A Fleeting Peace

Golden-Age Aviation in the British Empire

The "All-British" air route between Cairo and the Cape was first opened for traffic in 1920. They could do this because, thanks to Cecil Rhodes and his fellow empire-builders, the map was coloured pink all the way, [denoting, of course, that they were part of the British Empire]

Some of the 44 aerodromes established for the 1920 'all-red' Route (with present-day country names], click to enlarge

The route had been first surveyed in 1918, when 3 military parties were instructed to explore and, as far as possible, prepare the route. They worked with the local authorities and cut many of the aerodromes out of the dense jungle, felling thousands of trees  - and relocating tens of thousands of tons of soil - in the process.

This is what they achieved:

  Aerodrome Distance (miles)
  Heliopolis -
  Helouan 18
  Wasta 40
  Samamut 76
  Assiut 84
  Kara 102
  Luxor 44
  Edfu 55
  Assouan 60
  El Ajaqui 66
  Toshki Gharb 71
  Wadi Haifa 54
  Station 6 82
  Station 10 80
  Shereik 70
  Atbara 76
  Shendi 74
  Khartoum 6
  Jebelein 208
  Eliri 221
  Duk Farwill 198
  Mongalla 159
  Nimule 110
  Jinja 232
  Kisumu 113
  Shirati 89
  Mwanza 124
  Shinyanza 79
  Tabora 104
  Zimba 207
  Abercorn 79
  N’dola 336
  Broken Hill 103
  Livingstone 290
  Bulawayo 238
  Palapwe 182
  Pretoria 258
  Johannesburg 64
  Blomfontein 230
  Victoria, West 243
  Beaufort, West 72
  Touws River 158
  Cape Town 142


Pretty soon, people were queueing up to use this new route.

Here are the successful flights, and some notable brave attempts:


Capt Stanley Cockerell and Capt Frank Crossley Griffiths Broome (pilots), Dr Chalmers Mitchell (Secretary of the Zoological Society) and two mechanics in a Vickers Vimy Commercial [K-107, G-EAAV].

On February 27 the starboard engine failed just as the machine had reached flying speed in taking-off from Tabora, Tanganyika. The aeroplane crashed, settled on an anthill and almost turned over, the undercarriage being forced through the lower wing. Capt. Cockerell's wrist was sprained and Mr. Corby's leg was bruised, but otherwise the occupants of the machine escaped injury.

The framework and cabin of the wrecked Vimy were taken over by the Tabora Sporting Club "for use as a pavilion", but the engines were sent back to England.


Stanley and Frank - they were known as "The Heavenly Twins"


Flt-Lt Christopher Joseph Quintin Brand and Lt-Col Pierre van Ryneveld, in:

1) a Vickers FB.27 Vimy 'G-UABA, The Silver Queen', which they crashed in Korosko, Egypt on the 11th February;

2) another borrowed Vimy 'F8615, The Silver Queen II', and finally (when they damaged that);

3) a borrowed RAF Airco D.H.9 (H5648, 'Voor-trekker' ('Pioneer')).

Left Brooklands 4 Feb 1920, landed Cape Town 4pm 20 March.

45 days. First journey by air from Cairo to the Cape.


Silver Queen I


Maj Herbert George Brackley and Lt Frederick Tymms in a Handley Page 0/400 (D4624, G-EAMC)

This machine, which left Assuan on February 25, made a forced landing at El Shereik, Sudan, about two-thirds of the way to Khartoum. The machine was damaged beyond repair, but fortunately no one was hurt.



Air Commodore H. G. Brackley C.B.E., D.S.O., D.S.C., F.R.G.S., A.F.R.Ae.S., b. 4 Oct 1894, later Air Superintendent of Imperial Airways, was drowned while sea-bathing near Rio de Janeiro in the autumn of 1948. He was chief executive of British South American Airways at the time.


Sir Frederick Tymms, MC, was a well-known navigator and civil servant who joined the RFC in 1917 and subsequently worked for the Air Ministry as Superintendent of Civil Aviation in the Middle East and India.


The London-Capetown-London Imperial Airways Survey Flight

Alan C Cobham, with Arthur B. Elliott as engineer and  B. W. G. Emmott as cinematographer in a D.H. 50J.

