The Team to Beat

Ross Smith was always the leader, despite being two years younger than his brother (and Vimy navigator) Keith. As boys in the 1890s they were inseparable, growing up on the outback station of Mutooroo, near the NSW border, with their younger brother Colin always close behind. They hunted rabbits and kangaroos, rode horses and camels, and set up a huge flying fox to “fly” from a towering gum tree. When the war broke out in August 1914, Ross immediately signed up with the Light Horse and told Keith to stay home and look after their mother. Both boys were close to their parents Andrew and Jessie, whose families had emigrated separately from Scotland in the 1800s.

After fighting with the Light Horse in Gallipoli and at the battle of Romani, Ross joined the fledgling Australian Flying Corps (AFC) in Egypt in 1916. By war’s end he was an Air Ace, one of Australia’s most decorated airmen and had even served as pilot to Lawrence of Arabia.

Keith had travelled to London and joined the Royal Flying Corps, where he served mainly as an instructor. He was fastidious with maps and compass, and would prove the perfect companion for Ross during a gruelling race that would test endurance and skill. The war introduced Ross to two handy air mechanics, Jim Bennett and Wally Shiers. Jim, an auto mechanic in Victoria, was among the first to enlist with the AFC at Point Cook. Adelaide-born Wally was an electrician and joined the Light Horse before transferring to No.1 Squadron in Egypt. Both men joined Ross Smith on the very first Cairo-Calcutta flight after the war, for which they all received Air Force Medals and which provided invaluable reconnaissance for the Air Race.