Monday, November 13, 2023

Captain Harry Butler: Minlaton's own First World War Flying Ace

The peaceful rural landscape of South Australia's Yorke Peninsula was a long way from the battlefields of the First World War, but legendary Minlaton pilot and daredevil Captain Harry Butler experienced both during his distinguished but tragically short flying career.

Born near Minlaton on 9 November 1889, Henry John 'Harry' Butler AFC was always destined to fly. He passed his exam at the Australian Flying School and then, impatient to fly, paid his own way to England to enlist in the Royal Flying Corps. Harry's talents were quickly recognised and he was soon flying missions over France. In 1918 he was awarded the Air Force Cross and by 1919 he held the rank of Captain

When the war ended in November 1918, Harry returned home to South Australia with two aircraft: an Avro 504K biplane and his beloved "Red Devil' which is now housed in the Captain Harry Butler Memorial Hangar in the main street. 

Harry made a name for himself as a stunt pilot and took paying passengers on joy flights, but he made history in the 'Red Devil' on 6 August 1919 when he became the first person to fly across Gulf St Vincent from Adelaide to Yorke Peninsula. With an inflated tyre tube around his waist (in case he had to ditch the tiny plane over the sea), Harry delivered the first airmail over water in the southern hemisphere.

Disaster struck in January 1922 when the engine in Harry's Avro failed and his plane crashed near Minlaton. His passenger, a local man by the name of Miles, luckily escaped unharmed but Harry never fully recovered from his injuries and eventually died from a cerebral haemorrhage on 30 July 1924 at the age of only 34

Captain Harry Butler was buried in Adelaide with full military honours. Thousands paid tribute to a decorated Australian war hero who had captured the public's imagination as a legendary pioneer in aviation.

The Red Devil on display in the memorial hangar at Minlaton (R Eime)

Text sourced from the Capt Harry Butler Memorial

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