Set out from Croydon on November 16, reached Cape Town on the evening of February 17, and returned to London 20 Mar 1926


The First RAF Cape Flight

Wing Commander C. W. H. Pulford (commanding the flight), with Flt-Lt P.H. Mackworth, Flt-Lt E.J. Linton Hope, F/O W. L.Payne, Flight-Lieut. L.E.M. Gillman (navigator), Flying Officer A.A. Jones (technical), Sgt Hartley (fitter), and Sgt Gardener (rigger).

"They have carried out a flight which is unique in many ways and useful in many ways, and they have done credit to the Royal Air Force and to the British Empire.... there has been no other instance on record of a formation of four aeroplanes flying over 14,000 miles, across two continents, from the northern temperate zone to the southern  temperate zone and back without change of personnel, of aircraft, or of engines."

1926 Raf Flight

Conway Waller Heath Pulford, O.B.E., A.F.C., Croix de Guerre, was born in India on January 26, 1892, and joined the Navy as a midshipman in January 1910. He transferred to the R.N.A.S. as a  Flight Lieutenant and then to the RAF in August 1, 1919 as a Squadron Leader. Later promoted to Air Vice Marshal.

He was killed in WWII; 10 Mar 1942 when he and his naval counterpart, Rear Admiral Spooner, were amongst the last to leave Indonesia when the Japanese overran it. Their motor boat was hit and forced to run aground on an uninhabited, malaria-infested island called Chibia. The survivors managed to hold out for two months before being forced to  surrender to the Japanese, but Pulford and Spooner had both died of  exhaustion and malaria.


The Second RAF Cape Flight

THE Cairo-Cape flight ended on April 21, when the R.A.F. machines, under the command of Air-Commodore C. R. Samson, arrived at Cape Town about noon, 22 days after leaving Cairo.

C. R. Samson C.M.G., D.S.O. (and Bar), A.F.C., was a picturesque figure, who captured the popular imagination, "chiefly because of his wholehearted love of fighting and adventure."

He published an account of this flight in his book called (as you might rather expect), "A Flight from Cairo to Capetown and Back".

d. Feb 1931, aged 47

c r samson


Flt-Lt Richard 'Dick' Read Bentley, S.A.A.F in D.H. Moth 60X G-EBSO 'Dorys'

'Dick' was a South African Air Force instructor at Roberts Heights, the headquarters of the S.A.A.F.; he was an adopted South African, born in England. He had also spent about three years in Canada.

Lady Bailey christened the Moth at Stag Lane with the name of 'Dorys', after his then-fiancee. The movie is here, although they seem to think the aeroplane was called the 'Johannesburg Star'...

The aeroplane was a standard production model, the only change being an extra fuel tank instead of the passenger's seat.

He was awarded the Britannia Trophy for the most meritorious performance of the year.

First solo England-Cape Town flight. Left Stag Lane 10:30 am September 1. Arrived 2:20pm September 28.


He then became the first pilot to fly to Cape Town from England and back in a light aeroplane; the return flight was his "admirable method of spending a honeymoon".

Left Cape Town March 3, arrived Croydon (with his new wife, Dorys) on May 12.

He then became instructor to the Liverpool and District Aero Club from June to September.

mini - r r bentley

photo: 1917

lady bailey and dorys

Lady Bailey christens Dorys, with Dick in the background


The Sir Charles Wakefield African survey expedition

Sir Alan Cobham in the Short S.5 Singapore flying-boat N-179 G-EBUP.

Started from Rochester on November 17. The flying-boat landed on Lake Victoria on February 5,; it was the first flying boat to do so.

They completed the outward journey from England to Cape Town on March 30.

The return journey up the West African Coast was started on April 3.




Lady Bailey in a couple of DH Moths

She only took two small suit-cases with her when she took off, in March 1928. In Cairo, her plane was locked away by order of the Governor-General of the Sudan to prevent her from continuing alone, so she contacted Dick Bentley (who had flown to the Cape a few weeks before) to escort her in his own aeroplane over the "dangerous area of the southern Sudan". She then crashed in Tanganyika, writing off her aeroplane (she said it was her fault), but her husband Abe made arrangements for a replacement Moth to be delivered from Pretoria and she continued, despite having 'flu. Abe was there to meet her when she arrived at the end of April.

