Horace Clowes Brinsmead
1883 - 1934
Horace Clowes Brinsmead was this country’s first Controller of Civil Aviation. In this role he made an invaluable contribution to the development of the industry in Australia. He was born on 2 February 1883 in London, the son of piano-manufacturer Edgar William Brinsmead, and his wife Annie. At the age of 20, he migrated to Australia and initially settled on land in Queensland, but later moved to Tonga where he operated a plantation until World War I broke out.
Brinsmead enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on 29 December 1914 and was posted to the 24th (Victoria) Battalion, 8th Brigade, which embarked on 26 June 1915, reaching Gallipoli in September. He served at Lone Pine until the evacuation and commanded the last party to leave the sector. The 24th Battalion reached the Western Front in March 1916 and Brinsmead was promoted to Captain two months later. On 27 July, he was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry at Pozières. On the same day he suffered a severe leg wound and was evacuated to England. Nine months later he transferred to the administrative staff at Australian Flying Corps (AFC) headquarters, London.
The 24th Battalion reached the Western Front in March 1916 and Brinsmead was promoted to Captain two months later. On 27 July, he was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry at Pozières. On the same day he suffered a severe leg wound and was evacuated to England. Nine months later he transferred to the administrative staff at Australian Flying Corps (AFC) headquarters, London.
Brinsmead served as a senior staff officer in the AFC training wing from April 1917 until early 1919, reaching the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. In 1919 he was attached to the Foreign Office for special duty with the military section of the British delegation to the Paris Peace Conference. He was appointed Order of the British Empire (Military) in June and in November was sent to Germany with the Disarmament Control Board.
He was demobilized in May 1920 and on 8 December of that year he married Ivy Ernestine McDonald at the Presbyterian Ladies’ College, East Melbourne.
Although not a pilot, Brinsmead was keenly interested in aviation. In 1920, he was appointed Controller of the newly created Civil Aviation Branch of the Department of Defence. He introduced new airworthiness checks for planes, qualifications for those who serviced them, and new medical inspections and licensing requirements for pilots. Some sectors of the industry were bitterly opposed to the changes.
From the time he took control of the Civil Aviation Branch he made a practice of travelling by air. A de Havilland DH 50 was reserved almost exclusively for his use. He toured Australia and carried out all his inspections by air. This included a return trans-continental flight from Melbourne to Derby in Western Australia in 1921 and an inspection of the QANTAS air routes in Queensland in 1922.
He was accompanied on those flights by Superintendent of Flying Operations and Personnel, Captain Edgar Charles Johnston MC DFC. Johnston was the pilot when Brinsmead undertook an epic survey of aerodromes and aerial routes. The trip started on 7 August 1924 and was divided into three stages: Melbourne to Darwin, Darwin to Perth and Perth to Melbourne.
The crew travelled an average of 250 miles each day in their de Havilland DH 50 with only one rest day on the 22-day trip. It was the first round-Australia trip in a landplane. On conclusion of the flight the Air Council in London sent a cable to Colonel Brinsmead congratulating him “… on your fine flight which will help air transport very considerably”.
The following year, Brinsmead used the same aircraft for a flight from Melbourne to Normanton on Australia’s northern coast, flying 1,600 miles (2,575 kilometres) in just two days.
In 1931, he was involved in negotiations for an air mail route between England and Australia. He was on a flight to England when the aircraft crashed on take-off at Alor Star airport, Malaya. Brinsmead suffered only minor injuries and decided to continue the journey using the KLM service. However this aircraft also crashed on take-off at Don Muang Aerodrome, Bangkok, on 7 December. Brinsmead was badly injured and remained an invalid until his death in the Austin Hospital Melbourne on 11 March 1934.
The obituary in The Times of London noted that his earlier tour in May 1922 “… much of it through practically unknown country … ranked as one of the finest flying achievements which had till then been recorded”.
Over his 11 years as Controller, Horace Brinsmead directed the growth of Civil Aviation in Australia, earning a reputation as an efficient administrator with a diplomatic gift for cutting red tape. He framed the air navigation regulations and flew thousands of miles investigating new aerial mail and passenger routes. He was a constant advocate of the local manufacture of aircraft parts.