In early June 1944 the RAAF’s No.457 Squadron, one of three Spitfire units recalled from Britain for homeland defence, began exchanging its near-obsolete Mk.V aircraft with more effective Mk.VIIIs. As deliveries of the latter began arriving in the Northen Territory, squadron pilots would ferry equal numbers of the former south for overhaul and re-assignment – typically to Operational Training Units or mainland fighter squadrons.
Originally from Emerald in Central Queensland, twenty-one year old Pilot Officer Alexander Henry Morton (405639) was one of ten 452 and 457 squadron pilots tasked mid-July 1944 with ferrying Mk.Vs south to No.6 Aircraft Deport at Oakie [sic] in south-east Queensland. Delayed by one day, and escorted by a Beaufort bomber, the ferry flight left Sattler (N.T.) at 0740 on July 12th on a 1,590 nautical mile route tracking via Tennant Creek, Cloncurry, and Charleville.
Only seven of the eight planes that departed Cloncurry the following morning however, made it to Charleville that day. A corresponding entry in the squadron’s Operational Record Book records…’A signal has been received that P/O A.H. MORTON, flying A58-208, is missing in the vicinity of AUGATHELLA (Q) and that a Beaufort is conducting a search. A further signal has been received stating that P/O A.H.MORTON had made a forced landing, wheels down, in a paddock near AUGATHELLA. The airplane is undamaged and the pilot is unhurt.’
The senior seargent at Augathella police station takes up the story….
…at about midday on the 15th. Instant, seven fighter planes piloted by R.A.A.F. Pilots, flew over Augathella and circled the town on several occasions. All of the planes then left. Shortly afterwards two of the planes were seen to return. I then received a telephone call from R.A.A.F. Headquarters, Charleville, informing me that the two planes were off their course, and asking me to arrange for smoke signals to give them the wind direction at some suitable landing ground near the town, as it was thought that they were short of petrol.
I immediately with the assistance of other town people, hurried by Motor Truck to Holley Downs Station two miles from Augathella and had smoke signals ready. At that time the planes had gone out of view. I left men at the scene, ready to light smoke signals should the planes again come in view. I then went in the truck to Holley Downs Station Homestead close by, and contacted the R.A.A.F. Headquarters, Charleville, by telephone. They informed me that the two planes had landed safely at Charleville aerodrome, but they informed me that there was still one plane missing.
A plane was sent out from Charleville shortly after, and after circling about Augathella located the missing plane on the ground at Gundare Station, and the Pilot signalled them that he was all right. The plane had landed about 20 miles from Augathella, and about four miles from Gundare Station Homestead. Flying officer Gould, who was in the searching plane gave directions to Pilot Officer Morton, who had made the forced landing in the Spitfire Fighting Plane, of the direction to take to Gundare Homestead, and then flew back to Charleville.
Lieutenant Mines of Augathella, who is head of the V.D.C. at Augathella, was at Gandare Station at the time, and located Pilot Officer Morton on his way to the Gundare Homestead, and took him to the homestead. The pilot was none the worse for the experience, and was unhurt, and had landed the plane undamaged.
Pilot Morton contacted the R.A.A.F. Charleville and with Lieutenant Mines of the V.D.C. arrangements were immediately made for a V.D.C. guard to be placed on the plane. At 6.pm. members of the R.A.A.F. Charleville arrived at Augathella, Flight Officer Gould being in charge. I had a conversation with him on his arrival and he assured me that everything was all right, and that he was going out to Gundare to pick up pilot Officer Morton to take him to Charleville, also to make arrangements for petrol to be taken to the plane to have it refueled to have it flown to Charleville.
I accompanied the RAAF men to Gundare Station, where I saw Pilot officer Morton who was unhurt, and he informed me that he had sufficient petrol to get to Charleville had he known the direction, but he did not know his location, and seeing a suitable landing ground he decided to land which he did without mishap.
We attempted to get to the site of a plane, but owing to the recent rain we were unable owing to the boggy state of the ground to get to the Plane. As there was a V.D.C. guard on the plane we brought Pilot Officer back to Augathella.
Sergt. 2/C 2513
Morton completed the half hour flight from Augathella to Charleville on May 18th, departing from there at 10 am the following day for No.6 Aircraft Depot, Oakie [sic] where he landed one hour and fifty minutes later.
Having survived the out-landing at Gundare Station, Spitfire A58-208 made another forced-landing the following month (due to engine trouble) while being delivered from No.6 Aircraft Depot to 85 Squadron in West Australia.
Since he is referred to in these squadron and police records as ‘Pilot Officer’, Morton – and his commanding officers – might have been unaware that his promotion to Flying Officer had in fact been formally gazetted just a few weeks earlier (Government Gazette. 29 June 1944, Issue No.127, page 1326).
He returned to Central Queensland after the war and became a farmer at Sunny Hills, Ridgelands, north-west of Rockhampton.