MORPHETT, John James

Service Number: 229
Enlisted: 12 July 1915, Melbourne, Victoria
Last Rank: Corporal
Last Unit: No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps
Born: Port Wakefield, South Australia, date not yet discovered
Home Town: Fitzroy, Yarra, Victoria
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Compositor
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World War 1 Service

12 Jul 1915: Enlisted Melbourne, Victoria
16 Mar 1916: Involvement Corporal, SN 229, No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps
16 Mar 1916: Embarked Corporal, SN 229, No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, HMAT Orsova, Melbourne


(Transcribed from notes made by J Morphett after the war).

When No.229, 2/cpl J.Morphett, 1st Squadron AFC reported to Capt. P. Van Ryneveld, No 17 Squadron, RFC, on 13th June, 1916, he became the first member of the AFC (later RAAF) to go to an Australian air war station. This took place at a landing field near Port Tewfik, in the Suez Canal area of the Sinai Desert. "B Flight of No. 1 Squadron was to take over from 17 Squadron, RFC which was then to transfer to Salonica in Europe. Morphett was flight secretary to Captain Oswald Watt, commander of "B" Flight who, with other airmen, would be flying across from Cairo two days later. The other pilots were D. Badgery, D .T. Manwell, and W. Ashcroft.
Lt. Treloar, admin. officer, temporarily attached to No. 1 Squadron, signed takeover documents, and later proceeded to France.
“B” Flight was promptly bombed by the enemy.

First Aircraft
Captain Watt's B.E.2c No. 4520 would be the first Australian machine into action. It had the familiar 90h.p. R.A.F. air-cooled motor so beloved (!) of "B" Flight mechanics. Three other B.E.’s made up the fleet. Unfortunately Dave Manwell had the honor of the first prang when he stood his machine on its nose during a sand storm. The R.F.C. air crews promptly put the Australian flyers through their briefings and on June 22nd they moved out quite confident the Aussies could take good care of themselves.

Famous War Airmen
Another unit, "A" Flight under Capt. Sheldon arrived for a brief stay en route to a Western Desert station. And during June others who were destined to make air history handed their still empty log books to Cpl. Morphett for safe keeping. They included Lts. L. J. Wackett, Peter Drummond, J. Bell, W. J. Y. Guilfoyle and A.W.L. Ellis. Among observers attached from army units were 2/Lts Lord Glentworth, Yeomanry, and W. Rutherford (Light Horse).

First Armaments
Jack Morphett remembers the First B.E.’s having .303 rifles strapped to intersection struts. But none of the crew reported having shot anything. Lt Wackett soon had machine guns fitted on to wobbly mountings. The idea seemed to be that an enemy would obligingly fly into the line of fire to be shot at. The reverse happened when Capt. Watt and Viscount Glentworth returned with bullet holes each side of them. It was drinks on the House of Lords, even for the mechanics. Bomb racks were also wired under the B.E.'s and on July 13th Lt. Ashcroft raided a locality known as Ain Sudr with four twenty pound bombs. Two were enough to obliterate a Turkish camp, but the trip out and back almost used up all fuel and they just scraped home. But air history was made.

Watch Lawrence.
"It was my job to wire flight reports to 54th Division each day, also to receive daily instructions,” Cpl. Morphett noted in his diary. On one occasion Red Sea shipping was to be guarded as important people were usually on board. These Included Lieut. T. Lawrence: "something to do with the Arabs!” Two years later Morphett was to transcribe Lawrence's dispatches for H.Q. Army.

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Returned to Australia 5 August 1919