The return journey was made via the western 'French' route - the Belgian Congo, Angola and the French Congo. She finally arrived back at Croydon on 16 January, 1929, 10 months after she left. It was "undoubtedly one of the finest performances ever put up by a woman pilot."


Lady Mary Bailey D.B.E.


First solo light plane flight from Cape Town to England

Lady Heath in an Avro Avian III

Reached Cape Town (by sea) December 6, 1927

She also enlisted the help of Dick Bentley to fly over the Sudan.

Left Pretoria on February 25, reached Croydon May 17.

The aeroplane was later sold to Amelia Earhart, and taken to America.


Record flight

Lieut. Pat Murdoch, SAAF,  in an Avro Avian III G-EBVU

Started from Croydon at 5 p.m. on July 29

Time: 14 days.

"We understand that before his departure Lieut. Murdock consulted Sir Alan Cobham regarding the flight."

Took off  September 12 to make his way back, but crashed at Elizabethville, Belgian Congo, on October 18; he was uninjured, but wrote off the aeroplane.




"Mr John Carberry left Croydon in his Fokker monoplane on November 18 for Cape Town. He was accompanied by a mechanic and hopes to make the flight in record time. It is the intention of Mr. Carberry to continue this flight to his estates in the Kenya Colony after reaching the Cape."

"Lady Carbery, the wife of Lord Carbery, was killed whilst flying her D.H.Moth at Nairobi, Kenya Colony, on March 12. During the afternoon she had taken friends for flights, and in the evening Mr. Cowie accompanied her to take instruction. The machine was seen to lose flying speed,and before it crashed Lady Carbery jumped out, but was instantly killed. Mr. Cowie was also killed.. Lord Carbery was a witness of the disaster."


Capt Stanley Halse, accompanied by his wife, left Stag Lane on September 10 in a D.H. Gipsy Moth, was held up at Mongalla with a broken airscrew, and then made a forced landing at Atbara with engine trouble.


London-Cape Town Flight

Capt Wally Hope reached Khartum on October 1. He was delayed by a touch of sunstroke.


An American attempt

Van Lear Black,  (the publisher of the Baltimore Sun), in a Fokker tri-motor monoplane, left Croydon on May 14th and reached Khartoum on the 19th, but had engine trouble and abandoned the attempt.


The 4th RAF Flight

"For four successive years, four Fairey aircraft, each fitted with a Napier engine, have been selected for the service flight from Cairo to Cape Town and back. No mechanical trouble has been experienced on these flights."



Roy Tuckett, a member of the Port Elizabeth Light Aeroplane Club.

D.H. 60G Gipsy Moth G-AARW

Left Croydon 9 November, 1929.

Met with a mishap at Aboukir when the machine was wrecked after being accidentally started. Mr. Tuckett himself was laid out for some time, but was apparently not permanently incapacitated.

Later, crashed while taking off at Toroso, Kenya.



The Long-Distance Flight Disaster

Sqn-Ldr Arthur Gordon Jones-Williams, Flt-Lt N H Jenkins in the first Fairey Long-Distance Monoplane

This attempt on the world long-distance record took off on 16 December 1929 but crashed south of Tunis, destroying the aircraft and killing the crew.



The Duchess of Bedford's record flight

The (64-year-old) Duchess of Bedford, Capt. Charles D. Barnard (pilot)  and Mr. R. Little in her Fokker monoplane G-EBTS 'The Spider'.

Left Lympne on April 10, reached Cape Town on April 19. 10 days.



A New Record 

Rhinie Frederick Caspareuthus in a D.H. "Puss Moth" belonging to Mr. Marshall, of Port Elizabeth.

 An ex-RAF South African, he made the journey in the record time of 9½ days.

Left Croydon on October 5; arrived Maitland Aerodrome, Cape Town, on October 13, an hour before he was expected. Total flying time 78 hours.

He said afterwards that he had been forced down by storms to a few hundred feet at Beauvais shortly after the disaster to R 101, but saw no signs of it.

