The remarkable story of Leonard Daniels, the Archdeacon of Up A Gum Tree

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Reverend Leonard Daniels, in the front seat of the de Havilland Moth he flew in Australia. Anon. “The Church of England Takes to the Air!” Air Travel News, January-February 1928, 20.
Reverend Leonard Daniels, in the front seat of the de Havilland Moth he flew in Australia. Anon. “The Church of England Takes to the Air!” Air Travel News, January-February 1928, 20.

Salutations and greetings, my reading friend – or is it the other way around? Never mind. We are gathered here today to read about a fascinating character and a pioneer / innovator yours truly discovered in the January-February 1928 issue of the American monthly Air Travel News, a long forgotten but very interesting publication.

Leonard “Len” Daniels was born in England in November 1891. Like a great many of his contemporaries, he joined the British Army soon after the outbreak of the First World War. Unlike most of them, Daniels served his country in India. At some point, he asked for and obtained a transfer to the Royal Flying Corps, the flying arm of the British Army, which merged with the Royal Navy’s Royal Naval Air Service in April 1918 to form the Royal Air Force, the first independent air force in history. In any event, Daniels may have been completing his pilot training in Egypt when the Armistice of November 1918 was signed. Released from service, he decided to become a Church of England minister.

Advised by his doctor to move to a warm and dry location, the young man remembered the work done by the Bush Church Aid Society for Australia and Tasmania, an arm of the Colonial and Continental Church Society. Daniels’s offer of service was warmly accepted. Incidentally, both organisations still existed as of early 2018. They were known as the Bush Church Aid Society and the Intercontinental Church Society.

Daniels arrived in Australia in 1922. Based in Wilcannia, in the far west of New South Wales, his warm and dry parish was almost the size of Belgium and the Netherlands. To reach the few thousand people who lived there, Daniels had to cover huge distances, up to 80 000 kilometres (50 000 miles) by early 1928 perhaps, on tracks that were beyond bad. His mechanical abilities proved very helpful in keeping his automobile, a Ford Model T from the looks of it, going year after year.

Back in England in 1926 or 1927 to report on his activities, Daniels used this opportunity to raise money to purchase an airplane. He was convinced that flying would greatly facilitate his work in his new home. The founder of C.C. Wakefield & Company Limited, a major supplier of lubricating oils, Sir Charles Cheers Wakefield, was intrigued by what Daniels hoped to achieve and sent in some money, thus making the purchase of the airplane possible.

This John Davison Rockefeller of the United Kingdom, as he was called by some, was / is well known in the model flying community for the Wakefield International Cup, awarded annually to individuals whose rubber band powered model airplanes stayed aloft the longest. This trophy, the first of its kind, was awarded for the first time in 1928. May I be the first to wish it a happy 90th birthday? In Canada, trophies bearing Wakefield’s name were first awarded in the 1930s. Some of the winners went on to do great things. Yours truly may bring some of them to your attention at some point in the future. That, by the way, was your Canadian content for today, but back to our story.

A de Havilland Moth private / light airplane registered in the name of the Bush Church Aid Society for Australia and Tasmania left England by ship in late 1927. Daniels picked up this crated airplane in Australia in January 1928. The Flying Parson, as this gifted bush pilot and mechanic would soon be called, immediately began to use “Far West,” the name he gave to the Moth, thus becoming the first flying clergyman in the world – or so it seems. Daniels got married in 1930. His wife Emily, born Emily Mary Tietkens, sometimes / often accompanied him.

Flying without the benefit of weather reports, and often without maps, Daniels followed tracks, rivers and railways to reach his many destinations – an approach many Canadian bush pilots of the period would be familiar with. And yes, that was more Canadian content. Good catch, my reading friend. Anyway, Daniels’ landing field could be a paddock or a street. Any damage to the Moth was repaired on site, using available materials, from a piece of fencing wire to a broom stick. Daniels’ fame grew as time went by. His work was an inspiration for several pilots of the newly formed Australian Inland Mission Aerial Medical Service, today’s Royal Flying Doctor Service, a world pioneer in the use of airplanes in the service of humankind.

And yes, there is a de Havilland Moth in the collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in Ottawa, Ontario. And no, yours truly will not be pontificating on this most remarkable flying machine, one of the most successful light / private airplane of the 20th Century. So back to our story and… O. I. C. You really want a story, and more Canadian content, don’t you, my reading friend? All right, all right, but I’ll be brief. Really brief.

The first de Havilland Moth assembled in Canada by de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited, Weston, Ontario, April 1928. Robert William Bradford, Leigh Capreol’s Historic Flight, gouache on cardboard, early 1960s, CASM, artefact number 2006.0071.

The first de Havilland Moth assembled in Canada by de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited, Weston, Ontario, April 1928. Robert William Bradford, Leigh Capreol’s Historic Flight, gouache on cardboard, early 1960s, CASM, artefact number 2006.0071.

In February 1928, British aircraft manufacturer de Havilland Aircraft Company Limited founded a subsidiary in Weston, then Downsview, near Toronto, Ontario, named de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited, to assemble and maintain the Moths intended primarily for Canadian flying clubs and the Royal Canadian Air Force. The Moth became the most used aircraft in Canada in the 1930s. The End. Well, not quite.

Let us go back for a moment to the gouache on cardboard painted by Robert William Bradford, internationally known Canadian aviation artist and former director of the National Aviation Museum, as the Canada Aviation and Space Museum was called many years ago. Would you believe that the Moth portrayed therein, the first one assembled in Canada by de Havilland Aircraft of Canada and the very first airplane assembled by the company, was presented to the Toronto Flying Club by, you guessed it, the founder of C.C. Wakefield & Company? Better yet, this airplane was christened “Sir Charles Wakefield.” Small world, isn’t it? But back to our story.

Daniels and his wife left Wilcannia for another parish in 1932. He retired in 1959, the year his autobiography, Far West, was published. Leonard Daniels died in December 1981, at the age of 90.

Damaged in November 1932, yes, 1932, the Moth he had flown was put in storage. Returned to flying condition in 1934, it went from owner to owner, 10 or so over the years if you must know. Stored again in 1947, the Moth was fully restored between 1955-56 and 1959. It was damaged beyond repair in November of that year, only 3 days after being re-registered and a few months, or weeks, after Daniels retired – a sad coincidence if I may say so.

How about an explanation for the title of this article, you ask, my slightly annoying reading friend? Very well, go to

and listen to the main character of our story. By the way, gum tree is the name commonly given to the eucalyptus in Australia. And no, the eucalyptus does not produce chewing gum. Please go online to find out which plant gave birth to this product.

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Rénald Fortier