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WARNING: This site contains: names, information and images of deceased people; and, language which may be considered inappropriate today.

Friday, 13 June 2008
Maurice Guillaux
Topic: GW - Spies

Maurice Guillaux appears to have been an enigmatic person. It is difficult to quite work out this man. He appears to have all the qualities of a real live James Bond - good looking, dashing and very athletic. The thing that marked him out was his ability to fly.

The first piece in this man's life is nicely described on the La Trobe University site called "Screening the Past - Early Cinema- Aviation".


First encounter: Maurice Guillaux

“Lulu, Lulu, Lulu,” Louise Lovely’s mother - Madame Carbasse-Alberti - screamed. “That thing could have fallen!” (Lovely, p. 51). Lovely was 19 years old the first time she flew, on 10 May 1914. Still known as Louise Carbasse, she became one of the first Australian women to fly in a sea plane. The Farman Hydro Aeroplane belonged to Lebbeus Hordern, of the prominent Sydney department store family. French aviator Maurice Guillaux, pilot for Carbasse’s flight, had come to Australia along with the hydroplane, to assemble and test it for Hordern (Hordern, pp. 321-322).

Guillaux made a number of flights in Australia. In his own Bleriot - also imported - he became the first in Australia to loop-the-loop the following month. The Sydney Morning Herald reported the reaction of the invited audience:

Two thousand feet in the air something streaked across the heavens like a huge dragon fly. It swung round and round, poised for a minute, and then suddenly dropped perpendicularly towards earth, like a meteor. But before reaching the ground it resumed the horizontal, and skimmed over the heads of the crowd so close that many screamed and others threw themselves to the ground. (“In the air.”)


The newspaper characteristically combines the discourse of sensation with that of science’s triumph over natural forces: “Guillaux defied the wind as he now proceeded to defy the law of gravitation”. But approximately six weeks after Louise Carbasse’s ride in the sea plane, a serious accident smashed the Bleriot “to matchwood” and left the pilot with “clothes torn to shreds . . . a deep gash across his right cheek, and blood . . . flowing freely from his nose and mouth”:

So sudden was the accident that the crowd was dumbfounded, and it was not until willing helpers had unstrapped M. Guillaux from the wreckage, and carried him across the course, that it found its voice. M. Guillaux feebly waved his hand in response. (“Guillaux injured”)

But how was it that Carbasse was in the hydroplane, anyway? She was, at the time, an actress and vaudeville performer who had been appearing on stage since she was nine years old. Her French-Swiss mother, Madame Carbasse-Alberti, ran boarding houses in Sydney, and had raised the girl on her own. Madame appears to have been a friend of the French Consul, M. Chayet. Indeed, the consul was one of the first to fly in the sea plane: Guillaux tested it alone first; then took its owner, Hordern; then the Consul (Parnell & Boughton, p. 22).

“I need someone to go up in the plane with me to try it out,” Guillaux is reported to have said to Madame Carbasse-Alberti. “How about Madame letting Louise come with me? She wants a bit of publicity?” (Lovely, p. 51). Perhaps Guillaux himself wanted publicity, for he was in the process of setting up a flying school at Ham Common (Parnell, Neville & Trevor Boughton, p. 21). “So my mother said, ‘alright,’ without thinking,” said Lovely:

and then I flew all over Manly, I remember distinctly . . . the hydroplane landed right at the side of the yacht and I got in there, but I was only a kiddie, you see, and I mixed with all the older people and everything, and I thought, “Oh, it’s like Christmas”. (Lovely, pp. 51-52)


The potential dangers of this Gatsby-esque adventure did not occur to Madame Carbasse-Alberti until the next day: “Lulu, Lulu, Lulu . . .”

