Commander Eric Kingsford-Smith

Commander Eric Kingsford-Smith

Eric Kingsford-Smith was born in Brisbane, Queensland on 27 February 1887, one of seven children born to William Charles Smith (Banker) and Catherine Mary Kingsford. The family later took the hyphenated name Kingsford-Smith. Eric’s younger brother Charles Edward (1897-1935) later became the famous Australian Aviator Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith.

Eric worked as an accountant with the British Columbia Telephone Company when his family resided in Canada (1903-07) and later he joined the merchant navy and qualified as a Purser. On 26 August 1912 he joined the RAN as an Assistant Paymaster. His first ship was the training cruiser HMAS Encounter in which he served briefly before joining the coastal patrol vessel HMAS Gayundah and he served in her throughout 1913. Eric Kingsford-Smith married Mary Josephine Connah in Randwick, Sydney on 24 January 1914 and they later had two children.

Eric joined the new cruiser HMAS Sydney in January 1914 and except for a short period (March-May 1914) when he served in Encounter he remained with Sydney until March 1917. During this time Sydney took part on the capture of German New Guinea in September 1914 and the destruction of the German cruiser Emden at the Cocos Islands on 9 November 1914. Sydney later operated in the Caribbean and off the east coast of the United States during 1915-16. The cruiser was then based at Rosyth, Scotland and conducted patrols in the North Sea throughout the winter of 1916-17. Eric was promoted to the rank of Paymaster (Lieutenant) on 26 August 1916.

Kingsford-Smith left Sydney in March 1917 and returned to Australia where he was posted to the Sydney based Depot Ship HMAS Penguin which was moored alongside at Garden Island. His duties here were mainly administrative tasks and in early 1919 he became the Secretary to Captain JCT Glossop who was the Captain in Charge of the Naval Depot. 

In April 1920 Eric joined the cruiser HMAS Melbourne as the ships Paymaster and Fleet Accountant Officer. He was promoted to Paymaster Lieutenant Commander in August 1921. Melbourne spent much of her time in Australian, New Guinea and Netherlands East Indies waters, but was also involved in the rescue of the 18 passengers and crew from the schooner Helen B Sterling; which sank during a storm near New Zealand on 22 January 1922. Kingsford-Smith served in Melbourne until December 1923.

In January 1924 he was posted to Penguin where he served until July 1926 when he joined the Destroyer Depot and Fleet Repair Ship HMAS Platypus. Eric served in Platypus as the Paymaster Lieutenant Commander until January 1927. He then returned to Penguin, but was injured in fall onboard and punctured a lung; which was later removed. As a result he was medically retired from the Navy in November 1927 and placed on the Retired List of Officers. He then followed a career as an accountant and resided in Sydney. On 31 December 1929 he was promoted to the rank of Supply Commander (Retired List).

When war broke out again in September 1939, Eric Kingsford-Smith immediately returned to Naval service and was posted as the Base Accounts Officer of the Sydney Naval Depot (HMAS Penguin). He remained in this role from September 1939 until February 1941. During the period February-April 1941 he assisted to recommission the Repair Ship HMAS Platypus which had been in Reserve for several years. He then returned to Penguin in early April 1941 and remained there until July 1945 although he did serve briefly in other Sydney Naval Depots (HMAS Kuttabul during January-April 1943 and HMAS Rushcutter during August 1943-April 1944). The bulk of his time was spent on the staff of the Flag Officer in Command Sydney Area.

In the final days of World War II he served in the Pacific Theatre. From August 1945 until January 1946 he served at HMAS Basilisk (Port Moresby), HMAS Madang (Madang) and HMAS Gilolo (Moratai in the Halmahera Island group). Kingsford-Smith returned to Australia in January 1946 and rejoined HMAS Penguin where he served until August 1946. His final posting was to HMAS Rushcutter where he was demobilised from the RAN on 16 September 1946.

In retirement he resided with his family in Wahroonga and was a member of the board of directors of Butler Air Transport Ltd. His family also recalled he was an accomplished magician who kept them enthralled with his various conjuring acts and card tricks. His son operated a coffee plantation on the Dunantina River in New Guinea and Eric visited him and his grandchildren a number of times during the 1960s. It was during one of these visits that Eric Kingsford-Smith died, in light aircraft crash at Mount Hagan, on 27 July 1968. His remains were returned to Australia where they were cremated.