Exclusive extract from ‘A Great and Restless Spirit’ by D R Dymock:
Unaware of the mid-ocean drama, Muriel continued to mark off the hours Harry had been in the air. As the day went on, she began to prepare to head over to Brooklands, hopeful she would soon be reunited with her husband. There was quiet anticipation among the Sopwith representatives, military officers, and government and aero club officials gathered at Brooklands that Monday afternoon, 19 May, 1919. It promised to be a momentous occasion for the future of cross-Atlantic travel and for British aviation.
Muriel and her brother, RAF Captain Laurence Peaty, had driven over from Hook in the Sunbeam. Word had come through that the American fliers were trapped in the Azores by the weather, so NC-4 had not yet been able to make the final hop. There was still a possibility that Harry and Grieve could claim the transatlantic gong.
Nevertheless there was also an undercurrent of anxiety about the two fliers. No messages had been received; no sightings reported. Based on the reported Sunday departure time from Newfoundland, by Muriel’s 22-hour timeline the Atlantic should touch down at Brooklands at around 4.30pm. Unlike some others, she wasn’t worried by the lack of contact with the plane because she knew Harry and Grieve weren’t counting on the wireless during the flight.
But as the afternoon ticked by, concern started to grow. The Royal Air Force sent planes out from its Aldergrove base in Ireland to probe along the transatlantic route, but the pilots came back with nothing to report.
When Muriel crossed off hour number 22, and there was still no sign of the plane, the tension among the waiting group must have been palpable. They all knew that by then the Sopwith’s fuel tank would be close to empty. When a full 24 hours had passed without any contact, no one had to say what that meant.
Title:A Great and Restless Spirit: The incredible true story of Harry Hawker, Australian test pilot, aircraft designer, car racing driver, speedboat racer, world-beater
High-profile mystery plane crashes have confounded and intrigued the world since flight began – but this dramatic true story was the first.
A Great And Restless Spirit by D R Dymock tells of the disappearance of record-breaking Australian pilot Harry Hawker and his navigator over the Atlantic Ocean in 1919… and of how kings and nations were captivated by the event. The book has just been released.
A transatlantic feat
In May 1919, 30-year-old Harry Hawker and his navigator attempted the first transatlantic flight, from Newfoundland to Ireland, and in a plane with no radio or radar.
Millions waited for news of their triumph – but the plane never arrived. After six days, and with no sightings or leads, almost everyone gave them up for dead. Banjo Paterson wrote a eulogy for Harry’s passing. King George V sent Harry’s English wife, Muriel Hawker, a telegram of condolence. But Muriel refused to believe her husband was dead.
If things don’t go quite right, never give up hope, Harry had told Muriel before he left. She took him at his word.
‘As there seemed to be two sides to the question whether he was alive or not, and no definite proof of either,’ Muriel said, ‘I decided I’d cling firmly to the belief that he was alive.’
An extraordinary life
Muriel Hawker’s faith in her daredevil husband had reaped rewards before. Harry’s ‘need for speed’ made him a fierce competitor in car and speedboat races around the globe and, when he wasn’t racing, Harry designed and tested WWI planes.
His boss, aviation guru Tommy Sopwith, believed Harry was a genius – but Muriel kept her husband’s feet firmly on the ground. Would this remarkable woman’s hope be rewarded this time, too?
In A Great and Restless Spirit, author D R Dymock tells the incredible true story of Harry Hawker MBE AFC and the woman who refused to give up on him.
About the author: D R (Darryl) Dymock (author site) is the Brisbane-based author of several well-received non-fiction books, including Hustling Hinkler and The Chalkies. This is his second aviation biography. He is a mentor with the Queensland Writers Centre, and an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at Griffith University.
Here’s A Great and Restless Spirit in good company for March events at Avid Reader Bookshop, West End, Brisbane.
A Great and Restless Spirit will be launched at Avid Reader at 6.30pm AEST on Friday 25th March, 2022. And you’re invited! In person, or online.
