Mashonaland Flying Club.
The club, comparable in every respect to other flying clubs in the region, and even to those as far away as the famous Aero Club of East Africa in Nairobi, was officially established in 1958. One of the early members, former BOAC and BA Captain Michael Wenden said, “I doubt that the world’s airlines could function today without the pilots trained at Mashonaland Flying Club. It is a remarkable institution.”
But where did it all begin?
Guided by Frederick Courteney Selous, the Pioneer Column of Rhodesia set out in September 1890 in search of new lands in the area named by him as Mount Hampden. On arrival they outspanned near the present day Harare kopje in Zimbabwe and the commanding officer, Colonel Pennefather, hoisted the flag of the British Union on a makeshift pole. Three cheers were raised and the newcomers spread out across the untamed, fertile ground of the Lomagundi and Mount Hampden region to stake their land claims and search for gold. And so Rhodesia was born a few short years ago in historical times, a mere blink of an eye. Even today a careful observer might find relics of those early days lying around in the bush near Mount Hampden.
In years to come the young country of Southern Rhodesia became somewhat isolated at a time when great advancements in technology were taking place in Europe. The Great War − in which Selous was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for ‘conspicuous gallantry, resourcefulness and endurance’ − inspired much of this rapid development and new aircraft, with aerial combat capability, brought ‘death from the skies’ for the first time in history. Several born and bred Rhodesians answered the colours and mustered into the Royal Flying Corps.
There was Paget ‘Paddy’ Hook of pioneer stock who later became surgeon general of The South African Medical Corps.
Lieutenant Arthur Browne from Umvuma was attached to No 13 Squadron Royal Flying Corps. He was killed in a dog fight during 1915 in an aircraft donated by the people of Gatooma. It was one of five aircraft purchased by donations from the citizens of Southern Rhodesia.
Lieutenant Frank Thomas, from Plumtree, was a combat pilot in the Royal Flying Corp. who won the Military Cross and the French Croix de Guerre (with palms) before dying of wounds sustained on operational duty.
Balfour Johnston Carnegie, from an old missionary family in Figtree was there, and so was Duncan Campbell Dunlop.
Daniel Sievewright Judson from Kirton farm, Heany Junction, was an observer on No 3 Squadron Royal Flying Corps, along with fellow Rhodesian Captain Donald Wray Forshaw. ‘Pat’ Judson, as he was known, re-mustered as a pilot and was severely wounded before the war was over.
Second Lieutenant Hugh Clement Eyre of Salisbury was probably the first Rhodesian airman to be killed. He is buried in the Cologne cemetery in Germany.
Major George Lawrence ‘Zulu’ Lloyd flew Nieuport 17s in the famous 60 Squadron Royal Air Force and won the Military Cross and the Air Force Cross for ‘conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty’ and for eight victories in the air. He was Rhodesia’s first official fighter ace.
Second Lieutenant David Greswolde ‘Tommy’ Lewis from Bulawayo had the dubious honour of being the 80th and last man shot down by ‘Le Petite Rouge’. He survived the ensuing crash-landing, after being thrown from the burning wreckage, and acknowledged a low fly-past and salute from his formidable opponent − the commander of Jagdstaffel 2, Manfred von Richthofen − the Red Baron. It was the age of chivalry.
Arthur Harris was a bugler with 1st Rhodesia Regiment in South West Africa before his spectacular rise to fame in the Second World War. As Marshal of the Royal Air Force ‘Bomber’ Harris, 1st Baronet GCB OBE AFC always wore the Rhodesia flash on his uniform.
But it was not until 11 June 1920 that a war-surplus machine paid a visit to Salisbury. It landed on the racecourse where the Magistrate’s Court stands today.
‘The hooter at the brewery sent its voice abroad in short spasms’, said the Rhodesia Herald. Late, but it was here, at last, to the delight of thousands of awaiting spectators. Imagine the excitement. It was a hugely significant moment when pilot Earl Rutherford of the South African Aerial Transport Company flew into the pages of history in a converted Avro 504K.
Avro 504 Rhodesia
The aircraft circled the town and landed in front of the crowded grandstand. When the pilot and his two passengers, Messrs Ulyett and Thornton disembarked, they were greeted with loud shouts and cheers of approval. George Elcombe, the mayor, formally welcomed Mr. Rutherford and congratulated him on behalf of the town for being the first pilot of the first aeroplane to come to Salisbury. He expressed the hope that the day was not far off when aeroplanes would be in daily use in Rhodesia.
The modern-day archive at Lusaka records the unfortunate demise of this aircraft at Mazabuka on a later flight to Northern Rhodesia.
And the next Avro 504 to visit Rhodesia, ‘Matabele’, also came to grief. Piloted by Major Allister Miller of the Rhodesian Aerial Tours Company, it swerved off the runway at Rusape in 1922 and hit a tree. Gusty, changeable winds were to blame.
