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Chapter 8 The Flight of Lieutenants Parer and M’intosh Acro

In the Great War there were thousands of hurried journeys made by airmen in the course of their military duties, and since November 1918 there have been many adventurous flights against time, in competition for this or that prize. But the story I propose to tell is, to my mind, wilder and more inconceivable than any episode in the history of aircraft in the War. It was not strictly a journey against time, for though the two airmen began by intending to compete in the Australian Flight competition, they were not able to leave Britain till Sir Ross Smith had reached Port Darwin. But the element of haste was not wanting, for all they possessed was a condemned comic-opera machine, which was rapidly going to pieces on their hands. Mr. Kipling has told the story of the tramp Bolivar, and of how that unseaworthy hulk was brought across the Bay in a state of impending dissolution. But if the Bolivar “ bluffed the eternal sea,” D.H.9 for seven months bluffed the powers of the air and flew, a derelict ‘bus, 15,000 miles over land and water, It seems to me the craziest adventure that ever, by habitually taking the one chance in ten thousand, managed to succeed.

Lieutenant Raymond John Paul Parer was the son of a shopkeeper in Melbourne, a small, slight, dark man with a considerable turn for mechanics. During the War he was employed at training aerodromes in Britain, and was accustomed to fly new machines across to France. Lieutenant John Cowe M’Intosh was a large, raw-boned Scot from Banffshire with a rugged masterful face, who had served through the War with the Australian forces. To begin with he knew nothing about air mechanics, and picked up the science as he went along. The two, being in England after the Armistice, made up their mind to fly back to Australia. They had no money, and it occurred to them that they might earn the 10,000 prize by entering for the Australia Flight competition. They received very little encouragement from the Air Ministry, for both men were wholly unpractised in long-distance flights, and had no previous knowledge of the route or of any language bmt their own. They managed, however, to raise from a friend a little money, and with this they purchased from the Disposals Board a single-engined two-seater D.H.9 bombing machine, their intention being to carry extra petrol in place of bombs. The engine was a Siddeley–Puma of 240 h.p. Complete ignorance in their case was the parent of courage. They were roughly aware of the possible stages by which they might take their route, and resolved to nose their way from one to another and trust to luck, It was like a man in an ill-found and leaky small boat starting to cross the stormy Atlantic. Almost every part of their machine had some bad fault or other of which they were vaguely aware and expected further news.

They were not long in getting it. On January 8, 1920, they left Hounslow, intending to make the first landing at Paris. But a contrary wind and a thick fog forced them to land at Conteville, and when they reached Paris their petrol pump failed and compelled them to wait three days. After that they flew to Lyons, where the pump gave trouble again and delayed them another two days.

Then came the Gulf of Genoa. But they had hardly started when their oil ran out and they were compelled to return and fiy 100 miles along the Italian coast without oil pressure, looking for a landing-place. Italy presented a series of mischances. The weather was abominable, and they crossed the Apennines at a height of 14,000 feet. There they were almost frozen, and for two and a half hours could see nothing of the ground. Later, at an altitude of 3,000 feet, their machine caught fire, and they were compelled to cut off the petrol and side-slip to land.

Brindisi was at length reached, and they had to face the crossing of the Adriatic. Somehow or other they reached Athens, where they had more engine trouble, and then staggered on to Crete. From Crete they flew the 220 miles of the Mediterranean to Mersa Matruh in Western Egypt, and eventually, on 21st February, reached Cairo.

The scheduled flying time from England to Cairo is under forty hours; but the trip had taken them forty-four days. They had now established the routine of their journey, which was to break down every day or two, and then patch up the machine with oddments sufficient to carry it to the next landing-place, where it fell to pieces again.

For four days at the Helouan aerodrome the two laboured at their crazy ‘bus. Their propeller was defective; there were endless carburation troubles; the bolts propeller, bearer, and cylinder were always working loose; magnetos, oil filters, everything, were imperfect; the instruments were always failing, especially the air-speed indicator. And they had flown all the way to Egypt without cleaning their plugs!

On 26th February they set off again, making a beeline for Bagdad a direct flight which no airman had ever before accomplished. For the enterprise, and still more for the continuation of the journey to Australia, they had no assets whatever, except a letter of authority from the General Officer Commanding R.A.F. Depots, which entitled them to draw for petrol on any depot along the route between Cairo and Delhi. It did not seem on the remote edge of possibility that much use would be made of that letter.

Nevertheless that day they crossed the desert of Sinai and landed safely at Ramleh. Thence they shaped their course across Arabia, an adventure in which, as we have seen, they were in the strictest sense pioneers. The weather changed to their disadvantage, and they drove on into head winds and heavy sheets of rain. A breakdown in the midst of the desert meant either starvation or robbery, and probably murder, by Arab tribes, a&d sure enough the breakdown came. They were compelled to make a forced landing in the evening, and Lad to spend the night on the ground by their machine. In the early morning they observed a crowd of Arabs approaching with obviously hostile intent. But the two airmen, having dared so much, were not to be awed by casual Bedouin. They happened to have some Mills bombs aboard, and with these and their revolvers they routed the enemy and kept bJTn at bay until such time as they could start again.

Bagdad was reached eventually, entirely by luck and not at all by g............

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