The Vintagent’s obituary of art critic Robert Hughes brought responses from far and wide, some from unexpected quarters. One raised our eyebrows though… a roundabout connection, via an arc of sky-borne bullets, between Hughes, Lothar von Richthofen (the Red Baron’s brother), and 1911 Isle of Man TT winner Oliver Godfrey.

Oliver Godfrey, winner of the 1911 Isle of Man TT, with his Indian racer

memorial speech about Robert Hughes in the Australian Parliament (by Parliamentarian Malcolm Turnbull) revealed a deeper story of the Hughes family, which included his father Geoffrey Forrest Hughes, an Australian ace fighter pilot in the Royal Flying Corps during WW1. The elder Hughes had gained fame by shooting down Lothar von Richthofen, less famous than his brother Manfred, but still plenty deadly, with 40 ‘kills’ to his credit. Lothar flew in his elder brother Manfred’s Jasta 11 fighter group (the ‘Flying Circus’), the unit which decimated 75% of the Royal Flying Corps’ planes in 1916.

Geoffrey Forrest Hughes (right) speaking with Prince Albert (Left) in 1927

One of these RFC planes, a Martinsyde ‘Elephant’ bomber (Martinsyde made motorcycles too), was crewed by none other than Oliver Godfrey, who had joined the RFC in early 1916, before new ‘hunter’ squadrons were organized by Oswald Boelcke of the German Imperial Army Air Service. Only 5 years prior, Godfrey headed the Indian 1-2-3 victory at the 1911 Isle of Man TT, and became a hero for racing, but not shooting down planes. Thus are the connections between motorcyclists revealed; Robert Hughes, the brilliant Australian critic on his Honda CB750, and Oliver Godfrey, the taciturn English TT winner on his Indian, via a pair of German aristocrat brothers with a talent for flying, in what was once the most likely opportunity for young men to visit far-off lands…War.

Art critic Robert Hughes and his Honda CB750 ca. 1972
Lothar von Richthofen, brother of the ‘Red Baron’, and an ace flyer, with 40 ‘kills’
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