He later flew for Imperial Airways.

photo: 1918, as a 2nd Lieut on the General List

b. 9 Sep 1899


Miss Spooner Home

"Miss Winifred Spooner , who with F./O. E.C.T. Edwards made a forced descent in the sea at Belmonte during an attempt to fly to the Cape in record time, arrived back in London on December 20. She had intended to fly home from Paris, but fog prevented this, so she made the journey by boat and train. F./O. Edwards flew back from Paris to Hendon on December 22."



The "Blazing the Mail" flight  - another record

Lt-Cmdr Glen Kidston and Lt. Owen Cathcart Jones, with L. A. Valletti (wireless operator) (replaced by L. Johnson for the second half of the flight) in Lockheed Vega G-ABGK.

Time: 6 days 10 hours

Left Netheravon, Wilts at 6a.m. on the 31 Mar. Delayed by a forced landing near Lichtenburg (Pretoria), but arrived 5.30p.m. 6 April. Total flying time 57hr 10min.

Imperial Airways (who had not even taken delivery of their already-obsolete H.P. 42 biplanes), regarded the flight as a 'stunt', bearing no relation to a "proper" commercial operation.

At the time, it was the quickest delivery ever made of a London newspaper (The Times) to Johannesburg, and 'created much interest in the city'.

Glen was killed shortly afterwards (5 May) in the Drakensburg Mountains, Natal; the aircraft he had borrowed, while the Vega was being overhauled, broke up in mid-air during a storm.


Glen's Vega, which was an 'Also Ran' in the 1934 MacRobertson Race.



Peggy's Brief Moment

Miss Peggy Salaman and Mr. Gordon Store, in her DH.80A Puss Moth G-ABEH

And two lion cubs - see here

Left Croydon October 31

Total Time: 5d 6hr 40 min., beating Kidston's record by about 28 hr. Their total flying time was 64 hr., Kidston's being 56 hr.

The aircraft (the only one she ever owned) was sold in Kenya in 1933, and survived until 1948.

APRIL 1, 1932

England—Cape Town In 4d 17hr 30min

Mollison Realises his Ambition

Gradually the aeroplane is bringing the parts of the British Empire closer together, mentally no less than physically. By his flight Mr. J. A. Mollison has brought Capetown within 113hr. 22 min. of London, and, although this was achieved at the cost of terrific strain on the pilot, the flight has once again demonstrated to the world the qualities of British aircraft and British aero engines.

mini macr - mollison


Mrs. Amy Mollison in her " Puss Moth "Desert Cloud"

ALTHOUGH Mrs. J. A. Mollison was unable to beat her own record, for the England-Cape flight, on her return journey, she has succeeded in breaking the previous record (9.5 days, established by Capt. C. D. Barnard and the Duchess of Bedford) by about two days. She has also shown, by the splendid effort on this last flight, in which she had to fight against most unfavourable weather conditions throughout, that she undoubtedly ranks foremost amongst long-distance pilots.

She flew from England to Cape Town in 4d 6hr 54 min., thus beating her husband's previous record for the same journey.

Amy's time for the homeward flight was 7d 7hr 25 minutes; she left Capetown at 5 a.m. (G.M.T.) on December 11, landing at Croydon  on December 18.

mini - amy mollison


Mr. Smith's Flight

MR. VICTOR SMITH, the 19-year-old South African airman, who left Capetown on November 13, arrived at Croydon on the evening of November 24. Mr. Smith's flight may not have been record breaking, but it was not without interest and excitement. After he had left the Niger River to fly by compass to Gao, Mr. Smith suddenly found that a petrol feed pipe was leaking, and instead of having about 25 gall, he only had left sufficient fuel for about 10 min. flying. He force-landed near a pool of water and received hospitality, such as it was, from members of the Tuareg tribe. See here for more

mini - v c smith


Brook's Bad Luck

Mr. H. L. Brook, who was attempting to beat the England-Cape record in a Miles "Falcon," had a mild crash while landing after dark at Mersa Matruh, about 260 miles E.N.E. of Cairo. He was uninjured and will probably carry on to Cape Town in easy stages preparatory to making a fast return flight.

mini macr - h l brook


 David Llewellyn, flying instructor at Hanworth, and his one-time pupil, Mrs. Jill Wyndham, who, in a Parnall Heck, are out to break the London-Cape record, have made a forced landing between Aboukir and Cairo. On their previous attempt they turned back at Marseilles.

