A gentleman never brags and so at the Perfect Gentleman it is our duty to be the sounding horn for those unsung gentlemen heroes. The ones that seem to never get the recognition they deserve. As part of a new series of articles, we will write about such men, in today’s piece we pay tribute to two brave fliers, in recognition of the 1920s feel l in the air and because one of our colleagues at the Perfect Gentleman has a fascination with airmen.
In 1919, the Great War was over for Lieutenant Ray Parer and his friend Lieutenant J C M’Intosh though their love of flying was not and a desire to. Parer, an Australian from Melbourne, had been a ‘test and ferry’ pilot during the war and M’Intosh, a Scot from Banffshire, who had served with the Australian forces on the Ground, decided that they wanted to fly back to Australia. This is a long task now, it was a daunting task then. It had been done but not frequently and with frequent mishaps.
They faltered at the first hurdle, when the Air Ministry laughed them out of the office, neither men having any experience. Undeterred, the small dark haired Parer and the huge and gruff M’Intosh went off to find another route and they found it quickly.
The post war years were awash with flyer and flying competitions, to see who could fly longest, furthest and fastest. The two young men discovered the Trans-Oceanic Race, which was to fly from the UK to Australia with the potential prize of £10,000, little did they now the adventure they were about to embark upon. They persuaded the Whiskey Millionaire, John dawson to Sponsor them, he gave them enough funds to purchase a condemned 2-seater deHavilland DH 9 plane and he also gave them a bottle of whiskey to deliver to Dawson’s friend the Prime Minister of Australia.
After repairing the plane, which took longer than expected, due to the fact that only Parer had any semblance of mechanical knowledge, and they missed the start of the race itself, still pressing on, they took off in the DH9 from Hounslow, London on January 8th 1920.
At first their journey was beset with minor delays, the petrol pump failed first in Paris and then in Lyons delaying them for a couple of days here and there but that was just the precursor. Whilst flying over the Italian Alps they were forced to climb to avoid a storm and up to a height of 14,000 feet, where they frozen and for over 2 hours could see nothing of the ground. They just overcame this mishap only for the engine to catch fire and force them into a steep dive to the ground to put the flames out, pulling out just a few feet from the ground. As if that was not enough the DH9’s engine oil runs out and they have to hug the Italian coast to find a landing spot.
Wiping the sweat from their brows the two brave airmen, finally make their journey and land safely in Cairo. The general flying time for this journey at the time was 40 hours, they had barely made it in 44 days!
After working on the old girl in Cairo, M’Intosh and Parer finally head of across the desert for a straight shot to Baghdad. A journey that had never been done by plane before as all it crosses is desert. Yet again the weather conspires against them and heavy rain and wind between Ramleh and Baghdad force them to land at night in order to repair the plane in the morning.
When daylight arrives the see hostile tribesmen approach and whilst Parer is frantically repairing the plane, M’Intosh (the ever-prepared Scot) fends off the Marauders with a Webley revolver and a few Mills Bombs he happened to bring along ‘just in case’. They manage to get airborne just before they are overrun.
They make it to Baghdad, purely by luck, and are warmly greeted as they thought they were lost, not only that they had made the first crossing from Cairo by plane! By this point, all they had to their name were a few pounds and a letter letting them draw fuel between Cairo and Delhi.
They make it relatively unscathed to Delhi, were they are helped by the famous flyer Captain G C Mathews. They manage to further patch up the plane, which by now is a shadow of its former disreputable self. They have to replace the Propeller with one from another plane, replace the radiators with ones from a couple of cars. To earn money they perform on stunt flying shows, the news of their fame and determination is spreading.
They leave Delhi and head towards Jakarta, en route they crash 3 more times, replace 2 more propellers, re-build the entire undercarriage of the plane and have to persuade a Burmese Village to cut them a runway through the jungle for them. At one point they are stuck for 6 weeks waiting for parts to arrive. The DH 9, by this point has become a small zoo, animals that have found shelter in the fuselage and frequently make themselves known when the plane is in the air. The animals included, various mice and rats, lizards, snakes and Bear cub and a baby Alligator!
The final flight over the 400 miles of sea to Australia was full of fear for both men, they struggled to climb over the mountains of Timor and lost all navigation over the Sea and had no idea where or when they might find land.
With barely a pint of petrol left they touch down on Australian shores, it is the last day of July. They limp the plane, using a map torn from a railway timetable to Sydney, where they are greeted like heroes. Huge crowds of 20,000 people have turned out, including the winners of that race they were supposed to take part in!
They continue on to their final destination, Parer’s hometown of Melbourne, the plane having travelled so very far, finally cannot take anymore and plummets to the ground at 70mph, destroying it completely. But with the luck that has seen them through the whole adventure the two men escape without a hair on the heads harmed.
They are met by a huge civic reception when they finally make it to Melbourne, on the 31st August 1920 (some 8 months after taking off) and greeted amazingly warmly by Prime Minister Hughes. Where Parer and M’Intosh had over the miraculously intact bottle of Whiskey from Mr Dawson! Their gentlemanly promise has been fulfilled!
These two gentlemen had made a promise and kept it, they had faced adversity and stuck to their guns, they had achieved the impossible and done it all with a smile on their faces.
These are great, unsung gentleman heroes.
John McIntosh went to Perth and bought an aviation school, but sadly was killed in a crash on Easter Sunday, 1921, at Pithara, 200 miles north of Perth.
Roy Parer went on to be a pioneering aviator in New Guinea and a farmer in Queensland until his death in 1967.