Combat Over the Trenches

Oswald Watt, Aviation Pioneer

Chris Clark

Date Published :
March 2018
Publisher :
Pen and Sword
Illustration :
No associated books available.


'Father of the Flying Corps' and 'Father of Australian Aviation' were two of the unofficial titles conferred on Oswald ("Toby") Watt when he died in tragic circumstances shortly after the end of the First World War. He had become the Australian Army's first qualified pilot in 1911, but spent the first 18 months of the war with the French Air Service, the Aéronautique Militaire, before arranging a transfer to the Australian Imperial Force. Already an experienced combat pilot, he rose quickly through the ranks of the Australian Flying Corps, becoming a squadron leader and leading his unit at the battle of Cambrai, then commander of No 1 Training Wing with the senior AFC rank of lieutenant colonel.

These were elements in a colorful and at times a romantic career long existing interest and attention - not just during Watt's lifetime but in the interval since his death nearly a century ago. His name had been rarely out of Australian newspapers for more than a decade before the war, reflecting his wealthy lifestyle and extensive and influential social and political connections. But this focus has enveloped Watt's story with an array of false and misleading elements verging on mythology. For the first time, this book attempts to establish the true story of Watt's life and achievements, and provide a proper basis for evaluating his place in Australian history.

About The Author

Chris Clark graduated from the Royal Military College in 1972 and served in the Australian Army Intelligence Corps until 1979. Following this, he worked in the Departments of Defence, Foreign Affairs, and Prime Minister and Cabinet. After writing commissioned histories for six years, during which time he completed a PhD at the Australian Defence Force Academy, he worked at the Australian National university and the Australian War Memorial. From 2004, until he retired nine years later, he was RAAF Historian and Head of the Office of Air Force History. He has written extensively on aspects of Australian defence over many years in a variety of publications - as sole author, contributor and editor.


Clarke’s excellent narrative draws from new material to portray the arc of Watt’s life, from Gilded Age splendor to air combat, Wing command and untimely passing. Often called the “Father of Australian Aviation,” Watt left a generous bequest to fund the Oswald Watt Gold Medal, which is presented to this day for outstanding contributions to Australian aviation. Clarke’s book is rich with details, copiously referenced and highly recommended.

- Over the Front

"Clark’s book provides insight into an important aviation figure who, unfortunately, has drifted off the screen outside his native land."

- Air Power History

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