Although flying was seen as a male domain, the tradition of pilots taking women aloft began early, when flight pioneer Wilbur Wright spent four months at Auvours in France during 1907-8. In addition to prominent male passengers, he also took “several carefully chosen women. His purpose was to demonstrate that flying machines could be safe when handled by an expert operator” (Wohl, p. 35). Aviation’s danger was held in tension with the commercial possibilities of the plane. There was, therefore, a need to convince people of its safety, even for - or especially for - women. Significantly, risk-taking took on a provocative significance when females - the child-bearers - were exposed to the same kinds of dangers as men. Women in the air - even as passengers, swept off their feet by male pilots - re-emphasized the dangers of falling, physically and morally. When Guillaux flew in Australia, he took at least one other young woman besides Louise Carbasse in the seaplane. As he circled Double Bay with Bessie Mulligan of Albury, Guillaux - “ever alert for publicity,” as a much later newspaper story put it - suggested she kiss him. “Hundreds of onlookers with binoculars broke into the 1914 version of wolf whistles at the duration and the intensity of the kiss” (“French ‘aeronaut’”).

Guillaux returned to his home country when war broke out. As a member of the French Air Force, he was killed on May 21, 1917, in a crash while on a test-flight (Carroll, p. 32).

French ‘aeronaut’ flew Australia’s pioneer air mails,” Daily Mirror, 29 March 1984, p. 34.

Guillaux injured,” Sydney Morning Herald, 3 August 1914, p. 10.

Hordern, Leslie, Children of one family: the story of Anthony and Ann Hordern and their descendents in Australia 1825-1925 (Sydney: Retford Press, 1985)

Carroll, Brian, Australian aviators: an illustrated history (North Ryde: Cassell Australia, 1980)

Lovely, Louise. Interviewed by Ina Bertrand, Hobart, 23 November 1978, undertaken as part of the National Library of Australia Film History Interview Project; audio tapes held in the National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra. Page numbers refer to transcript.

Parnell, Neville & Trevor Boughton, Flypast: a record of aviation in Australia (Canberra: Civil Aviation Authority/AGPS, 1988)


This daredevil attitude was much in evidence when on Christmas Day in Paris, he thrilled the people by looping the loop in the skies.

New York Times, 26 December 1913

The final part to the life of Maurice Guillaux seems to be as enigmatic as the man himself. In the book by Brian Carroll called Australian aviators: an illustrated history (North Ryde: Cassell Australia, 1980) at page 32 states that he died on a test flight as a member of the French Air Force on May 21, 1917. In contrast we have this newspaper story.

The text reads: 

A few months since an airman, supposed to be French, and who had been on active service with the French Flying Corps, was shot in France as a German spy. It was remarked that the enemy had too, good a foreknowledge of projected movements on part of a sector of the front, and a watch was set. One night a man was discovered flying to the German lines, and was followed. He alighted, delivered papers to the enemy, and returned.
Before his execution he confessed that he was one of a dozen German aviators specially trained, two years before the outbreak of war, and sent to join the flying corps of different countries, the selection being of men who spoke the language of the country with the smallest trace of the German accent. This particular individual, Guillaux (who carried the first aerial mail from Melbourne to Sydney) spoke pure Parisian French, and excellent English. Here he spoke by the mouth of an interpreter, pretending he had no knowledge of the language of this country. In 1913, owing to a fraud perpetrated in connection with an air race, he was disqualified as a competitor in any race in France for ten years.

Shot as a master spy or was the story about the test pilot crashing the correct story?

The Australian authorities seemed to agree with the story that Maurice Guillaux was executed. They suspected that Guillaux's good friend and fellow pilot also was a spy. 390 Sergeant John Charles Marduel of the 1st Reinforcements to the 1st Squadron AFC came under intense police scrutiny. Reports were called to get some background about this individual. In the end, it was only due to the early return of Marduel to Australia through injury that he was left alone by the secret police in Australia. He was no longer a potential danger to Australian security and so any activity on his file was wound back until no further actions were required. Since he lived a blameless life after his return, he was no longer under the attention of the security police.


Citation: Maurice Guillaux


Posted by Project Leader at 4:46 PM EADT
Updated: Friday, 13 June 2008 6:33 PM EADT

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