John Clifford Peel

John Clifford Peel (1894 – 1918) aviator, visionary
VH-UERNLAJohn Clifford Peel wrote to John Flynn advocating the use of aircraft to overcome the distance and isolation of the outback.   John Clifford planned to become a medical missionary but was killed as an aviator in Word War one.

The history of the Australian Inland Mission and its founder, that extraordinary man, the Reverend Dr. John Flynn, discloses the very significant part that a far-sighted young man named John Clifford Peel (who later became a pilot with 3AFC in 1918) played in the planning of the Mission’s famous Flying Doctor Service, which began in 1928 and became such an important survival link for the widely-dispersed settlers living in the Australian outback.

Research now discloses that John Flynn received, in a letter dated 20 November 1917, the idea (very far-fetched in the eyes of a lot of people in those days) of using those new-fangled inventions called “aeroplanes” to carry his ministry to the wide-spread areas of the Australian outback.  The letter itself was unusual because Clifford Peel (as he was known) wrote with a surprising depth of knowledge about the abilities of aeroplanes, even though they were considered a novelty at the time.  With great insight, he outlined in his letter the costs and advantages of running aeroplanes compared with the costs and disadvantages of travel on the ground.

It appears that, sometime before October 1912, when Peel was an 18-year-old medical student, Flynn had written a book, Northern Territory and Central Australia – a Call to the Church. At some point during the five years that followed, Peel discovered the book and regularly and repeatedly studied it.  According to his family, it inspired his interest in Flynn’s extraordinary work and set his brain thinking about the logistics of how Flynn would be able to provide help to people in need whose homes were widely dispersed over central Australia.

Then, in 1917, several years after World War I had begun, the then 23-year-old Peel was given the opportunity to train as an aeroplane pilot at Laverton in Victoria.  Exactly when the two interests linked together in Peel’s fertile brain isn’t known but, after they did, he became the first person to propose the marriage of these two pioneering entities in the hope of making a better Australia.

Peel didn’t live to see just how successful his idea was for, only 13 months later, on 19 September 1918, his RE8 aircraft disappeared during a patrol in France.  Had he lived, he probably would have returned from the war to help Flynn build the Flying Doctor Service he had clearly foreseen.  Sadly, Clifford Peel’s short life didn’t allow him to make a physical contribution to this project, but it did allow him enough time to convey his brilliant idea to John Flynn, the man who was able to bring it to fruition.
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Refer also
John Flynn  :
Hugh Victor McKay

John Clifford Peel matriculated from Geelong High School and was very young when enrolled as a medical student at Melbourne University.  Clifford attended Home Mission course at Ormond College, a few years after John Flynn studied there.  During his vacation in 1916, Clifford served as a relieving Home Missionary at Swansea in Tasmania.

The correspondence between Reverend John Flynn and Clifford Peel began while Peel was learning to fly at Laverton Airforce Base after Peel had read Flynn’s article on inland transport, published in The Inlander in 1917.  It was in a letter to Flynn dated 2 November 1917 that Peel suggested aviation as an answer to overcoming distance and isolation in the outback.  Flynn replied promptly and asked Peel to share his ideas.  Peel replied.  The detail was astonishing.

When Flynn learnt of Peel’s death in mid 1919, he sent a letter of condolence to Clifford’s mother. In her reply she said that her son had planned to be a medical missionary, another thing Flynn and Peel had in common. It was both sad and ironic that the war that ended Clifford Peel’s life was responsible for many of the developments in aviation and radio technology that made the flying doctor service possible.

The origins of the Royal Flying Doctor Service
Brian Hernan tells how in 1918 John Clifford Peel passed on to the Rev.Dr.John Flynn, the idea, costings and plan to equip the fledging Australian Inland Mission with aircraft. Clifford Peel died in WW1 but his concept was taken up. People in the vast and remote reaches of Australia needed medical support. This was the beginning of what became the Royal Flying Doctor Service in 1954.


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