Wings of Peace – Serpentine Air Race 1920 – 2022

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Racewinner VH-GAV(Bunn/Gerraty) is followed by “Millie” T-5531/VH-CXV from Cressy, Victoria, seen landing after the race finish.

Held in a farmer’s paddock as a nod to similar circumstances a century ago, and with planning across a four-year span, with false starts pertaining to the Covid-19 Pandemic, Sunday 20 March 2022, was the centenary celebration of Australia’s first official air race – flown by World War One Australian Flying Corps pilots in service Avro 504Ks.

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Garry Hearn in the OTHER Cressy entrant, A17-736/VH-BEN.

Crowds flocked to Serpentine (Victoria, Australia) and supporters included Mr Keith Ireson – the grandson of original race winner Harold Treloar and, in his DH-82 Tiger Moth VH-AKE, Warren Manuel, whose grandfather was WWI Australian fighter ace Robey Manuel, of Kerang, reputed to have been the last Australian Flying Corps airman alive before his passing in 1975.

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The RAAF actually returned to Serpy with A17-692/VH-AWA flown by FLTLT Brett Alderton and FLTLT Chris Tulk.

After the Great European War of 1914 to 1918 the amount of £25,000,000 (pounds) was being sought by the Australian Commonwealth Government through a bond subscription from the people of Australia – ‘The Second Peace Loan’. The Acting Treasurer, Sir Joseph Cook announced this on 7th July 1920 with the funds to be expended on the repatriation of the uniformed soldier to industrial and civilian pursuits in the community. Each State was given a target. Victoria was expected to contribute £8,200,000 (pounds).

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A17-395/VH-PVZ was a former crop duster registered VH-WFX.

The introduction of Australian Flying Corp aeroplanes utilising World War I aviators was a novel way to generate interest in the Peace Loan and tto help the one-month intense promotion of the bonds. To promote the 1920 event pilots travelled by train on the Tandarra, Dingee, Prairie, Mitiamo rail line and addressed local residents on the importance of supporting the Second Peace Loan. Bank officials and ex-servicemen accompanied these trains or followed in a car to promote the Peace Loan and sign up new subscribers. East Loddon Shire residents and businesses had a target of £19,000 (pounds) to raise which they achieved in August 1920.

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“Millie” passes the RAAF entrant.

Quoting the Loddon Herald: “The event was the joyous finale for the four aviators of the famous Australian Flying Corp (sic) – Matheson, McKenzie, Mustard and Treloar – with four mechanics, Bacon, Hankin, Hazlitt and Moss who had been traversing Victoria during August 1920 promoting the latest Commonwealth Government bond sale”.

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VH-BEN frames A17-744/VH-BTP

For the historical record, the serial numbers of the four Avro trainers to compete, of A” Flight of the Central Flying School, Australian Air Corps (forerunner to the Australian Air Force, subsequently the Royal Australian Air Force in August, 1921), were: H3021 (Lt.E.A.Mustard DFC), H3040 (Capt. R.W.McKenzie MC), H3041 (Capt. C.C. Matheson) and H3043 (Lt.W.H.Treloar).

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A brace of Stearmans/Stearmen? B75N1’s VH-PWS and PUD (painted up as a WWII Naval Aircraft Factory N2S-3)

The aircraft of this batch were part of the “Imperial Gift” of aircraft presented to the commonwealth by the British Imperial Government in 1919 and taken into service in early-mid 1920. They were sub-manufactured by Brush Electrical Engineering Co. Ltd. of Loughborough, Leics. in 1918, two years before the air race at Serpentine.

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VH-UZU is an early and extremely historic pre-war Cessna C-37 once of MacRobertson Miller Aviation in WA

The Second Peace Loan saw £25 million raised from Australian-based businesses and individuals.

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After winning the race on 27th August 1920, pilot, Lieut. William Harold Treloar, flew back to Serpentine on 2nd October 1920 in an AIRCO DH-6 (believed to be C9374, which he owned), to be presented with a silver trophy by Cr. Nicholas Tonkin, President of the East Loddon Shire. The Serpentine district community residents subscribed £40 (pounds) to purchase the trophy. The historic trophy (seen below) has been housed at Point Cook Air Museum and was especially flown in for the day by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), No. 100 Squadron newly re-formed as the Air Force Heritage Squadron and re-established at the Centenary of the RAAF, which was formed on March 31, 1921.

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A 75th Anniversary commemorative race was held during 1995 featuring six competing DH-82 Tiger Moths, David Cordy and Adele Patterson were winners in VH-AIP. 2022 saw eight Tiger Moths compete with the winner, based on clinical time-keeping by Paul Bennet Airshows, with Graham Bunn and Murray Gerraty the first-place getters in VH-GAV, completing the course across the local district in 53 minutes, 22 seconds. Second went to Jason Cheney with co-pilot, David McGuiness in “Millie’, VH-CXV of Cressy Tiger Moth Flights (only 6 seconds behind first!) while third went to Don Gordon and Tony Self in VH-DHR. Other special guests included a large contingent of veteran and vintage aircraft, the RAAF Roulettes, RAAF Balloon, T-4A Airtrainers and the Paul Bennet Airshows Avenger, Trojan and Wirraway as well as aerobatics by Paul Bennet and Glenn Graham. A special moment was a demonstration water drop by the Air Tractor AT-802F, VH-FFM “BOMBER352” of Field Air.

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Paul Bennet’s Grumman (Eastern Aircraft Division) TBM-3E Avenger VH-MML makes a “Kodak pass”

In her book “Serpentine Air Race 1920-2020“, East Loddon Historical Society researcher, Mary Davidson includes a photograph of the departure of the original machines on their route to Melbourne. The modified recreation flight covered the district. The arrival of Aviation Report coincided with the departure of the Tiger Moths in a near-identical (though more spread out) streaming takeoff, very memorable to those present.

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RAAF Roulettes from Central Flying School, RAAF Base East Sale, performing a “6-ship special”, break before an appreciative crowd.

Aviation Report respectfully acknowledges contributions from:

Serpentine Air Race 1920-2020 – Celebrating Australia’s first official air race, Mary Davidson, East Loddon historical Society inc. (reprint 02/22);

Loddon Herald;

Bendigo Advertiser;

Imperial Gift, the; British Aeroplanes which formed the RAAF in 1921. Bennett, John. Banner Books, 1996.

Royal Historical Society of Victoria;

Aeropedia.com.au (accessed for the research for this article 03/22).

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