Warbirds Online and the Australian Flying Corps

The QANZAC team was recently contacted by a Queensland based organisation called Warbirds Online; a group of aviation enthusiasts with a passion for Australian military aircraft, historic aviation and the restoration of historic aircraft in Australia.  In honour of the centenary of World War I Warbirds Online has been highlighting the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) and the vital role this unit played during the First World War.

Warbirds Online has a wonderfully informative website: http://www.warbirdsonline.com.au with a link to their World War I material, which is a must-see for anyone interested in aviation during the war and the role of the Australian Flying Corps which provided significant support to the ground campaigns.

The AFC, which was the forerunner of the Royal Australian Air Force, was established in 1912 but did not begin flight training until 1914.  Interestingly Australia was the only Commonwealth nation to participate in the war with its own air arm.  The AFC was comprised of four combat squadrons and four UK based training units.  Training in Australia for overseas service was carried out at the Central Flying School at Point Cook in Victoria.

View of the hangars at the Point Cook Aviation School in Victoria, Australia, 1916. Australian War Memorial photograph, ID number P10814.015.001.

View of the hangars at the Point Cook Aviation School in Victoria, Australia, 1916. Australian War Memorial photograph, ID number P10814.015.001.

Units of the AFC were organised for overseas service with the Australian Imperial Force during World War I, and served initially in the Mesopotamian Campaign in which the corps assisted the Indian Army in protecting British oil interests in what is now Iraq.  The AFC later saw action in Palestine and France.  During the First World War the AFC put through its ranks a total of 460 pilots, all commissioned officers, of whom 57 became 'Aces' with about 100 decorations, including a Victoria Cross awarded to Lieutenant F.H. McNamara of Victoria.  An 'Ace' was defined as an aviator who had shot down five or more enemy aircraft.

Portrait of Lieutenant Frank Hubert NcNamara of No. 1 Squadron, AFC. Australian War Memorial photograph, ID number P00336.001.

Portrait of Lieutenant Frank Hubert NcNamara of No. 1 Squadron, AFC. Australian War Memorial photograph, ID number P00336.001.

In addition there were also 2,234 personnel in other ranks consisting of mechanics, refuellers, signallers and general ground duty staff.

Charles Bean, Australia's official war historian, devoted a whole volume (volume 8) to the AFC in The official history of Australia in the war of 1914-1918.  Bean chose Frederick Morely Cutlack, an Australian journalist and official war correspondent, who served in the British Army as a lieutenant, to write this volume.  Volume 8 was published in 1923 to widespread critical acclaim and was described in the Sydney Morning Herald as 'a magnificent epic of resourcefulness and intrepidity.  The heart of every Australian who reads it will thrill with pride at the feats accomplished by his country'. (Sydney Morning Herald, 31 July 1923)

Aeroplane AE8 A4397 of No. 3 Squadron, AFC. This aircraft flew a record number of house for the Australian Flying Corps units on the Western Front. Australian War Memorial photograph, ID number P00355.045

Aeroplane AE8 A4397 of No. 3 Squadron, AFC. This aircraft flew a record number of house for the Australian Flying Corps units on the Western Front. Australian War Memorial photograph, ID number P00355.045

The State Library collection also holds a wealth of information concerning the AFC, including books, ebooks, articles, photographs and manuscripts, including a copy of a report by Captain F.R. Smith of the 2nd Australian Flying Corps concerning three days he spent behind German lines after being shot down on the 9th of November 1918, (OM64-31/5 Francis Ryan Smith Report).

Some examples from our photographic collection are below:

Harold Livingstone Fraser of the Australian Flying Corps, 1917. John Oxley Library, Negative No. 162517.

Harold Livingstone Fraser of the Australian Flying Corps, 1917. John Oxley Library, Negative No. 162517.

Liuetenant Harold Livingstone Fraser was born in Rockhampton and before the war worked as a station overseer at Emu Park.  He initially joined the 5th Light Horse Regiment in September 1915 and eventually transferred to the Australian Flying Corps, No. 1 Squadron on 7th April 1917.  He was awarded the Military Cross for 'consistent disregard of danger in carrying out his duties as a pilot in numerous bombing attacks and reconnaissance, in the course of which he displayed consistent gallantry'.

Pilot of the AFC starting out in his biplane in the Middle East during World War I. John Oxley Library, Negative No: 115417.

Pilot of the AFC starting out in his biplane in the Middle East during World War I. John Oxley Library, Negative No: 115417.

Mechanic C.R. Wilson with a De Havilland DH6 two-seater biplane at the Australian Flying Corps Training School at Point Cook, Victoria, 1918. John Oxley Library, Negative No: 138363.

Mechanic C.R. Wilson with a De Havilland DH6 two-seater biplane at the Australian Flying Corps Training School at Point Cook, Victoria, 1918. John Oxley Library, Negative No: 138363.

The Warbirds Online website is a treasure trove of historic photographs, articles about Australian flyers, military aircraft and Australia's role in aviation during the First World War and we are grateful for this opportunity to feature them on our World War I blog .

Lynn Meyers, QANZAC 100 Content Curator

 

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