MICA long field
This Victoria Cross was awarded to Flight Lieutenant William Ellis 'Bill' Newton, who was born in St Kilda Melbourne on 8 June 1919, the son of Charles Ellis and Minnie (nee Miller) Newton. He was educated at the Melbourne Church of England Grammar School. Newton was popular at school and gifted at sport, representing state teams in both cricket and football. Following the death of his father in 1936, family finances dwindled. Newton was forced to leave school before he could matriculate, and gained a job with Makower, McBeath & Company, Silk Merchants of Melbourne. On 28 November 1938 he enlisted in 6 Battalion Royal Melbourne Regiment (6RMR) though his goal was to become a pilot in the RAAF.
In spite of some reluctance on the part of his mother, Newton enlisted in the RAAF on 5 February 1940 as an air cadet after he had been discharged from 6RMR two days earlier. In June of that year he graduated as a pilot and was commissioned as a pilot officer, then promoted to flying officer on 28 December. Newton was constantly frustrated in his efforts to get an operational posting and spent much of his early service life as a flight instructor in Australia. On 1 April 1942 he was promoted to flight lieutenant and on 9 May was finally given an operational posting with 22 Squadron (22 Sqn) flying the new Boston bomber.
In December, Newton joined the squadron in Port Moresby. He quickly gained a fearless reputation for avoiding standard evasive manoeuvres so that he could make a straight run at his targets. An examination revealed that ninety per cent of his flights were made under heavy fire. In March 1943 he was detailed to undertake a series of bombing raids on the Japanese held Salamaua Isthmus in New Guinea. On 16 March he 'dived for over half a mile through intense and accurate anti-aircraft fire to bomb his target at the lowest possible altitude'. Though his plane was considerably damaged by Japanese anti-aircraft fire he successfully destroyed buildings and two 40,000 gallon fuel storage tanks. The resultant blaze was testament to his nickname 'Firebug'. Despite holed fuel tanks, damaged mainplanes and engines, Newton managed to coax his Boston 180 miles safely back to base.
Two days later six aircraft from 22 Sqn, including Newton's, left Port Moresby for another Salamaua run. With Newton aboard Boston A28-3 were Flight Sergeant John Lyon and Sergeant Basil Gilbert Eastwood. Employing his usual tactics he ignored the heavy enemy fire and flew straight at his objective. Just as his bombs hit the building, Newton's plane burst into flames. Realising that the damage was too severe to return to base, he flew as far as he dared before ditching the plane in the water, some 1000 yards from shore. Newton and Lyon managed to escape the wreck and swim to shore. The plane sank quickly, nose first. Eastwood did not escape and had either killed by the enemy fire while in the aircraft or trapped in the rapidly sinking plane.
Within a few hours Newton and Lyon were captured by a Japanese company of Sasebo 5 Special Naval Landing Party troops commanded by Sub Lieutenant Uichi Komai. The two were taken to Lae where they were subjected to high level interrogation. Newton, in particular, was considered to be 'a person of importance among them.' He was listed as missing on 18 April and soon afterwards assumed to be a prisoner of war. It was not until the translation of an enemy diary captured on 31 July was released that details of Newton's fate came to light.
Following the interrogation of Newton and Lyon, the Japanese naval commander at Lae, Vice Admiral Ruitaro Fujita, ordered their execution. As a reward to Komai, Newton was 'returned to SALAMAUA as a trophy for the Company which had captured him.' On 29 March, he was beheaded by Komai.
Lyon's fate remained a mystery for a further five years. In July 1948, his body was discovered during excavation work at the waterfront near Lae. When the body was examined it was revealed that he had died from wounds consistent with bayonet thrusts. Komai was later killed in action in the Philippines. Admiral Fujita committed suicide at the end of the war before he could be brought before the War Crimes Tribunal.
For his 'many examples of conspicuous bravery in New Guinea', Newton was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross, the only Australian airman in the Pacific theatre so honoured. The citation for the awards 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 objective. He carried out many daring machine gun attacks on enemy positions involving low-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 zero level. The attack resulted in destruction of many buildings and dumps, including two 40,000-gallon fuel installations. Although his aircraft was crippled, with fuselage and wing sections torn, petrol tanks pierced, main-poles and engines seriously damaged, and one of his main tyres flat, Flight Lieutenant Newton managed to fly back to base and make 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 again attacked with his usual courage and resolution, flying a steady course through a barrage of fire. He scored a hit on the building but at the same moment his aircraft burst into 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 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 from shore, but the gallant pilot is missing. According to other air crews who witnessed the 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 VC was presented to Bill's mother, Mrs Minnie Newton, by the Governor General of Australia on 30 November 1945. In an unexplained 'departure from established practice' the date engraved on the reverse of the VC shows the date when the submission for the award was signed by King George V, not the date of the actual action. One other VC has been found with this anomaly, that being another RAAF pilot Flight Sergeant R H Middleton.
Newton is buried in the Lae War Cemetery. His medal group came into the Memorial's collection in January 1966. The Newton family were represented in all three arms of Australia's military forces during the Second World War. Bill's brother, Surgeon Lieutenant Commander John Newton served in the Royal Australian Navy and survived the sinking of HMAS Canberra on 9 August 1942. Another brother, Captain Lindsay Newton, served in the AIF.