Anzac & Aviator – The remarkable story of Sir Ross Smith and the 1919 England to Australia Air Race by Michael Molkentin – Book Review

Drawing on the rich and extensive collection of Ross Smith’s private papers, Anzac & Aviator is a biography of a quite remarkable Australian.

Allen and Unwin October 2019
Paperback 424pp RRP $32.99

Ross Smith served with the light horse at Gallipoli and in the Sinai before volunteering for the fledgling Australian Flying Corps (AFC). He survived two gruelling years of aerial combat over Palestine to emerge as one of the most highly decorated Australian pilots of the war. The chapters on Gallipoli provide a fascinating and fresh account of the fighting at Pope’s Hill and Quinn’s Post. The chapters which cover his training and then work as an observer and as an exceptional pilot with the AFC are also very interesting and add to the readers understanding of the campaigns in the Middle East and the role of the AFC in those campaigns. The pages covering his experiences during World War 1 make up a substantial part (a little under one-half) of the book.

At the end of 1918 Ross Smith was a pilot on the first ever mission to survey an air route from Cairo to the Dutch East Indies. In 1919 he and his brother Keith gained international fame, a knighthood and a prize of £10,000 from the Australian government (the idea of establishing the prize came from the very far sighted Prime Minister Hughes) by becoming the first pilots to fly from England to Australia. They did so in a converted Vickers Vimy bomber, and with the assistance of two mechanics who flew with them (and who shared in the prize money but not the imperial honours!). Ross Smith died in an air crash in 1922, he was only 30 years old at the time.

The book includes forty-nine B&W photographs, ten of which are related to the chapters covering his service in the Middle East in the First World War together with four, very useful maps. The book also has forty-seven pages of endnotes, a bibliography and comprehensive index.

Michael Molkentin is a teacher and historian with a particular interest in aviation and air power. He has written a number of books about the Australian Flying Corps in the First World War and also a book about Charles Ulm and Charles Kingsford Smith.

The book is very well written and will be of interest to people wanting to learn more about Gallipoli and other campaigns in the Middle East during the First World War as well as people interested in the history of aviation.

Reviewed for RUSIV by Robert Dixon, October 2019

Contact Royal United Services Institute about this article.

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