British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines
&
Resolution Memorial Cabinet

 

Probably not many Australians would be aware that Qantas was not the first airline to fly regular services from Australia and New Zealand to the United States and Canada.

On 24 June 1946, British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines (BCPA) was registered in New South Wales with the shareholders being the governments of Australia (50%), New Zealand (30%) and the United Kingdom (20%). The new airline was formed for the specific purpose of operating trans-Pacific services from Australia and New Zealand in competition with Pan American Airways.

The first BCPA service to Vancouver, Canada departed from Laverton RAAF Base near Melbourne on 15 September 1946 using the chartered Australian National Airways (ANA) DC-4 VH-ANC Warana. The service operated via Sydney, Nadi, Canton Island, Honolulu and San Francisco. The service was virtually an ANA operation until 25 April 1948 when the first service with a BCPA liveried aircraft (DC-4 VH-BPA) departed Sydney.

The need to replace the non-pressurised DC-4s came to a head in late July 1948 when it emerged that four sleeper configured DC-6s which were ready for delivery to the Swedish airline ABA might be available for sale to BCPA for US$820 000 per aircraft. The four DC-6s were duly purchased by the Australian government and the first, VH-BPF, departed Burbank on 22 November 1948 on its delivery flight to Sydney. The last of the four aircraft was delivered to BCPA on 17 December 1948. The aircraft were named after ships which Captain James Cook had used on his voyages of exploration. Acquisition of the DC-6s enabled BCPA to introduce pressurised services across the Pacific before its main competitor Pan American.

Sadly, BCPA's short history was marred by the loss of DC-6 VH-BPE Resolution and all 19 on board while on approach to San Francisco on 29 October 1953. The following year, BCPA ceased to exist and its operations were taken over by Qantas. Trans-Pacific services became the responsibility of Qantas from 1 April 1954 although services were operated by BCPA DC-6s up until 15 May 1954. The remaining three BCPA DC-6s were handed over to the New Zealand airline Tasman Empire Airways Limited (TEAL - later Air New Zealand). Subsequently, they were operated by the Royal New Zealand Air Force after which they were passed on to a succession of civil operators.

 

THE BCPA DC-6 FLEET
Registration
Name
History
VH-BPE
Resolution
Crashed on approach to San Francisco on 29OCT53.
VH-BPF
Endeavour
Crashed in service with Royal Air Lao in 1971.
VH-BPG
Adventure
Used for fire-fighting training in South Africa.
VH-BPH
Discovery
Scrapped.

 

Through the efforts of expatriate Australian Christopher O'Donnell, a plaque honouring those who perished on the Resolution was laid on the slopes of Kings Mountain, San Mateo County, California on 27 June 2009. Until recently, this was the only memorial to the passengers and crew of the Resolution. Accordingly, the Queensland Air Museum decided that there should be a memorial on this side of the Pacific so QAM's Registrar, Nick Sayer, set about collecting artefacts for a memorial display. This culminated in the British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines & DC-6 VH-BPE "Resolution" Memorial Cabinet which was dedicated at the Museum on 30 October 2010, the 57th anniversary of the crash (it was still October 29 in the US).

 



In the presence of relatives of the passengers and crew of the Resolution and others who were associated with BCPA, the cabinet was dedicated by Bishop Tony Hall-Matthews of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators and QAM President, Cliff Robinson. Amongst the many honoured guests at the dedication were:

Grant Tischler, son of Resolution passenger Bernard Tischler.

Williaam Cox, son of Resolution passenger Williaam Cox.

Phil Watt, grandson of Resolution passenger Cyril McDonald.

Lannie Purcell, daughter of the Resolution Captain Bruce Dickson.

Captain John Kessey DFC, a BCPA DC-6 Captain who flew with Captain Dickson.

Barbara Thollar, whose late husband, Doug Thollar, was a Radio Operator with BCPA.

Harry M. Moore, son of BCPA Chief Pilot Captain Harry W. Moore and author of the book "Silver Wings in Pacific Skies", the history of BCPA.

Although all of these people were aware of one another through the efforts of Christopher O'Donnell, some were meeting for the first time at the dedication.

Grant Tischler read a message from Christopher O'Donnell who was unable to travel from San Francisco for the ceremony. Also unable to be present was Grant's brother Michael who was in hospital with pneumonia. Through the wonders of modern telecommunications, his wife Lynn was able to send an image of the memorial cabinet to Michael's hospital bed.

Also unable to be present was Chris Purcell, whose father, Captain Bruce Dickson, was on the Resolution. Although Chris was hoping to attend, another commitment made it impossible. Similarly, Peter Wordsworth, whose father was a Radio Operator with BCPA, was unable to attend because of a prior wedding commitment in Perth.

Coincidentally, local artist and pilot Alan Spears, recently completed a painting of the DC-6 Resolution to mark the anniversary, not knowing of the planned ceremony at QAM. Fortunately Alan got to hear of the dedication in time to attend and his painting was acquired by QAM and added to the cabinet immediately after the dedication ceremony.

 

RMA Resolution - painted by Alan Spears

 

Visit Christopher O'Donnell's website:

Flight of the Resolution

 

Images of Dedication Day

The Invited Guests in Hangar 1
Bishop Tony Hall-Matthews &
Cliff Robinson
Grant Tischler
Williaam Cox
Lannie Purcell
Phil Watt
John Kessey
Nick Sayer
Joan & John Kessey
Lynn Tischler & Williaam Cox


(All images are linked to larger versions)

 

Compiled by Ron Cuskelly

 

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