Darwins man of action
GPCAPT Mark Kelton
48, No. 4, March 23, 2006
396CSW GPCAPT Mark Kelton, Dr Charles Eaton (Junior) and
CEO NT Airports Ian Kew at the unveiling of GPCAPT Eatons
portrait at Darwin International Airport.
by LAC Allan Cooper
Base Darwins origin was celebrated late last year with the
official unveiling of a portrait of its first Commanding Officer,
the late GPCAPT Charles Moth Eaton - a man of action
and innovation with a long military career.
Visitors passing through Darwin International Airport only have
to look at Eatons portrait, donated by his son, Dr Charles
Eaton, high on the wall of the arrivals area to be reminded of
the RAAFs contribution to the pioneering aviation spirit
GPCAPT Eaton, OBE (Mil.), AFC, MiD (18951979) Knight Commander
- Cross of the Orange Nassau with Swords, had a rich life.
He was a hero in peace time and at war, a man who spoke his mind
(sometimes ending up in courts-martial), and a commander admired
and respected by his subordinates.
At 17, he served with a British Army contingent in France as a
bicycle company member a highly-agile and fast-moving force
capable of mobile strike, enemy communications interdiction and
trench bombing, all atop an 1890s vintage bicycle.
The need for speed continued and Eaton joined the Royal Flying
Corps in 1917, seeing action during homeland defence, an aircraft
crash behind enemy lines, time in a German prison camp, and a
stirring and valiant escape back to England.
After the war, Eaton remained with the RAF and flew extensively
throughout Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and India.
For a time he was a forestry civil servant in India and far north
Queensland, but after a little persuasion, joined the RAAF as
a Flying Instructor with No. 1 Air Training School at Point Cook
Eatons leadership of three missions into northern Australia
thrust him into the public spotlight. First was the rescue mission
for Charles Kingsford-Smith and the Southern Cross,
which came down in the Kimberleys.
Later, Eaton led the rescue for the Kookaburra, lost
in the Tanami Desert.
Tragically the crew of the Kookaburra was lost and
Eaton was lucky to escape himself, with his aircraft crashing
near Tennant Creek - the aluminium cylinder head of his engine
melting and the piston jamming the propeller to a sudden stop.
The last notable search was for the Golden Quest,
an aircraft lost west of Alice Springs while conducting an aerial
expedition for Lasseters lost gold reef.
In 1938 Eaton co-surveyed the site that RAAF Base Darwin stands
on as a future strategic air defence station in the north of Australia.
He returned to Darwin in 1939 in command of No. 12SQN and with
an airfield construction team opened the airbase for operations
on July 1, 1940. Darwin was more colloquially known as the new
aerodrome at the 6 mile of which Eaton was the first
War followed soon after and Eaton saw operational service in New
Guinea and conducted secret missions into the then Netherlands
Eaton commanded No. 79WG during the war, which was based at Batchelor
in NT. With the war over, Eaton became the Consul-General to the
Netherlands East Indies - our first formal diplomatic involvement
with Timor. Eaton was also Charge de Affairs to the then new Republic
In 1979, Charles Eaton passed away and, as was his request, his
ashes were scattered in the Tanami Desert near Tennant Creek.