All you have to do is click on this link to register for the launch. You can also pre-order the book (ISBN 9781925380415. Armour Books)
Here’s an extract from A Great and Restless Spirit to whet your reading appetite:
Outside, the weather matched their mood as they set off—sombre, dark and cold. The wind was whipping the trees around their house, and the rain danced in the headlights as they headed to Euston Station. For some reason, despite the almost cyclonic conditions, Harry opted to take the Sunbeam.
The big car might well have had a neatly riveted bonnet, but it also had no hood over the passenger compartment. So, as they roared through deserted London streets in drenching rain slashed by an occasional knife edge of sleet, Harry crouched behind the whisper of a windscreen.
Muriel hunched in the well on the passenger side, her head resting against her husband’s knee. She quietly wished that she’d married someone without ambition, like a farmer’s son. Someone who didn’t feel the need to go where no man had ever gone before. If only I could sleep away the time ahead, she thought.
When they reached Euston station, they had one final hug, said one final goodbye. As Harry disappeared into the carriage, Muriel was inconsolable. She couldn’t wait for the train to pull out.
Heading disconsolately back to the car, all she could think was that Harry had gone from her. The only thing she could do was wait for the future to unfold itself.
I’d like to introduce you to Harry Hawker, the subject of my latest book, A Great and Restless Spirit. And below you can find a link to the YouTube video.
Harry Hawker was an Australian-born test pilot, aircraft designer, racing car driver, speedboat racer, and all-round world-beater.
In his day he was a celebrity before there were celebrities.
But he wasn’t looking for fame. All he wanted to do was push the boundaries.
He had a dream of speed that he pursued throughout his whole, regrettably short, life.
I wanted to write about Harry Hawker firstly because of the way he insisted on pushing the boundaries in the air, on the racetrack and on the water. But I’m also fascinated by what made him ‘a great and restless spirit’.
And how did his wife Muriel cope with that insistent restlessness, especially when it became life-threatening?
You can register for the in-store and online book launch at Avid Reader Bookshop, West End, Brisbane, at 6.30pm AEST Friday 25 March here
If you’re free and in the vicinity, I’d love to see you at the Brisbane launch of my new book on Friday evening, 25 March, 2022. (Covid permitting!).
The book is called A Great and Restless Spirit: The incredible true story of Australian Harry Hawker – test pilot, aircraft designer, racing car driver, speedboat racer, world-beater.
It will be published by an independent Brisbane publisher, Armour Books.
If Victorian-born Harry Hawker MBE AFC (1889-1921) was alive today, he’d be churning desert dust in the Dakar rally, strapped in a rocket on a SpaceX flight, or taking pole position on the Formula 1 start line.
Hawker moved to England at age 22, and in his day flew faster, higher and for longer than anyone else in Britain. His one need was speed. And if he couldn’t find it in the air, he was a fierce competitor in racing cars and international speedboat races.
When he wasn’t racing, Hawker was designing and testing WWI planes. His boss, aviation guru Tommy Sopwith, was convinced the Australian was a genius.
In the book you’ll also meet Harry’s remarkable wife, Muriel, who mostly kept his feet on the ground. But even she worried about his need to go where no man had ever gone before.
And in the background there bubbled away an underlying weakness that would eventually contribute to Harry Hawker’s death in a flaming solo plane crash. He was just 32 years of age.
I hope you might be able to join me for the launch of A Great and Restless Spirit at Avid Reader Bookshop, West End, Brisbane at 6.30pm on 25 March. It should be a good occasion, and there’s no obligation to buy😊.
Please put the date in your diary. You’ll be able to register nearer the time on the Avid Reader website: avidreader.com.au
And if you’re not from Brisbane, please keep watch for the book’s publication. I hope it will be available in both print and electronic form.
Please feel free to pass this message on, or to post it on social media. All welcome.
