Military History

The Highest Honour #35 | Bill Newton | Martin O'Meara

By The Cove September 23, 2021


Flight Lieutenant William (Bill) Ellis Newton VC (1919 - 1943, 23yo)

Bill Newton was born on 08 June 1919 at St Kilda, Victoria. At the completion of schooling he was employed in the silk-warehouse of Makower prior to enlisting into the Royal Australian Air Force on 05 February 1940.

In June he qualified as a pilot and was commissioned and after serving as a flying instructor was posted to No.22 Squadron which was based at Port Moresby.

Newton flew 52 sorties with the majority of them through anti-aircraft fire. He displayed exceptional courage and remarkable determination to inflict the utmost damage on the enemy.  His citation for the Victoria Cross reads:

'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-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 16 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 a low level. The attack resulted in the 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-planes and engines seriously damaged, and one of the main tyres flat, Flight Lieutenant Newton managed to fly it back to base and make a successful landing.

Despite this harassing experience, he returned the 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 away as possible from the enemy's positions. With great skill, he brought his blazing aircraft down on the water. Without regard to his own safety, he had done all that a 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'.

From the air the other plane saw two survivors swim ashore, Newton was one of these and was captured by the Japanese. After being subjected to high level interrogation for 11 days, on 29 March 1943, Flight Lieutenant Newton was beheaded in at Salamaua. It was only later in the war that a diary was discovered on a dead Japanese soldier in which he described the execution by beheading of an Allied airman who had been taken prisoner on 18 March 1943. The diary described the execution as taking place on the 29 March, when the prisoner was, “composed in the face of his impending execution, and unshaken to the last.” The time and circumstances meant it that it could only have been Bill Newton. After the war, Newton's remains were recovered and buried in the Lae war cemetery.

Sergeant Martin O'Meara VC (1885 - 1935, 50yo)

Martin O'Meara was born on 06 November 1885 in Tipperary, Ireland. He migrated to Australia as a youth and was a sleeper-hewer prior to joining the Australian Imperial Force on 19 August 1915.

O'Meara departed Australia with the 12th Reinforcements for the 16th Battalion as an Infantryman in December. After training in Egypt in early 1916, the battalion moved to the Western Front in France where they saw action on the Somme. On 09-12 August 1916 the battalion mounted an attack on German positions at Mouquet Farm near Pozières. Devastating German artillery fire caused heavy casualties and during this period O'Meara, carrying out stretcher-bearer duties, behaved in a manner which led one officer to describe him as, "the most fearless and gallant soldier I have ever seen." He was credited with having saved the lives of over twenty-five wounded men by carrying them in from no man's land, "under conditions that are undescribable." At other times he had, on his own initiative, brought up much-needed supplies of grenades, ammunition and food. For these actions O'Meara was awarded the Victoria Cross.

O'Meara continued to serve with the 16th Battalion and was promoted to Sergeant. He was wounded three times along the way. In November 1918 he returned to Australia and discharged from the Australian Imperial Force in November 1919. The experiences he witnessed during the war caused a complete breakdown in his health and he spent the rest of his life in hospitals. He died in Claremont Mental Hospital, Perth, on 20 December 1935. His death certificate gave his occupation as 'returned soldier'. He was buried with full military honours in Karrakatta Catholic cemetery. The mourners included three V.C. winners, Lieutenant Clifford Sadlier, Private James Woods and Lance Corporal Thomas Axford.


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Biography

The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



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