OPINION | Our WWI effort was more than just Gallipolli

Sky-high combat: World War I fighter pilots in action, captured by artist Frank Wootton. I was also thrilled lately to discover this portrait of Arthur Mowle (inset) in the British Royal Aero Club Aviator Certificates Register.

Sky-high combat: World War I fighter pilots in action, captured by artist Frank Wootton. I was also thrilled lately to discover this portrait of Arthur Mowle (inset) in the British Royal Aero Club Aviator Certificates Register.

Gallipoli. Gallipoli, Gallipoli, and Gallipoli.

That’s my only criticism of how Australia remembers our Anzacs. It always revolves around April 25, 1915.

This Saturday will mark exactly 100 years since local fighter pilot Arthur Mowle was shot down in flames.

There was so much more to Australia’s story in WW1: from Beersheba to Amiens. Even April 25 has another highlight – it was on that day in 1918 that the Australians halted the last great German offensive, at a French village called Villers-Bretonneux.

And Anzac commemorations often revolve around our ground forces, the bedrock of the ‘Digger’ legend, but we had many other servicemen and women in action. So, this week, I’d like to tip my hat to the fliers.

Indeed, this coming Saturday will mark exactly 100 years since local fighter pilot Arthur Mowle, just 22 years old, was shot down in flames just three weeks after he had joined the Australian Flying Corps units in France.

His three weeks in the air might seem like a short war, but Arthur actually outlasted many of his fellow pilots, who were famously known as the ‘Twenty minuters’.

This nickname was the source of some black humour in the TV comedy Blackadder Goes Forth, in which Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) presumes it was coined because fighter pilots were upper class gents who flew for just 20 minutes a day and spent the rest of their day “loafing about in Paris drinking gallons of champagne”.

On transferring, Blackadder learns to his horror the real reason for the 'Twenty Minuters' nickname was because 20 minutes was the life expectancy of a new pilot. 

So, our Anzac in the air, Lieutenant Arthur William MacKenzie Mowle, might be called a ‘Three-Weeker’.

He was born in 1894, the son of a well-to-do family who lived at Mount Drummond farm near Minto. An up-and-coming young architect, he was educated at Sydney Grammar School and as a dashing young gentlemen was commissioned as a pilot in 1916 and arrived in England that December.   

Mowle spent all of the first half of 1917 in training before arriving on the Western Front in France. It was a hot time with the German ‘‘flying circus’’ of Baron Manfred von Richthofen (The Red Baron) playing havoc with the Allies. 

On July 22, the local man was at 15,000 feet and, having just brought down a German plane, was attacking another when he was caught behind by a third enemy machine, and was shot in the leg as his bullet-ridden plane plummeted to the ground. Issued with no parachute, he went down with his ‘bird’ and sustained fractures, a severe face wound and concussion to the brain. But he survived.

Released from hospital months later, Arthur was medically discharged and sent home to Campbelltown where he married local girl Adrienne Genty in 1918.

(The Gentys had arrived as migrants from France in the 1880s and planted vineyards near Minto. The sight of old Fred Genty climbing onto the stage at Campbelltown Town Hall to sing La Marseillaisse was a highlight of local war effort fundraisers.)

Arthur went on to become a well- known local architect, designing Campbelltown’s Macquarie Cinema (demolished in 1979) and creating Milby Private Hospital out of an old mill (now the Fisher’s Ghost Restaurant, falling apart next to McDonald’s.) He died in 1987.

The Air Force tradition has continued, with many local pilots in WW2, and the present chief of the Australian Defence Force is Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin AC, who grew up in Hoddle Avenue, Campbelltown.

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