We had a great launch of the Oxley Men’s Shed anthology, Offcuts: Stories from the Shed, on Saturday 27 November in Brisbane. Nine men from the Shed contributed to the collection, and the first (modest) print run sold out! 70 to 80 people turned up to hear a brilliant launch by local Councillor Nicole Johnston, listen to music from the band Crossed Fingers, and enjoy a scrumptious morning tea.
This is no ordinary collection of stories. It draws on the varied experiences of nine men who have led very different lives, but whose paths have eventually crossed at Oxley Men’s Shed. In this book these mostly first-time writers have taken the opportunity to share some of their fascinating stories from the past with their families and with the wider community. Many of these are never-before-told tales, entertaining anecdotes that not only illuminate the writers’ earlier lives, but often trigger our own memories too.
In these stories we meet a former fitter and turner who as a boy decided to see what would happen when he packed gunpowder from leftover fireworks into a fruit tin and lit the fuse; a retired meat inspector who had to escape hand over hand down a rope off a high church roof when his ladder collapsed; an ex-plumber who starred in a Bollywood movie and dodged bombs and bullets while driving a tour bus in the Middle East; a former photographer who once had the ultimate hand in a boarding house poker game; and a retired insurance underwriter who relives his late-night dash home to dive under the bedclothes before the resident ghost appeared.
Then there’s a Vietnamese veteran driving an Army forklift who literally backed himself into an embarrassing corner with his commanding officer; an ex-teacher who was driving his prized first car through South Brisbane when the back seat caught fire; a former electrician who turned jackaroo to help out his mate on a cattle drive in northern NSW; and a retired agronomist who as a young man led a hiking group down a mountain during a cyclone, with intriguing romantic results.
This is a heady mix of yarns from a group of writers keen to tell their often remarkable stories – sometimes humorous, occasionally hair-raising, but always from the heart.
Offcuts: Stories from the Shed, Armour Books, Brisbane.
(A poem triggered by a comment from my late mother that people who weren’t there didn’t understand what it was like to live through WWII)
They do not know,
those who came after,
how the bugle call sounded
and the men went away;
when ration cards sold
in back streets of the city
and meat cost as much
as a decent week’s pay.
They do not know,
those with buds in their ears,
how we listened to rumours
of invasion to come;
how we lived with anxiety,
with gossip and blackouts,
and ran for the shelters
but refused to succumb.
They do not know,
those folk on high salaries,
how we once had sweet fun
on minimal pay
in the arms of young soldiers
at dances and parties
knowing the foe
was just islands away.
They do not know,
the punters and brokers,
how we bet on the future
with our wounded and dead;
not knowing if lovers
would ever come back,
not knowing if there were
more dark days ahead.
They do not know,
those planning grand houses,
that there was a time
we had hopes and dreams too;
but our visions were clouded
by tears for the dying;
the best we could pray was
we’d all see it through.
They do not know,
those who came after,
of that unreal existence
when nothing was sure,
or why we still yearn
for missed fun and laughter:
those who grew up
when the world was at war.
Copyright Darryl Dymock 2021
*Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations” and “the contribution and suffering of all those who have served”. It is observed on 25 April each year, the anniversary of the landing of Australian, New Zealand and British troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915.
Feel free to make the count, but I can assure you there are exactly 300 characters including spaces.
The Small Truths competition ran for a month in late 2020, in conjunction with the better known Horne Essay Prize.
The winner of the Horne Prize itself has been announced, but I’ve yet to find any mention of the Small Truths short list or winner. And I’ve given up waiting for my congratulatory email😉. But at least I can share my entry with you here.
I like to think my micro-essay displays ‘keen insight and depth of knowledge’ about modern-day Australia. I know some of the references will mean more to Australians than most other readers across the world, so I’ve provided links to follow up if you want to.
There’s nothing like having a word limit (or a character limit) to test your ability to be succinct.
As most students know only too well from high school onwards😉.
Until next time
* The Persian Army was led by King Xerxes, a name which seems to me to be a good Scrabble word, if it was allowed.