and portion of his foot would have to be amputated. And worse still, that he would never fly again in the war. The only bright spot in the many months of hospital and pain that were to follow, was the day he went to Buckingham Palace to be presented with his Military Cross
(M.C.) by the King - especially because of a mishap that occurred. The custom is that a commoner must never turn his back on the King.
So after receiving his M.C. Smithy moved backwards. But be was on crutches. They slipped and the young Australian fell. Officials rushed to help him, but it was the King himself who gave his arm as Smithy reached his feet. His Majesty was most concerned-previously he had conversed with Smithy for several minutes-and when he was satisfied that Smithy could move away unaided, the King told him to waive ceremony and go the easiest way. Smithy did. And as be used to say, smilingly, be was one of the very few people who had been privileged to turn his back on the King.
After be bad been demobilized, there were several
hard and disappointing years for Smithy. Big things promised, only to fail.
(Text so far from Daredevils of
the Skies, Angus & Robertson 1940)
- Kingsford Smith went on to become
one of Australia's best known sons but that part of his story is for
another place. In a very very brief form it is below.