GRAND NATIONAL WINNER, FIGHTER PILOT
The Bob Everett story – or part of it
The name Everett is familiar to the people of the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia.
There is an Everett Street in the town of Guyra and one of the Guyra School’s “houses” was named Everett.
The Everetts – George, William and Edwin – were among the earlier settlers and graziers in the area., their properties including Ollera and Tenterden.
But one member of the Everett family made a name for himself in two quite different pursuits. Unfortunately, his story is not a complete picture. There are enough highlights though for a ripping yarn, and just a touch of mystery.
Robert William Hanmer (Bob) Everett was a decorated pilot from WW2, awarded the DSO for bravery and the first pilot to register and enemy kill from a new British ship-based aircraft launch tactic. He was also the winning jockey of the 1929 English Grand National Steeplechase aboard 100-1 chance Gregalach in a record field of 66 starters in that year’s race at Liverpool.
From living on a farm near Guyra as a child, to joining the war effort in England and his death on 26 January 1942 when his Hurricane crashed on a beach in Wales, details are sketchy. Not even his war record gives the complete picture.
Just how his birth in Tenterfield and early years near Guyra led to all this is something of a mystery in terms of historical records.
Even where apparent facts are given, close checking reveals they may not be entirely accurate.
This is part of the Bob Everett story. There are many gaps.
Robert William Hanmer Everett was born on 29 May 1901, in Tenterfield. His parents were Colonel William Frank and Charlotte (nee Hickson) Everett.
Bob Everett was the eldest son. His father was District Engineer in the Armidale and Glen Innes district for four years as roads were being built for the introduction of motorised traffic. He later was owner of the Tenterden Station, a large property near Guyra.
Some information can be gleaned from newspapers of the time and various organisations specialising in historic events, however, because Bob apparently left the district around the age of 10, there are some unknowns.
It was reported that as a boy he was taught to ride at Tenterden by a Mr Parker, one writer noting Mr Parker’s horse often came home without the rider.
Presumably he went to school in the Guyra-Tenterden district.
Another report said Bob had been “put in the navy” as a boy but had preferred riding horses. Yet another report said he joined the Army after he left the Guyra district but gave no indication of where he went other than to say that he “gave up the army and took up land in Africa.”
A later report said he went to South Africa where he was a farmer and amateur jockey. It doesn’t appear in dispute that he went to South Africa, a possible link being that his father had fought as an Australian officer in the Boer War there (1899-1902) at the rank of captain.
A report in England said Bob emigrated there in 1928, aged 27. Presumably, he took up riding racehorses – steeplechasers – and had several wins as an amateur before becoming a professional jockey.
On 22 March 1929, aboard Gregalach, Bob Everett lined up in a record field with 65 other starters for the Grand National at Liverpool. Aboard the least fancied of Tom Leader’s five runners, at the lucrative odds of 100-1, Everett rode Gregalach home a six lengths winner over the solidly backed Easter Hero. He won high praise for his horsemanship in the heavy going. The horse was owned by a Scottish woman.
A report noted: “Gregalach became the second successive 100-1 shot to win the Grand National. The horse was given such lengthy odds having fallen at Sandown just eight days prior to the race at Aintree. Gregalach’s jockey Robert Everett rode a clever race in which he gradually gained ground on the leaders and overtook the legendary Easter Hero on the second to last fence, before winning the race by six lengths.”
The race was billed as the “greatest steeplechase in the world,” with prizemoney of almost 13,000 English pounds; probably about $US 2.3 million today.
Sixty-six horses started the gruelling (for horse and rider) 4.5 miles (7.2 km) race. They all charged to the first obstacle and a reporter noted that “miraculously all made it safely over. But by halfway the field had fallen away to 22 and only seven crossed the finish line, having successfully negotiated the 30 obstacles on the course.
Bob Everett posted another important career victory five years later when he won the 1934 Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse on Poolgowran.
What Bob Everett did in the intervening years isn’t clear, but it is likely he continued as a jockey as he is recorded as having ridden in six Grand Nationals. An interest in flying was also apparent as he had learnt to fly not long before he won the 1929 Grand National.
He was on Gregalach again the following year, this time a 15-1 chance. But he came unstuck when a “loose horse” interfered and brought down both Gregalach and Bob Everett. A year later, Gregalach was runner up, not ridden by Bob Everett this time.
It was reported that also in 1934 Bob Everett entered a plane in the MacRobertson Air Race from Mildenhall, England to Melbourne, as part of Melbourne’s centenary celebrations.
This gets a bit confusing. It was stated that Robert and his father (William) owned a de Havilland Puss Moth light plane (similar to the one pictured) based at Redhill Flying Club and Bob was entering it in the race with celebrated South Australian flyer Jimmy Melrose.
Later, it was said the trip was completed in 120 hours that included a stopover in Darwin when the plane ran out of fuel.
However, other reports of the race that seem reliable said Melrose (flying a de Havilland Puss Moth) was the only solo pilot in the race and the list of entries published in Australian newspapers did not show Bob Everett among them.
It was noted in a 1940 report that Bob had obtained a commercial pilot’s licence to keep him busy during the off-season for steeple chasers.
If as a boy Bob had forsaken the navy for horse riding it was somewhat unusual as it is revealed in service records that in October 1940 he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and Fleet Air Arm, serving with 760 Air Squadron at HMS Heron, Yeovil Town. Of course, that may have had something to do with the outbreak of war and his possible previous naval experience.
