1 AFC History

The following article first appeared in the 1967 '14-'18 Journal.


Responding to an appeal from the then "Colonial Secretariat" in London, the Australian Government in December 1915 cabled an offer to send a Squadron of. 28 officers & 181 other ranks, to serve with the R.F.C. The offer was accepted, and on March 16, 1916, No.1 Squadron left Melbourne aboard the 'Orsova', bound for overseas service. The pilots had been trained at Point Cook, mainly on Box-kites. Disembarking at Suez, all pilots and observers were immediately attached to existing R.F.C, units or sent to England for further training. Mechanics and ground personnel went to two R.F.C. Squadrons operating in the desert.

On June 12, 1916, No 17 Squadron R.F.C. was ordered to Salonika. No.1 Squadron took their place, having at this time a somewhat 'dual' entity - They were still referred to by the Australian Government as No.1 Squadron A.F.C., but were listed in official R.F.C. records as No.67 Squadron R.F.C. Headquarters and 'C' Flight were stationed at Heliopolis, near Cairo. 'B' Flight was based at Suez, and 'A' Flight at Sherika, in upper Egypt. Then on 17 December, 1917, the Squadron once more had all its members together, being at this time stationed at Mustabig, where B.E.2c's were exchanged for Bristol Scouts, B.E.2a's, & Martinsyde Scouts, the latter being dubbed 'Tinsides' or 'Baby Elephants'. This equipment was later supplemented by the already obsolete B.E.12a.

C.O. was Major Richard Williams, and during the early months of 1917, the Squadron was kept busy with recce and bombing missions against the Turks. It was during this period that a pilot of No.14 Squadron R.F.C. was brought down by Turkish ground-fire, but rescued by Lieuts. Ross Smith & Ballieu, after having set fire to his aircraft to prevent its capture by the enemy. And, only a short time later, the first Australian air V.C. was won by Lieut H. McNamara, for his rescue under similar circumstances of Lieut. Rutherford. His V.C, gazetted on June 8, 1917, is included in another article in this issue.

No.1 (Australian) Squadron, as the unit now became known, re-equipped with the decidedly more modern Bristol Fighter, and closely supported Allenby's advance, operating during this period from airfields at Ramleh, Haifa, & Hama in Palestine, as well as from Homs in Syria. During this period also, Captain Ross Smith flow many missions carrying Col. T.E. Lawrence - better known of course as 'Lawrence of Arabia' - making reconnaissance and scouting sorties prior to his Commando-style raids against the Turkish positions with his Arab desert ghosts.

During 1918 the Squadron once more re-equipped, this time with Bristol Fighters powered by the new 260 hp Rolls-Royce engine. A few B.E.12a's were kept on strength as photo-recce machines, the Squadron at this time working in close liaison with No.111 Squadron R.F.C.

In August, 1918, General Borton landed at Ramleh in a giant Handley-Page 0/400 bomber. This was at that time the only machine of its type in the Middle East, and it was placed on the Squadron's books. This served an unexpected service, for Lawrence's legions, their enthusiasm for the fighting at a very low ebb, were immensely delighted and impressed by the size of the huge aircraft, and new members once again flocked to Lawrence's green banner.

On September 19, Allenby's great offensive opened, and Smith set off in the 0/400, with Mulford, Lees & McCann as observers, to drop 16 112-lb bombs on the telephone exchange and railway junction at El Afule. As a result, the Turks were kept in complete ignorance of Allenby’s attack for the first two days of the battle.

Following the Armistice with Turkey on October 31, the Squadron moved back to Ramleh, and then in 1919, back to Kantara prior to disbanding. General Allenby made a special visit to the Squadron to make his personal farewell, as a tribute to the unit, which he held in special esteem, and which had won over 50 decorations in two years. No.111 Squadron, commanded by Major Hereward de Havilland, took over their Bristols and, just before the Australians' ship was due to sail, a pilot of No.1 (A.F.C.) Squadron flew Bristol No.4626 low over the cemetery at Ramleh, dropping poppies in tribute to the Australian and British airmen buried there.

With the disbandment of the Squadron, individual members continued to make names for themselves in other fields. Ross Smith (M.C., D.F.C., A.F.C.) became the first to fly from England to Australia, with his brother Keith, who had served with the R.F.C. Shortly afterwards, Hudson Fysh (now Sir Hudson) D.F.C., and McGuinness, D.F.C., D.C.M., started the Qantas airline, and Lawrence Wackett began designing aircraft of his own.

Then on April 1, 1921, the Australian Air Force was formed, with Lt.-Col."Dicky" Williams as first C.A.S., and carrying the new rank of Wing Commander. On 13 August of the same year, it became the R.A.A.F. No.1 Squadron was then re-formed on July 1st, 1925 at Point Cook, as an Army Co-operation and Photographic Survey Unit, flying SE.5a's and D.H,9’s, with F/Lt. A.H. Cobby (D.S.O., D.F.C. & 2 Bars,) who had formerly served with No.4 Squadron.