Flight Lieutenant William Newton, VC

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Apr 11, 2005
South East Queensland
This is an article about a true Aussie hero.

Flight Lieutenant William Ellis Newton, VC
Date of birth: 08 June 1919
Place of birth: St Kilda, VIC
Date of death: 29 March 1943
Place of death: Salamaua Ithmus, New Guinea

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 May 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.


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Ellis Newton

Mar 17, 2017

I hope those who ordered and carried out this execution suffered a terrible death! :mad:

this comment makes me so upset. This Honorable man William is a relative of mine and even though he did die a terrible death, you should never condemn it upon someone else. I don't think that's what Bill would have wanted.


1st Lieutenant
Jul 25, 2007
Utah, USA

Welcome to the Forum and thank you for your comment. There were brave and honourable men (and women), cowards, murderers and bullies on all sides. If your read of Bill is accurate (and I have no reason to doubt it), then he just grows in my personal esteem of him. I would also like to recognize his crew who were no less brave than him.

Kind regards,
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Apr 9, 2005
Colorado, USA
this comment makes me so upset. This Honorable man William is a relative of mine and even though he did die a terrible death, you should never condemn it upon someone else. I don't think that's what Bill would have wanted.
Ellis, you're entitled to your opinions, I'm entitled to mine - those who perpetrated this crime against your relative violated international law. If you want to take the "turn the other cheek" road fine, I'd rather see equal justice paid with interest and I make no apologies for it, regardless what you or you relative "may" have thought.

So tell us how you're related to this hero who made the ultimate sacrifice for this country???


Lieutenant Colonel
Oct 30, 2013

Shot at Dawn Memorial - Wikipedia

306 British and Commonwealth soldiers were executed for cowardice in WW1 even though at the time it was known many had shell shock, Apart from the tragic loss of life it had a serious effect on those who had to shoot comrades they knew to be innocent but ill. I can't see that the Japanese who were ordered to execute someone had any choice in the matter.
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Robert Porter

Senior Master Sergeant
War, as is often said, is hell. There are many atrocities on every side to be found if one looks hard enough. That said, I tend to agree that the Axis side certainly has much more to be accountable for and I include Russia in the Axis, than anything done by the allies. At least in terms of sheer numbers if by no other measure. And my gut and considered reactions both tell me that people that violated the norms as was done here deserve to pay the ultimate price. As to the shot at dawn issue, unfortunately and very regrettably it often takes a long time for illness to be recognized for what it is and even longer for it to be treated as opposed to punished.

Not to make light of those that were truly ill or mentally incapacitated, but sometimes even trained professionals have a difficult time determining if someone is just plain scared or suffering from some degree of PTSD. Then you have the judgement call, how much PTSD is enough to excuse a crime, and what crimes are excusable. No easy answers to offer. Hindsight is often much sharper AND much more fuzzy when applied to events of the past.

That said, beheading a POW is simply inexcusable given the circumstances and is pretty open and shut.


Lieutenant Colonel
Oct 30, 2013
The last woman to be guillotined in France was in 1949, the last man in 1977, the guillotine and death penalty were not abolished until 1981.


1st Sergeant
May 31, 2007
This is from a 1944 children's publication and seems to imply he died in the crash.
I wonder when the truth was finally told? Or at this point in time it was too grisly to tell the public?


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