They eventually got there in 6d 8hr 28min.

mini - d w llewellyn(2) 



Tom Campbell Black and his co-pilot Mr. J. G. McArthur had a second slice of ill-luck in connection with their Cape Town-and-back record attempt. At the same time, they must be congratulated on a very fortunate escape. It will be remembered that in the middle of last month they set out in Mr. Cyril Nicholson's D.H. Comet Boomerang, but were forced to return after experiencing a shortage of oil due to a curious error in the making of the dip-sticks of the oil tanks. Last Saturday they made a renewed attempt. Weather reports proving favourable, they left Hatfield aerodrome at 4 p.m., the Comet making a remarkably short and clean takeoff in spite of its heavy fuel load and an almost entire absence of wind. They flew non-stop to Cairo, which they reached in 11 hr. 9 min.—bettering their previous time—then refuelled before taking off for Kisumu, Kenya. They were last seen flying over Wadi Haifa, then nothing more was heard of them for twenty hours, and a good deal of anxiety was felt. It was not relieved until they suddenly and surprisingly appeared at 2 p.m. on Monday at Kubushia, near Khartoum, riding camels. It was then learned that the Comet had crashed and caught fire in the desert 100 miles north of Khartoum, and that the crew had escaped by parachute.




Rose (Falcon) and Llewellyn (Aeronca) Fly Respectively From and To South Africa

THE Cape-England record has been broken by Fit. Lt. Tommy Rose, who can now claim to have made the fastest time for the trip both out and home. His new record is 6 days 6 hr. 57 min. (he got to the Cape in 89hr. 37 min.), which beats F/O David Llewellyn's time—the previous best—by 5 hr. 6 min.

Just to keep the pot boiling, Llewellyn has now flown to Johannesburg in an Aeronca with a J.A.P. engine of only 40 h.p. Rose, of course, was using the Miles Falcon.

Left Capetown at 6.8 a.m. (G.M.T.) on Tuesday, March 3

mini - t rose


From November 14 to 19 F /O Arthur Edmund Clouston and Mrs. Betty Kirby-Green made a fine return flight to the Cape in the D.H. Comet Burberry, taking outward (45 hr. 2 min.), homeward (57 hr. 23 min.) and return (5 days 17 hr. 28 min.) records.

"The official world's record flight from England to the Cape is held by Miss Amy Johnson in 78 hours 25 minutes, and the return record by Mr. H. L. Brook, whose time was 96 hours 20 minutes ; these two are registered with the F.A.I, as Records de Parcours, or capital to capital records."

D.H. Comet 'The Burberry'; G-ACSS, the Aeroplane Formerly Known As 'Grosvenor House' and 'The Orphan'.

Currently at Shuttleworth




A Brilliant Solo Effort in a Racing Single-seater

TO Alex Henshaw, winner of the 1938 King's Cup Race, goes the credit of having made one of the most spectacular long-distance dashes of recent years— from London to Cape Town and back in 106.5 hours.

The outward trip of 6,000 miles he accomplished in 39hr. 25 min., and the homeward run took 39hr. 36 min. The out and home journey, including his rest period of 27 hours at Cape Town, was accomplished in 106hr. 1 min.

He thus beats the record set up in November, 1937, by F/O. A. E. Clouston and Mrs. Kirby-Green (flying a D.H. Comet) by 5 hr. 37 min. outward; 17 hr. 47 min. homeward; and 30hr. 59 min. for the round trip. The best previous solo time, one way, was that of Miss Amy Johnson in 1936, with 78hr. 25 min.

The machine, G-AEXF, was the familiar white one with which Henshaw won last year's King's Cup Race, and in which he has competed in a number of events during the last two years. It is by no means new. It had, however, been very considerably modified by Essex Aero, Ltd., specially for this attempt.

mini - a henshaw
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