Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Air travel in the 1930s & WWI aviators

The trouble with watching 1930s movies, and shows set in the 30s, like Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot series, is that it makes me want to be there. It's not just the fashion, the manners and beautifully spoken English, it's the little things, like tea.  Last time I was on a plane I did not get served real tea, made from leaves, in a real china cup. A  tea-bag with warm water in polystyrene just doesn't taste the same!
Air travel c. 1930s - Death in the Clouds
One of the world's first (non-dirigible) airlines was Qantas (Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd), established in 1920, just a few months after the Netherlands' KLM airline was founded.  Qantas had flights from the coastal towns of Queensland to the outback, distances of 1000s of kilometres that took months on dirt roads.  In the 1930s Qantas linked up with Imperial Airways, a British Airline, to carry mail and other small freight from Australia to London.  In  April 1934 Qantas Imperial Airways began the first scheduled commercial passenger service between England and Australia - and it only took 10 1/2 days!

Imperial Airways poster about travel to Australia, 1930s
Even though the flight now takes under 24 hours, at that time the flight took about the quarter of the time of a ship.  It is hard to imagine a time without air travel, but was only in 1928 that Bert Hinkler became the first to fly solo from England to Australia, in his Avro Avian, and Kingsford-Smith and Ulm became the first to cross the Pacific Ocean in the "Southern Cross."  They also were the first to circumnavigate the globe by crossing the Atlantic in June 1930.

Air hanger for Qantas Empire Airways Ltd.Queensland, c. 1935
Australians had began the pioneering of  long distance flying after the end of the First World War, with  brothers Ross and Keith Macpherson Smith being the first to fly from England to Australia in their twin engined Vickers Vimy in 1919, taking less than 28 days, with actual flying time of 135 hours.

Ross and Keith Smith's Vickers Vimy biplane, 1919.
At the outbreak of the Great War, Ross Smith enlisted in the 3rd Light Horse Regiment, landing at Gallipoli 13 May 1915. He survived, and in 1917, the volunteered for the Australian Flying Corps. Australia had formed its own Central Flying School at Point Cook, Victoria  and formed its first squadrons of the Australian Flying Corps in 1914, the only Commonwealth country other than Britain to form such a force.  Ross was later twice awarded the Military Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross three times, becoming and air ace with 11 confirmed aerial victories.  He was also the pilot for T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and fought in aerial combat missions in the Middle East. His brother, Keith, flew in the Royal Air Force as a pilot between 1917 and 1919.

Captain Sir Ross Smith K.B.E., M.C., D.F.C., A.F.C., and his brother Lieutenant Sir Keith Smith K.B.E.1921
After their success in 1919, in 1922 Keith Smith planned an around-the-world flight in 1922, but abandoned it after his brother Ross was killed while testing a Vickers Viking amphibian aircraft which crashed soon after taking off from Brooklands in the UK. Keith remained in Australia, working in Sydney as an agent for Vickers, vice-president of British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines (taken over by Qantas in 1954), and as a director of Qantas Empire & Tasman Empire Airways Limited (a subsidiary of Imperial Airways which was the forerunner of British Airways).  No doubt he was one of the men in charge of organising the first airline flights to London.

International flights from Australia became increasing popular and by 1937, Qantas Empire Airways was running a flying boat airmail and passenger service from Sydney to Southampton. Passenger and airmail flights continued throughout World War II, with some alterations and restrictions.

I know everything is faster now, but I would love to have travelled like this occasionally:

1930 air travel
"January 10, 1930. Tea time in the air. Miss Wanda Wood, hostess for the Eastern Air Transport, serves tea for two -- Misses Charlotte Childress and Elizabeth Hume, aboard one of the line's passenger planes. The company provides bridge, tea and cigarettes, with hostesses to arrange the bridge games and serve the tea."

Wouldn't you?

Deb xx

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