Today in Postal History


 

England to Australia
February 26, 1920

This pioneer flight cover was not cancelled when it left England
but rather was cancelled when it finally arrived in Australia.
After the letter's arrival in Australia it was forwarded to Coolgardie in Western Australia.

The legend "O. A. S." suggests that the sender (probably A. R. Cameron) was On Active Service.
I don't know whether that was intended to be Free mail for servicemen.*

The completeness of the note provided by H. N. Eustis in his
The Australian Air Mail Catalogue covers the flight thoroughly and is worth repeating as follows:
(Editor's note:  Paragraphing has been added to make the story easier to read.)

The Australian Government established a prize of £10,000 for the first airplane flight from England to Australia.

Sir Keith and Sir Ross Smith with two companions, W. H. Shiers and J. M. Bennett, left Hounslow, near London, on November 12, 1919, in a Vickers Vimy plane G-EAOU.  They carried a small number of letters from England and many more were received enroute.  The actual quantities are not known, but it is thought that many more were received in the latter way than flown the entire journey.

The Vickers Vimy arrived in Darwin on December 10, 1919, but was damaged en route to Melbourne and did not reach that city until February 25, 1920.  A special vignette was applied to the mail (approximately 130 letters) on its arrival although a certain number of items received en route were despatched from Melbourne and franked with ordinary Commonwealth postage and did not have the vignette attached.

The majority of the mail, however, was placed in special offical envelopes of the Prime Minister's Department and after having received an oval cachet -- "First Aerial Mail -- Received 26 Feb. 1920 -- Great Britain to Australia," were despatched through the post to addresses.  This cancellation was applied in black, and most covers received two applications, one over the vignette, and the other upon the envelope.

Over the years the vignette, printed by the Australian Government Stamp Printer, and designed by Lieutenant Courtney-Benson, has been in such demand that it has almost become an official stamp in the eyes of collectors.  Although this cannot technically be correct, in deference to this most famous pioneer flight, this Catalogue lists the issue as a "stamp."

A few covers carried from England bear an additional marking "Vickers Vimy Aeroplane -- Australia" in two lines but this is scarce.  One of the world's best known flights, the Smith cover is widely sought, and is an excellement memento of the Australian crew who blazed the England-Australia air route.

Eustis adds this note about the other participants in this challenge:
Note. -- The following competitors in the Air Race carried mail but details are not available -- Sir Hubert Wilkins with Lieuts. Rendle, Williams and Potts in a Blackburn "Kangaroor" which crashed at Corfu; Captain C. E. Howell and mechanic G. H. Fraser in a Martinsyde AI biplane which crashed in the sea off Corfu killing the oocupants; Lieuts. Ray Parer and J. C. McIntosh left England on January 4, 1920, after the Smith Brothers had won the £10,000 prize and did not arrive in Darwin until August 206 days later.  Lieuts. R. M. Douglas and J. S. L. Ross in an Alliance "Endeavour" crashed and were killed six miles from their starting point at Hounslow, London, but no record is available of any mails being flown.
* Paul adds the following information: "O.A.S." is usually "on active service" and as the cover was not franked, it can be assumed that A.R. Cameron was on active service. There was a total of 364 recipients of the covers flown by Ross Smith in the Vickers Vimy.  Eustis compiled a list from official records and Mrs. Cameron is listed as number 311.  Sheryll points out also that there are fake vignettes in the market.

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