Yet another report notes: Later he volunteered for 804 Naval Air Squadron, which for a time supplied pilots for fighter catapult ships and CAM ships. While he was on HMS Maplin, a Condor (German long-range Focke-Wulf Fw 200) over the Atlantic. was sighted on 1 August 1941 and Everett’s Hawker Hurricane was launched (catapulted into the air by rocket). After a hard fight, the Condor was shot down with Everett’s last shots (“By this time I had reached the starboard bow and three machine guns opened up as well as the forward cannon. I did a quick turn to port and opened up just abaft the beam I fired five second burst at this range and my guns were empty”).
He managed to ditch near to HMS Wanderer which was escorting the nearby convoy. Bob Everett (referred to sometimes as Lt or Lieut Col) was awarded the DSO for this action.
Robert (Bob) William Hanmer Everett died on active service on 26 January 1942 when his Hurricane crashed on the beach at Llanddona, Anglesey, Wales. He is buried at St Dona’s Church, Llanddona.
There are no readily verifiable records of a marriage or children.
The Catapult ships
Fighter catapult ships, also known as Catapult Armed Ships, were an attempt by the Royal Navy to provide air cover at sea for important supply convoys.
Five ships were acquired and commissioned as Naval vessels early in the Second World War and were used to accompany Atlantic convoys.
The concept was extended to merchant ships, some also equipped with rocket assisted launch systems and known as Catapult Aircraft Merchantmen (CAM ships).
The lone survivor of the five was the former Ocean Boarding Vessel, Maplin. She served in the Atlantic during 1940.
Ready for launch
Maplin‘s duties were focused on Atlantic convoys and her “Hurricat” (a Hawker Hurricane converted for the specialised task) was the first to destroy an enemy aircraft, a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 “Condor” in August 1941. The pilot was Robert W H Everett of 804 Naval Air Squadron.
Planes were launched by a rocket firing system. Usually the Hurricane fighter would be lost as the pilot had to bail out or ditch in the ocean near the convoy after engaging the enemy.
The risks were high for the pilots; it was “‘Catapult Off – Parachute Back” to wait in the sea to be picked up by one of the escorts.
The catapult ships eventually were replaced by aircraft carriers which allowed planes to return after missions.
The Everetts in northern NSW
Ollera homestead circa 1860
Bob’s father, William, was the son of George Everett, who with brother John settled in the Northern Tablelands at Ollera in 1838 after arriving from England.
Carrying letters of introduction (their father, Joseph Hague Everett, was a former member of the House of Commons), George and John travelled up the Hunter River and from there ventured north across the Liverpool Plains, over the Moonbi Range, eventually arriving at the site at which the Ollera homestead was established. George was then only 27 and John 22.
The Ollera property was one of the largest holdings in the north of the state at that time, extending almost to the Guyra lagoon in the south (over about 20km), to Ben Lomond in the north, taking in Moredun Creek and Llangothlin.
After marking out the station, the brothers returned to Sydney, bought 450 sheep and registered the property.
Back at Ollera they were in for a shock. Within a couple of hours of returning they were held up at rifle point by bushrangers led by Richard Young, known as “Gentleman Dick”.
The bushrangers took the Everetts’ belongings and horses, and fled. Press reports said John was sent south to report the theft and get more horses, walking all the way to Currabubula (200 km). There, he learnt that the bushrangers had been captured. He also found police had his horses and belongings.
In 1842 George and John were joined by another brother, Edwin, and the property was registered in their joint names.
They started with 450 sheep and by 1854 Ollera, which by then extended to 74,800 acres (302 sq kms), carried 8,000 sheep and 1,200 cattle.
The Everetts brought migrant families to their property, settled them as shepherds and encouraged them to provide farm produce and services for the station. Some of the families remained on the station for several generations.
George Everett returned to England in 1856 and John followed in 1858. Edwin remained in Australia and in 1862 bought the adjoining Tenterden station. Arthur Everett, the son of John Everett, took over management of Ollera in 1890.
William Frank Everett was born in February 1865 at Weyhill, Hampshire, England. He travelled to Australia aged 18 with his father.
William Everett married Charlotte Hickson in 1894 in the district of Waverley, Sydney, NSW. He joined the Australian military forces and rose quickly to the rank of Captain.
Captain William Everett, “B” Squadron, 5th Battalion, Australian Commonwealth Horse served in South Africa 1899 -1902 (Boer War). He joined the Commonwealth Contingent for Service in South Africa in Sydney, NSW on 24 April 1902.
Upon his return to Australia William rose through the ranks to Lieutenant Colonel, and became commanding officer of 5th Australian (New England) Light Horse from 10 November 1910 to 30 June 1915.
By 1914, he had completed nine months at the British Flying School, Salisbury, England. Returning, he pointed out the necessity for Australia to take “definite steps regarding the establishment of aviation schools if the people intended to keep up with other countries in this modern branch of the service.”
Lt Col. William Everett was appointed to Remount & Veterinary Corps Headquarters, Intermediate Base Depot, Cairo, on 15 January 1915. Later that year he fell ill and was “invalided” to England and was admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley, Hampshire, England on 15 August.
He died on 17 August from Pulmonary Tuberculosis (Tubercule of lung) and was buried in Netley Military Cemetery, Hampshire, England.
Because many of the details surrounding the life and times of Bob Everett are so sketchy, complete accuracy cannot be guaranteed. However, if correcting information comes to light updates will be made.
Many of the sources are newspaper articles on TROVE.com.au, websites specialising in history of WW2 and horseracing (including Betfair). Some of Robert Everett’s exploits as a Hurricane pilot are referred to in the book, They flew Hurricanes; Adrian Stewart (Casemate publishers, 2006) including extracts of Bob Everett’s combat report on the shooting down of the German plane.