October 20, 1934 – The Melbourne Race takes off!

Perhaps the most important civil aviation event ever started exactly 81 years ago today. The hangar doors of RAF Mildenhall opened at 06.30 and twenty contenders took off in rapid succession for the longest air race held at that time – London to Melbourne.

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Devised by the Lord mayor of Melbourne, the race formed a part of the Melbourne Centenary  Celebrations. A prize fund of $75,000 was put up by Sir  Macpherson Robertson, a wealthy Australian confectionery manufacturer (and the race was named after his company…)
Of the original 60 entrants only 20 contenders departed in the rainy dawn. Three of them were  purpose built DH-88 “Comet” racers. One of them, the scarlet G-ACSS ‘Grosvernor House’, piloted by C. Scott and ‘Tom’ Campbell Black became the outright winner, arriving in Melbourne after exactly 71 hrs elapsed time…

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DH-88 Comet ‘Grosvernor House’ taking off from Mildenhall, Oct 20, 1934

But the most important aspect of this race is the fact that nr. 2 and 3 arriving in Melbourne were standard civilian airliners and not purpose built racers.

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Douglas DC-2 PH-AJU “Uiver” arriving at Mildenhall before the race

Coming in second, with an elapsed time of 90 hrs, 13 min (and winner of the handicap section) was the standard KLM DC-2 PH-AJU “Uiver”. Third was Roscoe Turner in his Boeing 247 NR257U ‘Warner Bros. Comet’ with an elapsed tim of 92 hrs, 55 mins.

The Uiver carried a crew of four, under Captain R.D. Parmentier, and three passengers. It was the only race entrant with fare-paying passengers. The KLM crew flew the standard  route to the East and made excellent time. A slight mishap occurred at Karachi. In their hurry to leave, they ‘forgot’ a passenger and had to go back… But perhaps the most dramatic incident of the race happened during the night of Oct 23/24.
The Uiver got hopelessly lost after becoming caught in a thunderstorm. RAAF signallers at Laverton were trying in vain to contact the plane. They alerted all towns along the route to be ready to help. Radio stations broadcast messages, navy ships switched on their searchlights and railway stations along the Melbourne to Albury line put on signal lamps.

Lyle Ferris, Albury’s municipal electrical engineer, used the entire town lighting system to flash the word ALBURY in Morse code. Just after midnight, the aircraft was heard circling the town. Arthur Newnham from the local ABC radio station 2CO broadcast an appeal for listeners to take their cars to the Albury racecourse and line-up so a landing strip could be illuminated with headlights.
At 1.20am, the Uiver dropped two parachute flares and made its approach to land. It bumped several times on the undulating centre of the racecourse and slithered to a halt 100 yards short of the inner fence. The aircraft was safe.

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Oct 24, 1934, the “Uiver” stuck in the mud of the Albury race course

But the drama was not over. Daybreak saw 8 tonnes of DC2 bogged in thick Albury mud. The Mayor, Alderman Alf Waugh rallied 300 people to dig it out and haul the Uiver to firmer ground. Later that morning, the Uiver resumed its flight to Melbourne, taking second place in the great race and winning the handicap

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‘Heave-Ho!’ 300 Albury citizens haul the “Uiver” from the mud of their racecourse

The race proved beyond any doubt that civil aviation had reached maturity; that standard, all metal airliners could compete against purpose built racers and arrive safely. It was the dawn of intercontinental aviation as we now know it…

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About Kingsleyr

Thank you for visiting my blog! The posts you find here are a direct result of my research into aviation and military history. I use the information I gather as a foundation and background for my books. You may call the genre historical fiction, a story woven into a background of solid and verifiable historical facts. However, the period and region I have chosen to write about (late 1930's - 1950's in South-East Asia) are jam-packed with interesting information and anecdotes. If I'd used them all I would swamp the stories. So this blog is the next best thing. It is an "overflow area" in which I can publish whatever I think will interest you. And from the reactions I get, I deduce I am on the right track. A lot will be about aviation in the former Dutch East Indies. This, because my series of books ("The Java Gold") follows a young Dutch pilot in his struggle to survive the Pacific War and its aftermath. But there's more in the world and you'll find descriptions of cities, naval operations and what not published on this blog. Something about myself; I am a Dutch-Canadian author, living in, and working out of the magical city of Amsterdam. My lifelong interest in history and aviation, especially WW2, has led me to write articles and books on these subjects. I hope you'll enjoy them!
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