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Harry Butler’s Story


Henry John Butler (Harry) was born in 1889 and raised on a farm in rural South Australia. From a young age he showed an aptitude for construction and a fascination for flight. Harry left school at thirteen to work full-time on his family’s farm. But his spare time was devoted to studying mechanics and aviation. In 1912, the opportunity arose to work on a plane with engineer Bill Wittber. Most weekends, Harry made the 200 km journey to work with Wittber. Here, he learned the basics of flying and achieved a few ‘hops’ off the ground.  


In 1916, Harry travelled to England where he joined the royal Flying Corps and qualified as a pilot. During his time in the Flying Corps, Harry served as a lieutenant, a fighting instructor and a Flight Commander. He was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Air Force Cross.


Harry returned to Australia in 1919 bringing with him a monoplane (which later became known as the ‘Red Devil’) and an Arvo biplane. On 6th august, 1919, Harry completed the first Australian mail flight over water crossing the Gulf St Vincent to his home town of Minlaton. On his arrival, he astounded the crowd with a daring display of acrobatics.


Over the following years, Harry performed numerous aerial displays throughout South Australia. He often used these opportunities to carry airmail and promote The Peace Loan. Harry flew over Adelaide Children’s hospital and Minda Home, dropping messages for the children. He escorted HRH Prince Edward into Adelaide. He even delivered Santa to the roof of a department store. During this time, Harry also operated passenger flights in his Arvo biplane carrying many passengers including the Governor of South Australia. In October 1920, Harry established South Australia’s first aerodrome at Hendon.


In 1922, Harry was seriously injured when his Arvo biplane crashed near Minlaton. He died two years later from a cerebral abscess related to his earlier crash.


Harry’s ‘Red Devil’ monoplane was later refurbished and can be seen on display in The Captain Harry Butler Memorial Hanger, Minlaton.

For further information on Captain Harry Butler visit the Minlaton Museum: 

A book detailing his full life by Les Parsons and Samantha Battams:

copyright: photos property of Minlaton Museum
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