Only two finished Portsmouth to Jo’burg air race

Race winners Giles Guthrie (left) and Charles Scott and, below, the route of the race and the programme
Race winners Giles Guthrie (left) and Charles Scott and, below, the route of the race and the programme
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Eighty years ago, in October 1934, a race by aeroplane was organised by Sir Macpherson Robertson, an Australian confectionery millionaire.

The race was from RAF Mildenhall in East Anglia to Flemington Racecoure in Melbourne, Australia – a distance of 11,300 miles.

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The race was part of the Melbourne centenary celebrations. A Briton won the race in 71 hours dead.

Two years later, on September 30, 1936, another race from England took place, this time from Portsmouth to Johannesburg, South Africa, sometimes called the Rand Race or African Air Race.

It was promoted by IW Schlesinger who wanted to promote the Johannesburg Empire Exhibition. A total of £10,000 prize money was offered, split between separate classes, a speed race and a handicap. No one could win both.

The 20 competitors, but only 14 aircraft, took off from Portsmouth aerodrome, as it was then called, at 6.15am on Tuesday, September 29, 1936.

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They were to fly south-east, 6,250 miles across the English Channel, France, Germany, Italy and Greece then over the Mediterranean before flying south over the African desert and jungle all the way down to Johannesburg.

Today, the word ‘hero’ is bandied about for someone who scores a century in cricket or a couple of goals in a football match. But the men who flew those planes that could have dropped out of the sky hundreds of miles from anywhere, were real heroes. Sadly most are forgotten today.

The winners were Charles William Anderson Scott, who had won the 1934 race to Melbourne, and his co-pilot Giles Guthrie.

The two fliers had left Portsmouth 52 hours 56 minutes 48 seconds earlier and had flown at an average speed of 116 mph.

They could have claimed both amounts of prize money as they were the only finishers, but it was decided that the second £5,000 would be donated to the dependents of Findlay and Morgan, two aviators who had died in the race.

What a pity Portsmouth aerodrome did not go on to be of international importance in its short lifetime. In two years we could have been celebrating the 80th anniversary of this race there.

Watch British Pathe video of the competitors leaving Portsmouth and their flight south