Parrsboro’s connection to the Handley Page ‘Atlantic’

On July 5th, 1919 while on route to New York, the Handley Page 'Atlantic' crashed in a field outside of Parrsboro. The plane was grounded for months waiting for repairs, but in October, it carried the first airmail from Nova Scotia to the United States.

As the First World War ended in 1918, the Handley Page V/1500 bomber named 'Atlantic' had just entered operational service. To participate in the first non-stop trans-Atlantic aviation race, the 'Atlantic' was packed in crates and left Liverpool, England, aboard a ship on May 2nd, 1919. Upon arrival in Newfoundland on May 10th, reassembly of the 'Atlantic' began under the supervision of Col. Ernest W. Stedman on an airfield prepared in Harbour Grace.

During the first trial flight on June 10th, the crew discovered an overheating problem and realized that new radiators would have to be installed. While awaiting their arrival by ship from England, the trans-Atlantic aviation race was won by British aviators, John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown, who made the crossing in the Vickers Vimy biplane. New orders from Handley Page instructed the crew of the 'Atlantic' to organize a non-stop, 1000-mile flight to New York for publicity purposes, where they planned to meet the British airship R34, which was making the first east to west crossing of the Atlantic by air.

The crew of the Handley Page 'Atlantic' consisted of Adm. Mark Kerr as second pilot and publicity officer; Major Herbert Brackley, first pilot; Major Trygve Gran as navigator and stand-by pilot; Frederick Wyatt as wireless operator; and mechanics A.P. Arnold and C.C. Clements (rigger). With this 6-man crew, the 'Atlantic' left Harbour Grace at 5:55 p.m. on July 4th, 1919. By midnight, the starboard front engine was overheating, and at 2:05 a.m., a connecting rod went through the crank case. At 2:15 a.m., losing oil and running on 3 engines, they spotted the lights of Parrsboro, Nova Scotia. The decision was made to circle the area in search of a landing site.

As dawn was breaking at 5:50 a.m. on July 5th, 1919, they chose to land on the open field of the Parrsboro race track. While attempting to land, the wheels of the plane caught wire fences, struck rough ground, and tipped on her nose. All 6 crew members escaped without any serious injuries.

Col. Stedman, along with a spare engine and his team of mechanics arrived from Harbour Grace to assess the damages. New parts were ordered from England including a new nose portion of the fuselage, a lower wing, undercarriage and a propeller. For three months, Parrsboro was the centre of great activity for tourists and aviation personnel while the 'Atlantic' underwent repairs.

The whole town took on a rather festive air that summer. From July 5th to October 9th, the roads were lined with cars; hotels and restaurants did a flourishing business; and news reporters and camera buffs were everywhere. Few people had ever seen an airplane in those days before television was invented. Trial flights began on October 2nd, and the Handley Page 'Atlantic' departed from Parrsboro on October 9th, 1919, for another adventurous flight on route to New York, carrying the first air mail from Nova Scotia to the United States.