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Flight Lieutenant William Ellis Newton (Posthumous)

Thursday 12 March, 2020

Flight Lieutenant William Ellis Newton (Posthumous)

No. 22 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force

16 March 1943, Salamaua Isthmus, New Guinea


Born on 8 June 1919 at St Kilda in Victoria, William Ellis Newton grew up there and in inner-city Melbourne, where his father, Charles, had a dental practice.  He attended Wadhurst Preparatory School and Melbourne Grammar School, where he became a prefect and a sergeant in the cadet corps.  A former house-master described him as a ‘really good cricketer and footballer.  Had he lived, I believe he would have gained a place in a Victorian team as a fast bowler.  On the football field he was utterly fearless almost reckless.’

Charles Newton died when William was only 17 years old, leaving his mother to raise four children with little money.  

After leaving school in 1937, Newton worked for Makower McBeath & Company Silk Merchants, but with a long-harboured fascination for flying, he enquired about joining the RAAF in November that year.  Without his mother’s permission, he enlisted in the Militia in 1938, parading with the 6th Battalion, Royal Melbourne Regiment.

Newton formally enlisted in the Air Force as an air cadet at Parafield in South Australia on 5 February 1941.  He flew solo for the first time in a Tiger Moth biplane the following month. The Women’s Weekly photographed Newton around this time to ‘typify the gallantry of the young air defenders of freedom’.

After being told that he would not be heading for the war in Europe, and following time as an instructor, Newton was promoted to Flying Officer in December 1940 and eventually Flight Lieutenant in April 1942.

In May 1942, Newton finally received his long-awaited orders for an operational posting and was allotted to No. 22 (City of Sydney) Squadron, RAAF.  Based at Port Moresby in New Guinea from October 1942, the squadron flew in support of Australian ground operations against the Japanese at Buna and Gona, and was involved in the battle of the Bismarck Sea.

Newton quickly gained a reputation for fearless manoeuvres while making straight runs at Japanese ground targets.  When he had nursed his badly damaged aircraft back to Port Moresby after the raid on 16 March, RAAF ground crew counted no fewer than 98 holes through the bombers airframe.

Newton’s citation is partly mistaken.  On the day of his final flight it refers to Newton’s crew, Flight Sergeant John Lyon and Sergeant Basil Eastwood, as being seen swimming away from the wreckage.  It later transpired that the two men who escaped the aircraft were Newton and Lyon.  When they landed they were captured by Japanese troops.  Both were sent to Lae, where Lyon was executed on the orders of Rear Admiral Fujita Ruitar, the naval commander of the Lae-Salamaua area.  Fujita had Newton returned to Salamaua, were he was executed by Lieutenant Komai Uichi on 19 March.

Newton was 23 when he died; his body was recovered when Australian troops captured Salamaua and was buried at Lae War Cemetery in Papua New Guinea.



His citation reads:

Flight Lieutenant Newton served with No. 22 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, in New Guinea from May, 1942, to March, 1943, and completed 52 operational sorties.

Throughout, he displayed great courage and an iron determination to inflict the utmost damage on the enemy.  His splendid offensive flying and fighting were attended with brilliant success.  Disdaining evasive tactics when under the heaviest fire, he always went straight to his objectives.  He carried out many daring machine-gun attacks on enemy positions involving low-level flying over long distances in the face of continuous fire at point-blank range. 

On three occasions, he dived through intense anti-aircraft fire to release his bombs on important targets on the Salamaua Isthmus.  On one of these occasions, his starboard engine failed over the target, but he succeeded in flying back to an airfield 160 miles away.  When leading an attack on an objective on 16th March, 1943, he dived through intense and accurate shell-fire and his aircraft was hit repeatedly.  Nevertheless, he held to his course and bombed his target from low level.  The attack resulted in destruction of many buildings and dumps, including two 40,000-gallon fuelled installations.  Although his aircraft was crippled, with fuselage and wing sections torn, petrol tanks pierced, main-planes and engines seriously damaged, and one of the main tyres flat, Flight Lieutenant Newton managed to fly back to base and made a successful landing.

 Despite this harassing experience, he returned next day to the same locality. His target, this time a single building, was even more difficult but he course through a barrage of fire.  He scored a hit on the building but at the same moment his aircraft burst in to flames. 

Flight Lieutenant Newton maintained control and calmly turned his aircraft away and flew along the shore.  He saw it as his duty to keep the aircraft in the air as long as he could so as to take his crew as far away as possible from the enemy’s positions.  With great skill, he brought his blazing aircraft down on the water.  Two members of the crew were able to extricate themselves and were seen swimming to the shore, but the gallant pilot is missing.  According to other air crews who witnessed this occurrence, his escape hatch was not opened and his dinghy was not inflated.  Without regard to his own safety, he had done all that man could do to prevent his crew from falling into enemy hands.

 Flight Lieutenant Newton’s many examples of conspicuous bravery have rarely been equalled and will serve as a shining inspiration to all who follow him.


The London Gazette

19 October, 1943

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