In 1969 the famous aviator, Nancy Bird-Walton met at Dabee homestead near Rylestone Reginald David Williams, who was the last surviving competitor in the 1919 Great Air Race from England to Australia.
At Dabee, Reg was the guest of his daughter, Hon. Beryl Alice Evans. It was not Reginald's first visit to the Mudgee district. After his discharge from the Forces in 1919 Reg acquired a surplus aircraft and like other war pilots commenced giving "joy" rides at country towns including Mudgee.
Reg was born in Wodonga, in 1896 and later moved with his parents to Brighton-le-Sands. In 1909 Reg was inspired when George Taylor who made 29 flights at Narrabeen Beach in a motorless biplane constructed by himeself. Just before War 1 Reg built a glider out of bamboo and cloth and flew it from one of the slopes of the famous Razorback Mountain near Picton. He crashed on landing thus smashing the machine.
Reg enlisted in the Australian Flying Corps on June 13, 1917, and served as Second Lieutenant with the seven Squadron, with a later appointment to the British Army. At the conclusion of World War 1, the Commonwealth Government offered 10,000 pounds prize money for the first Australian to fly from England to Australia - a distance of 19,000 kilometres in 30 days. This was the very first long distance air race, and given that aviation was still in its infancy; cockpits were open and there was no radio contact with the ground.
Reg formed a team with the Artic explorer Captain (later Sir) George Hubert Wilkins as navigator, Val Rendle as co-pilot and Garnsey Potts as mechanic. On November 21, 1919 the team left Hounslow, England in Blackburn Kangaroo aircraft, and headed to France on the first leg of their gruelling journey. Reg recalled: "It was bitterly cold all the time. On the first day out from England, we flew for about four hours in a snow storm with no means of navigating, just a compass". The crew conversed by sending notes to each other via a pulley and wire attached to the side of the plane.
The inclement weather plagued them incessantly but it was the engine failure that dashed their hope of winning the race. On December 8 en route to Eygpt they crashed at Suda Bay in Crete. Unable to secure a new engine, the team had to abandon the race and Reg returned to Australia by sea. He arrived back in Orange in April, 1920. On May 7, 1921 Reg married Mabel Lawson in the Methodist Church at Canobolas.
Reg served in both World Wars. He gained his pilot license through the New South Wales School of Aviation at Richmond in 1915, going solo in three hours 35 minutes. Showing great aptitude, after a further six hour solo he was appointed in England as a flying instructor and in addition ferried aircraft from England to the battlefields in France. Prior to War 1 Reg and his brother Percy Harold Williams ran Williams Brother Motorcycle Shop in Summer Street, Orange. Reg was a keen motorcyclist and competed in many races. In January, 1915, he received the highest award in the Melbourne to Sydney Motor Cycle Reliability Trial. Reg was the only competitor to complete the return journey, riding 1350 miles in eight days
In the Second World War Reg enlisted as a Squadron Leader, and held the position of commanding officer at several elementary flying training schools including Tamworth in July1942. It was at this school that his daughter Beryl of the WAAF met and married her first husband Ken Bowman of Wargundy near Dunedoo. Beryl was a councillor of the Coolah Shire Council from 1962 to 1971 whilst I was the Shire Clerk (Manager) there from 1959 to 1990.
Roy Cameron OAM