What’s in a street name? What links Broadsmith Avenue, East Cowes, Isle of Wight, to Broadsmith Avenue, Canberra, Australia?

One man - Harold Edgar Broadsmith, a remarkable history maker.

The names of plane makers Samuel Saunders and Sir Alliott Verdon Roe are known to many Islanders.

Harry Broadsmith contributed significantly to the local, national and international success of Saunders Roe (SARO, now GKN Aerospace). Yet, he hasn’t received the same fame on the Wight.

Isle of Wight County Press: RAF SARO London flying boat 1938 fleetRAF SARO London flying boat 1938 fleet (Image: Broadsmith archive)

Isle of Wight County Press: Ivan Berryman painting of a Spartan G-ABYN flying over OsborneIvan Berryman painting of a Spartan G-ABYN flying over Osborne (Image: Ivan Berryman)

Today, his grandchildren in Australia and his IW family are keen to share some of his impressive archive with Islanders and readers beyond our shores.

After serving an engineering apprenticeship, Harry joined A.V.Roe aircraft manufacturer in Manchester in 1912 as a draftsman designer, later promoted to works manager.

In 1919 he went to Australia to establish an AVRO distribution division there.

Harry’s ambition as a pilot and designer drove him to start up in partnership with Nigel Love, as pioneering plane makers, at Mascot Airfield (Sydney).

Isle of Wight County Press: Catalina sea plane, G-PBYACatalina sea plane, G-PBYA (Image: Plane sailing)

Isle of Wight County Press: Harry BroadsmithHarry Broadsmith (Image: National Library of Australia)

Their Australian Aircraft Engineering Co., built the first AVRO training biplanes for the Royal Australian Air Force.

Their own design Broadsmith B1, first Australian Airliner made from local materials, caused a stir in aviation circles.

Despite this initial success, Harry was forced to return to England when financial backing ebbed away in the face of competition.

Alliott Verdon Roe welcomed him back home in 1928 and offered him the position of managing director at SARO, East Cowes.

Isle of Wight County Press: AVRO 504 bi-plane flying through cloudAVRO 504 bi-plane flying through cloud (Image: Broadsmith archive)

Broadsmith designed many aircraft including the SARO London flying boat which made Britain swell with pride in 1937-1938.

A fleet of five were flown by the Royal Air Force (RAF) from England to Sydney, a major event at the time.

The occasion was a celebration of 150 years since the founding of New South Wales. It was publicised as a goodwill visit. It also showed off Britain’s and SARO’s prowess at plane makers.

This RAF formation flight received much coverage in national newspapers. Newsreel films of the event were shown in cinemas throughout Britain.

Today, some of the same footage can still be viewed on the British Film Institute website.

Broadsmith’s achievements are such that it is impossible to list them all in one short article.

This is a brief introduction to a man who played a big role in UK aviation, from the AVRO 504 bi-plane; to the 1930’s redesign of Cowes built Spartan Aircraft (plane of choice of aviatrices Pauline Gower and Dorothy Spicer); to his 1940’s wartime redesign of American Catalina seaplanes for the Battle of the Atlantic, constructed at SARO’s site at Beaumaris, Wales.

For this vital work he received praise and gratitude from Lord Beaverbrook (Air Ministry). Beaverbrook’s communications, shared here by Harry’s grandchildren, are of historical significance to Britain’s wartime history. It is the first time the public have been able to see them.

Isle of Wight County Press: Lord Beaverbrook letter about Catalina and Battle of the AtlanticLord Beaverbrook letter about Catalina and Battle of the Atlantic (Image: Broadsmith archive)

Isle of Wight County Press: Lord Beaverbrook telegram work Cowes non-stop for war effortLord Beaverbrook telegram work Cowes non-stop for war effort (Image: Broadsmith archive)

At a reunion dinner of the ARVO 504 Club in London in 1956, Harry said: “When I wrote ‘Type 504’ at the bottom of my drawings so long ago, I little thought the number would become so famous.”

Harry and Florence Broadsmith had three children, Harold Emmett, Nigel and Joan.

Harry junior and Nigel attended Ryde School. Harry junior joined the RAF in 1937. Sadly, he died in the Second World War in a Wellington bomber.

Joan attended Upper Chine School. She was a pilot and engineer in the 1930s and was a cadet for a short time in Pauline Gower’s Air Transport Auxiliary during the war. Joan’s life story will feature on the Solent Aviatrix website.

Nigel emigrated to Australia and settled there. His daughters, Margaret, Georgina and Jacqueline, survive him in Australia.

Harry’s nephew, Michael Broadsmith, joined SARO as an apprentice just before Westland took over. He worked on hovercraft assembly, Black Knight rocket project, and extensively on airworthiness testing, everything from helicopters to Concorde, through company changes to BHC, to GKN Aerospace.

Still an IW resident, Mike is keen to help record his uncle Harry’s life story.

The Catalina G-PBYA, pictured here, is the only one still flying today in Britain.

Bought and restored by an enthusiastic group of volunteers, Plane Sailing of Duxford, it is occasionally seen flying over the Island. A crew member has family on the IW.

IW fine artist, Ivan Berryman, has executed this wonderfully accurate painting of Spartan G-ABYN, flying over Osborne House.

Profits from limited edition prints, available from Wight Aviation Museum (WAM) and Solent Aviatrix, will contribute to fundraising to bring the Spartan home from New Zealand.

WAM will preserve the bi-plane for visitors to see, all part of the Broadsmith, Gower and Spicer story. Harry is remembered at Sydney Airport by a commemorative plaque which honoured his pioneering days in Australia.

WAM will this year record the achievements of the modest SARO chief designer, wingman extraordinaire and Isle of Wight hero.