The New South Wales State Aviation School was a civilian organisation whose existence is directly linked to the story of the Australian Flying Corps during the First World War.
The insignia related to Australian aviators of the First World War are one of my areas of collecting interest. Whilst most of these are associated with the Australian Flying Corps (AFC), there are also some lesser known badges which are closely linked to the Australia’s early military aviators. The New South Wales State Aviation School was a civilian organisation whose existence is directly linked to the story of the AFC. The school wore military styled uniforms and distinctive insignia on their caps and jacket sleeve. Very few surviving examples are known to exist and I am still searching for examples for my own collection. If anybody can help, please contact me.
The New South Wales State Aviation School opened on 28 August 1916 as a supplement to the Australian Flying Corps Central Flying School (CFS) at Point Cook in Victoria. The school was located at Ham Common, now site of the Richmond RAAF Base. The Premier of New South Wales, William A. Holman was a keen proponent of military aviation, so he put New South Wales State finances behind the development of the school, financing the procurement of two American Curtiss training aircraft, with two additional Curtiss JN-B4 aircraft acquired in 1917. Whilst the aim was to train pilots for the AFC, it was foreshadowed that after the war the school would continue to train pilots for civil aviation purposes.
Captain William ‘Billy’ John Stutt (1891-1920), the NSW State Aviation School’s chief instructor, sitting on one of the two American Curtiss trainers. Captain William ‘Billy’ John Stutt (1891-1920) was the Richmond flying school’s chief instructor. Born in Hawthorn, Victoria, he was an engineer by trade. After completing his flying training at the Bristol School, Salisbury Plain, England, Stutt became a distinguished pilot, flying across the English Channel 40 times as the first King’s Messenger, and was appointed Chief Test Pilot at the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough in 1915. He was released from military duties in London to take up the position of Chief Pilot at the NSW flying school in 1916. He was an inspirational leader, greatly admired for his flying skills and rapport with his students. Stutt was also a tireless promoter of aviation, flying many daring demonstrations for dignitaries, the press and the public. He used one of the flying school’s Curtiss Jenny JN-4B aircraft to fly from Sydney to Melbourne in November 1917, despite becoming lost in fog and other misadventures, to promote flying as a ‘post-war transport prospect’. The return trip on 12th November 1917 was the first one-day flight between capital cities in Australia. In July 1919 he left the School to take up the position of Officer-in-charge, Aeroplane Repair Section, at the Central Flying School at Point Cook, Victoria. Stutt’s death was officially recorded as the 23rd of September 1920, when he was tragically lost at sea with Abner Dalziell after their plane disappeared during Australia’s first air-sea rescue flight, searching for the missing schooner, ‘Amelia J’, in Bass Strait. Source: Collection of photographs of WWI NSW State Aviation School, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences.
The NSW State Aviation School July 21, 1916, just before officially opening. Timber for the western annexe of the hangar still lies stacked on the ground, as the first Curtis ‘Jenny’ trainer aircraft is checked out by Chief Instructor Billy Stutt (nearest camera) and the workers who had assembled and rigged the airframe. Hurried patches in the aerodrome surface indicate the pace of preparations towards the official opening of the School on August 28, 1916. Picture: http://www.3squadron.org.au. Charter Family Collection
First student intake for the New South Wales State Aviation School, 28 August 1916. Back row, left to right: Nigel Love, who flew 200 hours over the front with 3 Sqn AFC; Garnsey Potts [briefly in 3AFC, invalided out due to sickness, thereafter instructing in England]; William L. King [joined 3AFC but crashed on a ferry flight with serious injuries, invalided to Australia]; Irving Sutherland [Royal Naval Air Service 10SQN, wounded in action]; Alan Weaver [joined 4AFC but soon seriously injured in a training accident]. Chief Instructor Billy Stutt (in centre, without cap); Augustus Woodward-Gregory [flew with 52SQN RAF, wounded in action, French Croix de Guerre]; John Weingarth [flew 151 missions over the lines in 4AFC Sopwith Camels, then instructing duties in England- died on a post-war training flight, 4 Feb 1919]; Jack Faviell [training and administration duties in England]; Edgar Coleman [joined RNAS, but dogged by illness and did not fly in combat]; Robert L. Clark [two months’ combat with 2AFC, injured in an SE5A landing accident, thence instructing in England; died in WW2 as a civilian internee of the Japanese, when the Japanese POW ship Montevideo Maru was torpedoed by submarine USS Sturgeon on 1 July 1942]; Leslie Sampson [4AFC but suffered several accidents flying Camels and was grounded]; Roy Smallwood [combat with 4AFC for four months, shot down by German anti-aircraft fire, but survived]; Leonard Webber [left