Wednesday, 3 April 1918

This post is part of a series post-blogging the Australian mystery aeroplane panic of 1918. See here for an introduction or here for a list of all posts.

Morris, 3 April 1918

NAA: MP1049/1, 1918/066, page 1011 is a police report from Sergeant W. Morris of Gosford, north of Sydney in the NSW Central Coast region. It's an account of a mystery aeroplane sighting made by Lily Moir, a 23 year old woman living with her mother on a farm 1.5 miles east of Gosford. Shortly after 4am on the night of 23 March, Moir 'saw a light up high above the horizon, apparently a little north of Terrigal Haven over the sea border'. It 'appeared like a star travelling towards her, and seemed to swerve up and down like sea waves for an instant, and then disappear downwards'; yet (rather contradictorially) 'the light was unlike a star', and could not have been a meteor because it 'travelled horizontally towards her in waves'. Though Morris sought confirmation, there are no other reports from other witnesses.

Morris reports that 'Miss Moir is not, however, an hysterical person', and believes that 'there is a reasonable probability that what she saw was an aeroplane of some sort'. In fact:

The rumour that a seaplane was seen over Sydney in connection with the German raider 'WOOLF' [sic] will be remembered and this is a likely locality for a seaplane to hover and locate ships in the harbour and otherwise.

Morris even has a suspect, one Raymond Lhoist, 'who poses as a Belgian', lives in a 'very prominent position on the heights at Terrigal', 'associates with Germans only', and 'is always regarded as a very suspicious person'. As with Schifferdecker in the Mallee, it's not made clear just what connection Lhoist is supposed to have had with the mystery aeroplanes, and despite having been reported to the 'military authorities' several times, Morris is forced to admit that Lhoist has not committed 'any known acts of disloyalty' -- but still, you know, that's kind of suspicious in itself, isn't it?

On the side of this page there's an additional typed paragraph, a copy of a note, dated 8 April, from Captain W. S. Hinton (commanding officer, 2nd Military District Intelligence Section) to the Inspector General of Police, thanking him for the report and asking for further details: did Moir hear anything -- 'for instance the noise of an engine' -- and how far the 'light' would have been from the farm.

Again, in my article I use this as another example of an early mystery aeroplane sighting, only two (or two-and-a-half) days after the Nyang incident. However, it's surprising that it took eleven or so days for Moir to report her sighting to the police (as the local representatives of law and order, nearly always the first to hear of any suspicious activities). Perhaps she couldn't get off the farm before then; perhaps she didn't think it significant until later, maybe after reading press reports of other mystery aeroplane sightings. It's not clear from this report just what she did think she saw, other than not a meteor or presumably a star; the theory about a seaplane from a raider (and Lhoist) seems to have been Morris's own. I think Moir was right that it wasn't a star, though. It's difficult to pin down just where the sighting took place (Terrigal is itself 6 miles ESE of Gosford, so the farm couldn't have been both 1.5 miles east of Gosford and 6 miles from Terrigal), but the direction she saw the light must have been between about 100 and 120 degrees in azimuth (roughly ESE); and on that night Venus rose at about 4.15am at 101 degrees azimuth, which fits very well.

So far I've been a little critical of the limited way in which I used these primary sources in my article; for example, the aeroplane heard at Port Esperance was linked by one of the witnesses to the possibility of a Wolf-type raider in Australian waters. But my omission there was evidently because I decided that Morris's theory here was better suited to my purpose and so I cited it a second time: it's quite succinct but gives some details on what the seaplane was supposed to be doing, and also shows the influence of previous 'rumours' (I assume he was referring to the recent press reports of the mythical German seaplane flight over Sydney in 1917, rather than actual rumours of it being seen at the time, which I've never found). Still, it might have been nice if I'd quoted him accurately: I see I substituted 'elsewhere' for 'otherwise', which does change or at least obscure the meaning a little.

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4 thoughts on “Wednesday, 3 April 1918

  1. Erik Lund

    Hey, Brett:
    Literally just came across this in Flight; (19 February 1948, p. 210):
    "REPORTS have been received in Darwin, Australia, that unidentified aircraft are using the deserted R.A.A.F. air strip at Batcheior some 50 miles south oi Darwin. Police inspection indicates that the strip had been used very recently by a heavy aircraft for both a hunting and a take-off"

  2. Post author

    Interesting, I've not heard of this before! Here's the result of some Troving:

    Early theories that 'the plane is coming from Singapore, carrying drugs or aliens wanting to enter Australia, and is possibly taking back ammunition':

    Eyewitness reports suggest twin-engined aircraft circling at night, probably C-47s:

    No further information, but now the theory has firmed to smuggling drugs in and gold out:

    The RAAF is sceptical, saying the marks on the runways were left by Wirraways:

    Customs officials set a trap and spring out from their hiding places around the aerodrome, but the miscreant escaped! But not to worry: it was 'a twin-engined American type carrying markings identifying the owner'.

    And the mystery is solved! It wasn't drugs, gold, ammunition smuggled in a C-47; it was in fact Wirraways and it was '"vitamin conscious" R.A.A.F. aircrews looking for fresh vegetables' and 'romantic "R.A.A.F. Romeos" who had made secret moonlight landings on old airstrips to meet farmers' daughters'.

    That's what they want us to think, anyway...

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