John, or Jack or Morrie, as his mates knew him, was born on the 1st February 1918 in Lismore, New South Wales. He enlisted in the RAAF in Sydney on the 16th September 1940.
Like many others, jack was a product of the Empire Air Training Scheme. After completing his basic training in Australia, he embarked for Canada for more advanced training, and then embarked again for England, where he finally learnt to fly Spitfires. He was then posted to 452 Squadron at RAF Redhill and later to RAF Kenley, both in Surrey, England.
452 Squadron was the first Australian Squadron to be formed in Britain during the Second World War. Its first personnel gathered at RAF Kirton-in-Lindsey on the 8th of April 1941 and the Squadron became operational there on the 22nd of May of that year, flying early model Supermarine Spitfires. In July, the Squadron was moved to RAF Kenley, where they became part of No.11 Group RAF and rapidly developed a formidable reputation in operations against German forces.
In March 1942, 452 Squadron replaced its sister, 457 Squadron, at RAF Andreas, Isle of Man, where it remained until it withdrew from operations in Britain in June of that year to return to Australia. It sailed for home on the 21st of June, arriving in Melbourne on the 13th of August 1942. It is assumed that Jack returned to Australia with the Squdron at the same time.
Back in Australia, Jack joined 75 Squadron RAAF. Unfortunately, after surviving the War in England, he was killed on the 28th June 1942 when he was flying a P-40E Kittyhawk (Serial No. A29-134). Reports indicate that he failed to recover from a spin while he was on a training exercise at Kingaroy, Queensland. He was only 24 years old.
The following is a fascinating story recounted by Jim Grant, an amateur historian and a Sergeant in 457 Squadron during the War. It starts in September 1940 and is about three Spitfire pilots. Having answered the call, David Downes from Camden, Jack Morrison from Grafton and Ross Williams from Sydney met up at No.2 Initial Training School (ITS) Bradfield Park to join No.5 Course. That meeting was the start of an association that continued on No.6 Course at No.3 Service Flying training School (SFTS) Amberley. By then a close friendship had developed and, as their logbooks show, if one was the “pilot, or 1st pilot” of a Wirraway, one of the others was often the “2nd” pilot, pupil or passenger.”
The three friends were then posted overseas, and early in June 1941, they sailed on the Largs Bay for England. In July, they left Halifax, Nova Scotia, and safely crossed the Atlantic to disembark in Glasgow. Taken south to the Personnel Depot (PD) at Bournemouth, it was back north two weeks later to No. 57 Operational Training Unit (OUT) at Hawarden. Having experienced the thrill, and perhaps the fear, of going solo in a 1,OOO hp Spitfire and then learning how to handle it, they were assessed as “above the average” and posted to the southeast corner of England to join 452 Squadron at RAF Kenley, which was part of No. 11 Group Fighter Command.
From July 1941 to March 1942, operating from Kenley and Redhill, the Squadron was constantly engaged in offensive operations over occupied France. However, for this story, a bomber escort to Le Havre on the 14th March 1942 was an important one.
Now fast forward to a Spitfire Association meting in October 2000, where I showed those attending a photo of a pilot standing at the back-end of his Spitfire at RAF Kenley. Although most of the fabric is missing from the rudder, the smiling pilot seems most unconcerned. Ross Williams was at the meeting and he identified the pilot as Jack “Morrie” Morrison. David Downes was also there and said that he had the following note in his personal logbook: “1942 March 14. Bomber escort to Le Havre. 5,000ft. Landed Tangmere 15 gals. Engine trouble. 1.35 Arse end Charlie. 200 miles sea. Squirted. Holed rudder and aileron. Morrie lost rudder and got one probable.”
A few days later, I suggested to Merle Taylor, leader of the Craft Group at our retirement village that, if they had nothing better to do, they might consider identifying their family photographs, believing that the family historian, if any, might be eternally grateful. I mentioned my luck in having a mate identify my photo of a Spitfire with most of its tail feathers missing, and showed it to Merle. I was quite unprepared for Merle’s comment, “He was my husband.” Walking on eggs, I heard my mouth saying, “Would you like to meet one of his friends?” and was relieved with her reply. “That would be great. Jack promised me that one day, I would meet his two mates”.
Back in June 1942, when Jack was killed, David and Ross were off the west coast of North Africa on our way home, so they would not have known of their friend’s death until after they arrived back in Australia in August.
After waiting 60 years, Merle had the promised meeting that turned out to be a very happy and memorable event, even though it was quite emotional. The photo is of David Downs (left), Merle Taylor (Morrison) and Ross Williams.
It is a small world. Ron Lambert, a 457 Squadron Echelon Fitter and Spitfire Association member, remembers repairing and replacing the entire empennage of Jack’s Spitfire.
John McAuley Morrison is buried at the Grafton Cemetery in Grafton, New South Wales. He is also remembered on the Roll of Honour in the Commemorative area at the Australian War Memorial (see photo).
Thanks to AWM
Ron Lambert, Jim Grant and Paul Carter
Updated by Vince Conant
The Spitfire Association