In this Bristol monoplane, known as the Red Devil, World War One flying ace Harry Butler made the first Australian mail-service flight over water on 6 August 1919 when Butler covered the distance of 67 miles (108 km) from Adelaide to his home town, Minlaton, in twenty-seven minutes, reaching an altitude of 15,000 feet (4572 m).
At the time of this aviation first, Henry John ‘Harry’ Butler AFC (1889–1924) was returning to his hometown of Minlaton after spending three years on active service in France. Born at Yorketown, the son of a wheat farmer and educated at Koolywurtie Public School, at 26 Harry had paid his own way to England to enlist in the newly formed Royal Flying corps in early 1916. Promoted to officer within months and flying in France, he later became a chief flying instructor as well as receiving an Air Force Cross (AFC)
Back home in the early 1920s Harry raised funds for patriotic purposes by performing daredevil aerobatic exhibitions as well as running his own flying business. He died aged only 34 from an unsuspected cerebral abscess, probably connected with injuries sustained from a crash he had had 18 months earlier in a wheat field near Minlaton.
The Bristol monoplane was one of two planes he brought back from England during his war service. It had been designed by the British government to meet the pressing need for a fast single seat fighter aeroplane with the greatest possible fire power. After Harry’s death, it was donated by his widow to another pioneering aviator, Horrie Miller in Western Australia and it continued to be flown until around 1945. Later Horrie donated it back to the people of Minlaton and it was restored at Parafield by Aviation Services SA Ltd while the Captain Harry Butler Memorial was being established by public subscription.
Situated on the corner of the Main Street and North Terrace in Minlaton, the original memorial was opened on 11 October 1958. A bronze plaque on the outside of the memorial reads: ‘This memorial has been erected by Minlaton & District in honour of Capt Harry Butler AFC and the pioneers of aviation and as a war memorial to those who served in defence of Australia.’
Also on display alongside The Red Devil is its original Le Rhone engine which was donated back to the people Minlaton from the South Australian Museum; and a scale model of the plane, built by Jack Barclay, of Warooka in 1919.
Over the years The Red Devil began to show signs of deterioration and with help of the local council a new memorial was constructed, giving more attention to the prevention of solar damage; and the plane restored to its original design by the Balaklava Gliding Club.
More information and memorabilia relating to Captain Harry Butler can be found in a special room and display at the Minlaton National Trust Museum further along down the main street in the centre of town.