Crash of ‘Matabele’ at Rusape
Alan Cobham, that adventurous airman, passed through Rhodesia in 1924 in ‘Youth of Britain’, a DH.50J with an air-cooled 385 hp Armstrong Siddeley Jaguar engine. He was heading south on a route survey undertaken on behalf of Imperial Airways to establish the feasibility of a scheduled service.
In all, the 1920s saw a marked increase in visits to Africa by a new generation of more affordable flying machines. Popularized by sport-aviation in Europe, they began to appear from ‘beyond the blue horizon’. And there were records to be broken too when intrepid airmen like Lieutenant R.R. Bentley MC MFC (ex-Rhodesia Railways) Lieutenant Pat Murdock, Walter Kay, Tommy Rose, Glen Kidson, Casper Caspareuthus, South Africans Stan Halse and Victor Smith joined the race to the Cape.
Flight Lieutenant Chevallier Preston and Major Charles Sandford (‘Sandy’) Wynne-Eyton (‘Moth’ Eyton) of Bromley pioneered the Kenya to Salisbury route in a DH.60 Cirrus Moth in 1929. ‘Sandy’ Wynne-Eyton was the first flying instructor in Salisbury and was a founder member of the Salisbury Light Plane Club in 1929, before he left to join Wilson Airways in Nairobi.
Not to be outdone by their men folk, women like Lady Mary Bailey, Lady Sophie Mary Heath, the Duchess of Bedford and the prima aviatrix Amy Mollison (nee Johnson) and others, began to appear as well − crowding the pages of aviation history with their remarkable feats.
London secretary Amy Johnson broke the London to Cape Town record in 1932 with her solo seven days seven hours and five minutes in the famous DH.80 Puss Moth ‘Desert Cloud’. Poor Amy was to die in the freezing waters of the Thames estuary during the war when she was delivering an Airspeed Oxford. Apparently she bailed out, but her parachute failed to open. Her body was never found.
Amy Johnson’s ‘Desert Cloud’
Lady Mary Heath had an unexpected encounter with Dick Bentley on her Africa travels in 1928. Bentley’s earlier record-breaking flight the year before had earned him the Britannia Challenge Trophy for the first solo from London to Cape Town (28 days) in a DH.60G Gipsy Moth. But on this occasion he was on a more leisurely trip with his wife Doris when he met the redoubtable Mary Heath at Ndola, Northern Rhodesia. She was on the first ever solo flight from Cape to Croydon at the time. A remarkable ‘Lady’ indeed, she held the first British commercial pilot’s license to be awarded to a female. And, to crown it all, she was the first woman in the world to parachute from an aircraft. Fortunately it was only a practice jump.
Lady Bailey (later DBE) is remembered for flying solo from Croydon to the Cape and back in an open-cockpit DH.60.
The ‘Flying Duchess’ of Bedford took up flying at the ripe old age of 60 and spent many exciting hours in the skies over Africa in a Fokker Monoplane named ‘Spider’. Her navigator was Captain CA Barnard of Rhodesian and Nyasaland Airways (RANA). But this gallant grandmother came to a tragic end. She disappeared a few years later off the English coast on a solo flight. Only a few pieces of the Moth she had been flying washed up on the shore.
In Southern Rhodesia at the time there were only four privately owned aircraft. VP-YAA, named ‘Newton’, was a DH.60 with a Cirrus 11 engine and was the first to be registered in Salisbury. It came from the Durban Light Aeroplane Club as G-UAAP and was owned initially by Mr. Freeland Fiander who had lost his left arm, but could still fly by means of a special shoulder attachment. His wife Audrey was the first Rhodesian female pilot. Both were trained by flying instructor Pat Judson.
The Salisbury Municipal Aerodrome (later Belvedere) was the centre of civil aviation in those early days. And on 15th August 1936 over 20 000 spectators gathered there to watch a thrilling display of precision flying and aerobatics. There was crazy stunt flying and pylon racing as well. The first ‘Southern Rhodesian Air Rally and Aerial Display’ was a huge success, with the de Havilland Aircraft Company (Rhodesia) Ltd demonstrating its Tiger Moth (Military Trainer) and Moth Major. Both machines were used for flying instruction to satisfy a growing demand in a population eager to learn the principles of flight and how to fly. By 1937 there were five privately owned aircraft in Rhodesia. There was even an active gliding club, with an airstrip alongside Second Street Extension in 1938.
First Air Rally
De Havilland Advert
VP-VBG 82A. Tiger Moth of de Havilland, Salisbury.
VP-YAW DH 60G-111 Moth Major.
But the idea of a flying club in the Mount Hampden area lay somewhere in the future. One man in particular was to help shape its destiny. He was Charles Hilton Prince, chief flying instructor of de Havilland, Salisbury. Over the coming years he encouraged many young Rhodesians ‘bitten by the flying bug’ to take to the air in civilian and military roles.
De Havilland Salisbury 1939. Charles Prince with pipe
Charles Prince ‘Mr. Aviation’