Sunday 7 April 2013

Mount Hampden: the build-up to 28 EFTS

By Mitch Stirlng

Several born and bred Rhodesians were in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. There was Paget 'Paddy' Hook of pioneer stock who later became Surgeon General of the South African Medical Corps. Balfour Johnston Carnegie, from an old missionary family in Figtree was there as well and Duncan Campbell Dunlop. Daniel Sievewright 'Pat' Judson from Bulawayo was an observer on No 3 Squadron RFC with fellow Rhodesian Captain Donald Wray Forshaw, later of Marandellas. Pat himself re-mustered as a pilot and was severely wounded in action before the war ended. Second Lieutenant Hugh Clement Eyre of Salisbury was probably the first Rhodesian airman killed and is buried in the Cologne cemetery. Major George Lawrence 'Zulu' Lloyd flew Nieuport 17's in the famous 60 Squadron RAF and won the Military Cross and Air Force Cross for eight victories in the air. He was Rhodesia's first official air-ace. Second Lieutenant David Greswolde 'Tommy' Lewis from Bulawayo had the dubious honour of being the last man shot down in his Sopwith Camel by 'le petite rouge'. He survived the crash-landing with serious burns, but acknowledged the low fly-past and salute from the cockpit of the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen, commander of Jagdstaffel 2. It was the age of chivalry...

French-built Nieuport 17, officially a sesquiplane (one and a half wings) with synchro-machine guns

Sopwith Camel with twin Vickers. A very unstable 'flying coffin'

Although not Rhodesian born, the 'flying men' who helped to organize the First Southern Rhodesia Air Rally at Salisbury in August 1936 included some wonderful old aviators from the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force.

Sir Herbert Stanley, Governor of Southern Rhodesia
Above text reads;-
All of us here at Salisbury look forward with keen interest and great pleasure to the Air Rally on the 15th August and wish it success. We trust that the visiting aviators will enjoy their stay among us. They are assured of a very cordial welcome.
(Signed) H. J. STANLEY.

Aerial Display Page 1

Aerial Display Page 2

Salisbury aerodrome's superintendent, Captain Benjamin Roxburgh-Smith DFC, came to Rhodesia in 1920 and settled in the Gwelo district. His war-time record was exemplary, with a Bar to his DFC and a Belgian Croix de Guerre. He shot down 23 enemy aircraft in the Great War and later held South African commercial pilot's licence No 1. A large part of his civilian flying was spent with the Aerial Survey Expedition in the Copper Belt, Northern Rhodesia and he was the first to commercialize aerial sightseeing at Victoria Falls in 1929/30. 

 Captain GI Thomson DFC of Imperial Airways, on loan to RANA, was their resident operations manager. His World War 1 exploits included walking out on the damaged wing of his old string-bag to enact repairs. And on another occasion he survived a mid-air collision, years before modern parachutes were in use.

 Major Dirk Cloete MC AFC had a most distinguished record in the Great War and was the second Director of Civil Aviation in Southern Rhodesia (after Col George Parson DSO). It was not generally known that he was responsible for training the original pilots of the South African Air Force and for the lay-out of the first aerodrome in South Africa.

 James Scott-Robertson, the first area manager/pilot of De Havilland Aircraft Co (Salisbury) served in the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force before coming to Rhodesia as a civil pilot and aeronautical engineer.

 Apparently the most popular pilot was Captain Mike Pearce of RANA who flew solo from England to Cape Town in 1931, soon after qualifying as a pilot. He was also the first to fly the airmail on the section between Broken Hill and Johannesburg. B Tubb, one of the keenest amateur pilots in Rhodesia, held the country's Private Pilot's Licence No 1.

 B Tubb's inverted Gipsy Major 

Mike Pearce, third from left

A variety of aircraft types made their appearance, amongst them a Gipsy Moth belonging to RJ Nash and Chris Perrem's Heinkel HE 64C. Danby Gray was there in the Lonrho Dragonfly. Captain the Hon WS Senior with his Hornet Moth and Ted Spencer from Victoria Falls in a Fox Moth were there as well. Rhodesian and Nyasaland Airways was represented by a Leopard Moth, Dragonfly and Rapide. Their DH89 Dragon Rapide (VP-YAU) was the first multi-engined aircraft to be registered in Southern Rhodesia (1935) and their new 'Fly' (VP-YAX) had been added to the fleet in 1936. De Havilland Aircraft Company displayed a Tiger Moth and a Moth Major which were used for flight instruction...  and numerous visitors made an appearance from Northern Rhodesia, South Africa and Kenya


Mrs. Jager leaving Livingstone

Mr. Bateman's Waco ZS-ADS from South Africa 

Passengers and crew of the Imperial Airways Mail carrier were disappointed because their departure coincided with the afternoon programme of events. The operation of the Armstrong Whitworth (AW15) mail carrier came to an end in 1937 on the trans-Africa route with the advent of the 'C' Class Empire Flying Boat service down the east coast. RANA, which amalgamated with Christowitz Air Services in Nyasaland, operated a feeder service to Beira to connect with the Boats.