Richmond course but later saw action in Belgium]; and Charles Dagg [RNAS seaplane pilot, awarded Air Force Cross after he survived a wreck in the Mediterranean, died in WW2 serving in the RAF.] Front Row, left to right: Norman Clark [served with 3AFC for 9 months, pilot and Signals Officer, thence instructor in England, promoted to Captain and Flight Commander]; Cecil R. Burton [4AFC for two months, but invalided to England with illness]; Vernon Burgess [9SQN RFC and Flight Commander with 7SQN RFC on RE8s, shot down and wounded after six months in action, thence instruction duties]; Michael Cleary [served with 62SQN RFC, killed in action flying a Bristol Fighter, 28 March 1918 near Villers-Bretonneux, France]; Hector K. Tiddy [killed on a practice flight in France, 1917, 7SQN RFC]; and D. Reginald Williams [retained as an instructor at Richmond, then joined the AFC in England, but only employed ferrying new aircraft to France, due to medical restrictions.] Photo courtesy: The Nigel Love Photo Collection
Twenty-five students were chosen from 230 applicants for the Flying School’s first course. Applicants had to be 18 to 30 years of age and in good health. Preference was given to commissioned officers, engineers, mechanics or other specified trades. All students trained at their own risk and no compensation was offered on account of death or injury. Instruction included lectures and practical training over 12 weeks followed by an examination. Workshop training, to familiarise students with the construction and operation of aircraft and engines, was required for at least 160 hours while only four hours of flying time were required, of which not less than two were to be ‘in complete charge of the aeroplane‘. The applicant also had to pass the test for the Royal Aero Club Certificate. If unsuccessful, an applicant could qualify as an Aircraft Mechanic, provided he demonstrated ‘the necessary mechanical ability and sufficient merit‘.
Of the initial course, 19 trainees qualified despite delays due to bad weather. Students were housed and taught in purpose-built accommodation on site and referred to themselves as BPs, probably from the term Basic Pilot Training. A total of six training courses were conducted by the flying school with the last completed just before the announcement of the Armistice in 1918. The rationale for the school had always been driven by politics rather than demonstrated need and this did cause some friction with the military. Graduates were deemed as being inexperienced in military flying and tactical skills and as a civilian training school, pilots did not automatically gain commissions in the Australian Flying Corps, but had to submit for further examination by the Central Flying School in Victoria.
NSW State Aviation School Curtiss Jenny JN4 training aircraft after a crash whilst being flown by K.A. Hendy. November 1918. Source: Collection of photographs of WWI NSW State Aviation School, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences.
One of the NSW State Aviation School’s “Jennies” returns to the base during WW1, after a crash-landing. Photo courtesy: 3 Squadron RAAF Association http://www.3squadron.org.au
Richmond, NSW. 1917. Probably Australian Flying Corps (AFC) trainees and instructors of the NSW Aviation School in front of a Curtiss Jenny (JN) aircraft at Ham Common near Richmond. Back row, left to right: S. C. Francis; Alfred C. (Alf) Le Grice; David Reginald (Reg) Williams; William John (Billy) Stutt; Richard Henry Chester; F. C. Collins; L. C. Royle. Middle row: J. H. Summers; Derek Hudson; Brian Lucy; Burton B. Sampson; Walter Roy Boulton; M. A. Watts. Front row: H. G. Murray; Lewis Audet; Gordon Vincent Oxenham (later posted to 1 Squadraon AFC and shot down and killed in Palestine on 27 June 1918. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Jerusalem Memorial, Israel: W A. McDougall. AWM Accession Number: P00731.005
Only a handful of qualifying pilots secured commissions with the AFC leading to considerable frustration. Their services were offered by the Prime Minister to the Royal Flying Corps and some embarked for England to serve either as cadet pilots or mechanics. There was uncertainty as to how long the war would last and their training was also seen to be inadequate by the War Office for the same reasons as those of the Australian military. By the fourth intake a group of students were making their dissatisfaction over their future known. There was also wrangling about allowances and having to fund their own travel to the UK or Egypt to enlist.
Nevertheless, Premier Holman persisted, and two further courses were run prior to the war’s end. The sixth course started in August 1918 and by Armistice in November, a total of 71 pilots had graduated with 20 joining the AFC and 40 going to the RFC (and, after April 1918, the Royal Air Force). Seven graduates lost their lives during the war, 3 in the AFC and 2 in the RFC and 2 in the RAF.
After the war, effort was made to convert the school to a civilian flying school, but the costs associated were becoming prohibitive and the NSW Government eventually asked the Commonwealth Government to take control. In 1923 the Commonwealth purchased the site and in 1925 became RAAF Base Richmond, home to No 3 Squadron.
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