On the 28th of October 1916, Australians were asked to vote “YES” or “NO”, in favour of military conscription or against it. It was, in the words of Official Historian C.W. Bean “one of the most acrimonious struggles Australia has ever seen.”
The 18th Battalion volunteers — raised mainly from the Sydney area, including Mosman — were described as ‘great big cheery fellows, whom it did your heart good to see.’ Within 48 hours of landing at Gallipoli, 50% of them were either dead or wounded. A few days later 80% of the 760 men who started the battle had become casualties.
Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport has over 40 million passengers arriving and departing every year.
Charles Kingsford-Smith became a household name between and after the wars because of his record-breaking Trans-Pacific flights with Charles Ulm and P.G. Taylor, and mysterious disappearance in 1937.
Less known are his experiences as a combat pilot in 1917, where his flying career was forged in the fires of adversity. In his autobiography My flying life he recalled
Sometimes our squadrons would sweep the sky in bands 20 strong, looking for trouble in the shape of Hun machines, and generally finding it. We flew low over enemy aerodromes and trenches, ground strafing and attacking anything in sight with our drums of Lewis fire. At other times we flew high, waiting At 15,000 ft. to pounce on our enemies, and there were exciting and adventurous occasions when we deliberately cultivated a spinning nose dive to in an effort to avoid attack, or with nonchalant abandon rolled carefree.
..We did the job to the best of our ability in what seemed to be the craziest old antiquarian contraptions imaginable- the machines of the Royal Flying Corps.. And we were up against an enemy that was ahead of us in aircraft design, and certainly not our inferiors in courage, élan and dash.
100 years ago a handful of Royal Flying Corps pilots — including the newly graduated 2nd Lieutenant P.G. Taylor — contested the skies with German hunting squadrons.
The life expectancy of an RFC pilot averaged only about 18 hours in April 1917. Many died because they flew, in the words of ‘Bill’ Taylor, a motley assortment of ‘…appallingly makeshift aeroplanes.’
This is their story…