RANA inauguration

RANA 1930's

Armstrong Whitworth 'Atalata' at Salisbury for the first time in 1933 

 Unhappily a number of the above-mentioned machines were erased from the Southern Rhodesia Aircraft Register within the next few years. The Gipsy Moth (VP-YAL) of Dicky Nash crashed at Beit Bridge in 1937 and the DH84 Dragonfly (VP-YBB) of Lonrho, with Danby Gray and all on board, was destroyed at Selukwe in 1938. DH87 Hornet Moth (VP-YBA) of Captain WS Senior was written off at Makwiro in 1939. RANA lost Dragonflies VP-WAX at Gwelo and VP-YBR ended up on its back two miles south-east of Kasama. Pilot Reg Bourlay reported that fuel had been syphoned from the tanks the night before at Lusaka. The Heinkle and DH83 Fox Moth (VP-YAD) and Rapide (VP-YBK) and Leopard Moth (VP-YCH) were lost in later years. Ted Spencer crashed on take-off from Mankoya in Northern Rhodesia with passengers Mrs Betty Clay (daughter of Lord Baden-Powell) and her 14 day old child.

Ted Spencer's crash at Mankoya, Barotseland,1937

Reg Bourlay's 'prang', Kasama

Spencer at Mpika 1933 in Fox VP-YAD

Those early years certainly took their toll. Aircraft designs had to be improved and adapted to the harsh flying environment of Africa. In the private category, pilot training had to be improved too with emphasis on flight safety. The Travelling Flying school with Charles Prince and Hugh Gundry toured the land in 1938 in a Tiger Moth (VP-YBW) with a box of tools and a tent. Permanent country districts flying clubs took root at Que Que (the first) Wankie, Gatooma, Umtali, Fort Victoria and Shabani. The well-established Bulawayo Light Plane Club boasted an active membership of 191 members, operating from old Kumalo. In Salisbury De Havilland introduced a very necessary course on instrument flying.

DH82a Tiger Moths first appeared in Southern Rhodesia in 1936: Serial number 3507 VP-YBG was the first, followed by 3519 VP-YBH, 3603 VP-YBO (Bulawayo Light Plane Club) and 3701 VP-YBW. But, as the clouds of war were mounting for the second time this century, 295 Tigers were soon to arrive for operational duty as Trainers of the Empire. Chapter two of 'death from above' was about to unfold, with a renewed ferocity.

Tiger VP-YBG with Nev Strickland, Theo Posselt, Chummy Page and Hugh Gundry.

The Southern Rhodesia Air Force was inaugurated in 1939 and aircraft of RANA and De Havilland were impressed into the quasi-military Southern Rhodesia Air Services wing (SRAS). Building commenced at Mount Hampden in November 1940 with an airfield and base for 28 Elementary Flight Training School of the Royal Air Force and it was opened in April 1941 under the command of Squadron Leader, later Wing Commander, NC Hendrikz.

Headquarters of the Rhodesian Air Training Group were located in Salisbury, commanded by the then Director of Civil Aviation, CW Meredith. Air Vice-Marshal Sir Charles Warburton Meredith KBE CBE AFC had a long association with aviation in Africa dating back to 1925 when he and Lieutenant Tasker undertook an aerial survey of the Okavango river system in two DH9's of the Union of South Africa Defence Force.

DH9 of WW1 on survey of Okavango. 

 From the book, 'They Served Africa with Wings', the journals of Ross Dix-Peek, McGeorge brothers, Eddie Coates collection, Rob Hart (via Alan Harris) and Chris Bourlay - son of Captain Reg Bourlay of RANA.

 Part 2 of the series leading up to Charles Prince Airport and Mashonaland Flying Club (the cradle of aviation)

 All contributions gratefully received.


Thanks to Mitch for sharing some wonderful memories of Rhodesia past.

Comments are always welcome, please mail them to Eddy Norris at  and they will be loaded to this article.

(Please visit our previous posts and archives)

Ref. Rhodesian Aviation

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At 18 April 2013 at 07:31 , Blogger GWYN said...

Spencer was reputed to be the only person have flown under the Victoria Falls Bridge in a fixed wing plane

At 10 May 2013 at 02:19 , Blogger Unknown said...

I have heard that story too from my father, Trevor Spencer. (Ted's son)

At 31 May 2013 at 10:07 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

KimS - pleasena you contact e
Eddy Norris

At 16 December 2013 at 14:47 , Blogger Unknown said...

Your pic captioned "Spencer at Mpika 1933 in Fox VP-YAD" shows my father Gervas Clay on the left. He flew to England on leave in 1933. He married in 1936, and you show him & his wife & 14-day old baby in your pic captioned "Ted Spencer's crash at Mankoya, Barotseland,1937". Your pic captioned "Mrs. Jager leaving Livingstone" is wrong. That was the start of the journey, with Betty Clay on the left and the baby already in the plane. They had been staying in Livingstone with Mrs Jager. They landed at Mankoya, but Spencer crashed on take-off. I dunno - I send out these pix, with the full story, and you manage to separate them !!!

Your pic captioned "Armstrong Whitworth 'Atalata' at Salisbury for the first time in 1933 " is wrong - it says on the plane "AtalaNta" !

At 15 November 2021 at 10:58 , Blogger Starfire said...

Does anyone know if and when Prime Minister Godfrey Huggins requested London to establish the first RAF station in Southern Rhodesia? I understand it occurred in 1936 but am unable to locate the source.


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