William Newton was born on 8 June 1919 at St Kilda, Melbourne. He attended the Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, becoming a keen sportsman who played cricket for the Victorian second eleven. He was working in a Melbourne silk warehouse when the Second World War began and he enlisted in the RAAF on 5 February 1940.
Having been commissioned and qualified as a pilot, Newton became a flight instructor before being posted to 22 Squadron, based in Port Moresby, in May 1942. He flew 52 operations in Boston dive bombers, consistently displaying a determination to destroy his target. Fellow airmen dubbed him "the firebug", claiming that wherever Newton flew he left a fire burning behind him.
On 16 March 1943, Newton was leading an attack against Japanese positions at Salamaua in New Guinea. As he dived through heavy anti-aircraft fire his aircraft was hit, although he was able to bomb before pulling away and coaxing his badly damaged aircraft safely back to Port Moresby. Two days later he returned to Salamaua again hitting his target and again being hit by heavy ground-fire. This time Newton's aircraft caught fire but he managed to ditch the burning aircraft in the sea, about 900 metres offshore. Two of the Boston's three crew members were seen to make it ashore by other squadron members.
Newton was one of them. He was captured by the Japanese along with Flight Sergeant J. Lyon. Both men were sent to Lae where Lyon was later executed. Newton was returned to Salamaua and on 29 March 1943 he too was executed. His death became linked with that of another Australian, Len Siffleet, a special operations sergeant who had also been captured in New Guinea. A photograph of Siffleet's beheading was found by American soldiers in April 1944 and was believed for many years to have shown Newton's execution. While no photograph of his death is known to exist, the story of Newton's execution circulated in Australian newspapers after it was translated from the captured diary of a Japanese soldier who had witnessed the incident.
His fearless approach to operational flying and the manner in which he attempted to save his crew by piloting their burning aircraft as far from Japanese positions as possible earned Newton the Victoria Cross, the only such award made to a member of the RAAF in the Pacific theatre. After the war, Newton's body was located and buried in the Lae war cemetery.
Bill Newton was born in St Kilda, Melbourne, on 8 June 1919. He attended the Melbourne Church of England Grammar School and went on to work in a silk warehouse. Newton was a popular sportsman who represented his school in swimming, was vice-captain of the school football team, and eventually played cricket for the Victorian second 11. He enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force in early February 1940. On receiving his commission Newton spent time as a flying instructor before being posted to No. 22 Squadron in 1942, flying Boston light bombers from Port Moresby.
Newton flew 52 operational sorties during his career. Most of these were aagainst difficult targets under intense tropical weather conditions and under enemy firea. He was known to be a awell-balanced, all round and highly trained and developeda officer with a acheerful, natural and infectious personalitya.
Newton also possessed remarkable courage as a pilot. On at least three occasions he dived through intense anti-aircraft fire to drop bombs on his target. On 16 March 1943, while he and his crew of two were leading an attack on Salamaua through intense shell-fire from the ground, their Boston bomber was hit repeatedly by the enemy. Their aircraft suffered bad tears to its fuselage and wings; it had a hole in its petrol tank, its engines were badly damaged, and one tyre was burst. Nevertheless, Newton continued the attack, flew nearly 200 miles back to base and, despite the flat tyre, made a safe landing.
Two days later he attempted an attack on the same location. This time his aircraft, hit by flak, burst into flames. Newton flew along the shore and brought his plane safely down on the water. Sergeant Basil Eastwood was killed in the crash, but Newton and Sergeant John Lyon escaped, swimming to shore.
The following day Newton and Lyon were captured by a company of the Imperial Japanese Navy. They were taken to Lae, where Sergeant Lyon was executed by bayonet. Newton was returned to Salamaua and beheaded by the Japanese on 29 March 1943. He was 23.
William Ellis Newton was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his agreat valour and devotion to dutya. His was the only Victoria Cross awarded to a member of the RAAF in the Pacific theatre.
The Royal Australian Air Force press release following Newtonas award in October 1943 read:
The story of his brave deeds will become a legend in the Royal Australian Air Force and will be read with pride by those who serve in that Force for years to come.
On his last home leave William Newton had mentioned to his mother that he didnat think she would see him again. He said: aIf you hear a" when you hear a" thereas a bottle of sherry on the mantelpiece. Have a drink for me, will you? Donat make a fuss.a His body was later recovered and now lies in Lae Cemetery.
The name of Flight Lieutenant William Ellis Newton is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, along with those of around 40,000 men and women who died in the Second World War. His photograph is displayed today beside the Pool of Reflection
This is one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Flight Lieutenant William Ellis Newton and all of those Australians who have given their lives in the service of our nation.