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M is for Mildenhall to Melbourne

The ‘Greatest Air Race’, 1934

The MacRobertson International Air Races from the airfield at Mildenhall to Melbourne, Australia were the key events in the centenary celebrations for Melbourne. The intention was to promote Melbourne and also to inspire the design and construction of new aeroplanes and communications. The races were sponsored by the Australian philanthropist, Sir MacPherson Robertson, known as MacRobertson, who said:

The very fact that the International Air Race is creating such a world-wide interest, is certainly going to make thousands upon thousands of people study their atlas and learn what they do not at present know, namely, where Melbourne is”.

At the time long distance flights were still limited and the existing record from England to Australia was almost 9 days. It was anticipated that the winners of the speed race would complete the flight in 4 days. The logistics of racing such a distance required over a year of careful planning and negotiation, including with the 19 countries who had to grant over-flight or landing permission for aeroplanes and crews of unknown nationalities.

It wasn’t until August that the decision was taken to use the newly built military aerodrome at Mildenhall. The plan had been to use a civilian aerodrome in the London region but none were capable of housing all of the aeroplanes expected.

The speed race was won by the DH.88 Comet Grosvenor House, flown by C.W. Scott and T. Campbell Black.  They reached Melbourne in less than 72 hours. The handicap race was won by the Douglas DC-2 Uiver, flown by K.D. Parmentier, J.J. Moll, B. Prins and C. Van Brugge.

For more information about the race, see Mildenhall to Melbourne, by Stuart McKay MBE.  A copy is available in the local studies collection at the Bury branch.

K564 is a collection of photographs by Gerald Lambert, a professional photographer based in Bury St Edmunds, who took several photographs of the competitors and aeroplanes before the races started.  The collection is held at the Bury St Edmunds branch.