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It was during this period that these six men established the
Australian Aero Club, the exact date being 28th October
1914. One of their reasons for forming the Club was to
affiliate with the Royal Aero Club in England and so be able to
issue pilot licences in Australia by way of delegated authority.
The original minutes of this historic meeting are held by the
Royal Victorian Aero Club, but there are no other original
records or minutes of the Australian Aero Club left.
In notes left by White and also held by RVAC, he described the
test for their licences and the establishment of the Australian
Aero Club as follows.
“The tests for our Royal Aero Club brevet were two groups
of figure-of-eights at a given altitude, and to land within a
25 ft. circle; also to land, with engine switched off, from a
higher altitude. We flew in the order of our training flights of
the night before, so that I was last. But Lieutenants Merz
and Manwell, unfortunately overshot the circle in one test;
Lieutenant Williams, who followed, passed; as I did,
following him. Confirmation of the brevet tests had to be
sent by our chief instructor, Captain Petre, to the Royal
Aero Club in London, and the approval returned. In
consequence, with no airmail at the time, it was some two
months before recognition was granted. Thereby we
missed being among the first thousand to graduate, my
number being 1,025.
This delay prompted me to suggest that an Aero Club must
ultimately be needed in Australia, so I called a meeting of
the four pupils and two instructors, and there and then
formed the Australian Aero Club, with Captain Petre as
President and myself as Secretary. The constitution was
drawn up with a section for each State and was approved
at a subsequent meeting. We held our first function some
months later, when we invited the members of the next
course to be our guests.”
In February 1915, the Indian colonial government asked
Australia to supply aircraft and pilots to support the Anglo-
Indian invasion of southern Mesopotamia, now Iraq, but then
part of the Ottoman Empire. A “half flight” was approved and
commissioned to comply with this request
Captain Petre was given command, with White, Merz and
Treloar (who had learned to fly in England) as the other pilots.
Petre left for India to make advance arrangements, while
White was required to organize the support arrangements. On
20 April 1915, five days before the Gallipoli landings, “half
flight” sailed on the P&O liner Morea for Bombay, now
Mumbai. A few weeks later they were in Basra, where they set
up an airfield and began assembling their three aircraft, two
Maurice Farman “Longhorns” and one “Shorthorn”. These
were powered by a 70-horsepower pusher Renault engine
mounted at the rear of a small cabin, with the pilot and co-pilot
seated at the front. They had a top speed of about 50 knots.
It was White’s flight on June 2, 1915 with a New Zealand co-
pilot that may be regarded as the first airborne military action
by an Australian-born and trained pilot. Their Shorthorn battled
a headwind for two hours before reaching Kurna, sixty miles
from take-off. There they dropped by hand several small
bombs on paddle steamers lined with Turkish troops, all the
bombs unfortunately missing their targets.
Merz, a qualified physician and one of the original founders of
the Australian Aero Club, was the first Australian pilot killed in
action. Returning from a reconnaissance flight over enemy
territory on 31 July 1915, with a New Zealand co-pilot, they
were forced down through engine failure into the hands of a
marauding local tribe. Lacking any arms other than their
pistols they both died fighting to escape.
White had a similar experience, but, as his engine was still
operating at reduced power, he was able to taxi at speed
away from his attackers. The chase covered a distance of 15
miles. On another occasion, on 5 November 1915, he was
assigned to rescue the Chief of the General Staff in
Mesopotamia, Major General G. V. Kemball, whose seaplane
had been forced down in enemy territory. Landing close by,
and assisted by the subsequent arrival of a search party of
Indian troops, he successfully rescued Kemball and flew him
back to camp.
The British were now just 30 miles from Baghdad and a plan
was laid to capture the city. Part of the plan was to send an
aircraft to cut the telegraph wires west and north of the city
so that the Turks could not call for reinforcements. Due to
distance and winds this required two crew and extra fuel on
board. The crew were to land behind enemy lines to blow up
the poles in order to break the wires and to pump spare fuel
into the aircraft for their final return to base.
Considered by some as a suicide mission, White and his
English observer, Yeats-Brown, being the only two unmarried
pilots then available, volunteered. On Friday, 12 November,
1915 they departed in the early morning light.
Finding the first point of their assignment, White was forced
into a bad landing due to gusting winds and poor terrain. This
resulted in significant damage to the aircraft and their
predicament was further compounded by the appearance of
marauding local tribesmen, intent on stealing their clothing,
firearms and anything of value to them in or on the aircraft.
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