The Port Wakefield Ghost – Is this Phantom Hitchhiker Fact or Fiction
The Port Wakefield Ghost – there are many tales told about this particular phantom hitchhiker, always dressed in an Air Force uniform, often asking to be taken to a particular address, only to disappear while sitting in the back seat of the car belonging to the kindly person who stopped to offer him a lift.
Port Wakefield Road, otherwise known as the A1, is the main highway between Adelaide City and the town of Port Wakefield. It was named after Edward Gibbon Wakefield, who devised the system of a free colony here in South Australia. It stretches approx 89.9km (56 miles).
The Ghost Stories
It is said the stories of the Port Wakefield ghost go back as far as the 1940s, and from the description given by the witnesses, the Air Force uniform appears to date from the 40s/50s.
One famous story tells of a young couple who were driving down this highway. Naturally, like many of these stories, it was during a dark and stormy night when they saw a figure on the side of the road dressed in uniform. They pulled over and offered him a lift. They asked him where he was going and he gave them an address of a property in Adelaide, so they duly drove him to that address. Upon arrival, they discovered that the airman had vanished. More than a little concerned about what might have happened to their passenger, they went to the address given by the missing airman and knocked on the door. An elderly lady answered the door and, upon hearing their story, explained to the worried couple that is was probably her son, a WWII Air Force pilot, who was deceased.
Another story tells of another traveller on this road, a businessman, who had stopped at the local service station. He had followed what looked to be a man dressed in RAAF uniform into the toilets, but the man then disappeared in front of him.
A third account was some motorcyclists had encountered the ghost on the road between the Hummocks (Kulpara area) and Port Wakefield.
There have been many sightings of the airman, either seen on the side of the road, or in the middle of it, before completely disappearing. However, tracking down these witnesses is very difficult. The stories mostly seem to be people who ‘know of somebody’ who have experienced the Port Wakefield ghost, but finding first hand accounts are more elusive. Saying that, Alison did interview somebody many years ago, who confessed to having witnessed this phantom hitchhiker first hand. The witness told her the man seemed very real, although his uniform seemed slightly odd. He did not ask to be taken to an address, he said he was just heading to Adelaide. Before hitting Gepps Cross, the man had vanished from the back seat of the car.
The Port Wakefield Ghost – Who Could This Phantom Hitchhiker be?
So, were there any deaths of Airmen in or near this area to account for the Port Wakefield Ghost? There were indeed two accidental plane crashes in this area. Often, these sightings are put down to these, but do the facts fit the story?
The first was in September 1942, when Leading Aircraftman Patrick John Brady’s RAAF plane crashed and was destroyed near Mallala, whilst on a nighttime exercise. The former reporter, insurance representative and cadet engineer was only 24 years old and unmarried.
The second was in November 1953; Mr Irish and his son were harvesting wheat in their paddock in Mallala when they looked up and noticed a plane in obvious difficulty. The port (left) wing and the connected engine had parted company with the plane, and other plane parts were seen to be dropping, too. The plane tipped sideways before crashing into the paddock with a massive explosion.
The shocking accident was seen from the local airport, which was only five miles away, and the alarm was raised, with two tenders travelling to the accident spot, taking only 5 minutes. The flames had spread to over forty acres of paddock and the Mallala Emergency Fire Service fought these flames whilst the RAAF concentrated on putting out the wreckage of the RAAF Bristol Freighter.
Flight Lieutenant J D Entwistle (35), Flight Officer Leonard Murphy (29) and Flight Officer Donald Shillinglaw (25) lost their lives on this training flight. Their bodies were taken in an ambulance to Adelaide.
The plane’s crew had been carrying scientific equipment between Mallala and Woomera rocket range for several months, and all the deceased airmen had been presented with a signed photograph of the nuclear explosion.
Wing-Commander McCormack had a very lucky escape as he had been due to fly the Bristol Freighter but had to re-schedule due to having to meet with the Director of Flying Safety, whose plane landed shortly after the doomed plane had taken off. He assisted in the crash investigation. The plane had its safety check before the fatal flight.
All of the aircrew were married, Entwistle and Shillinglaw also left children behind. All three were buried with full Air Force honours.
Although these two men are often used in association with the Port Wakefield Ghost, there are a few discrepancies.
Patrick John Brady was from New South Wales, and his family still lived there. Unless his family moved to Adelaide, he had no reason to visit the city. This doesn’t discount him from being a candidate, though, just on why he would want to travel to a specific address in Adelaide.
J D Entwistle did attend St Peter’s College in Adelaide, so he is a more likely candidate, but sightings of the hitchhiker were reputedly reported from the early 1940s, whereas his unfortunate crash didn’t happen until 1953.
Could the reason the dates don’t seem to match be due to it being recounted so many times from the original story, and slightly different each time until it has become like Chinese Whispers? Could there be a different motive for one of these poor men wanting to get in the car than to head ‘home’ to Adelaide?
So, who is the Port Wakefield Ghost – the phantom hitchhiker? Is he real or an urban legend? I will leave you to decide, but I would love to hear any of your stories!
Trove – Advertiser Nov 1953
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Photo artwork: copyright Alison Oborn, Adelaide Haunted Horizons 2023
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Written by Kag Allwood
Paranormal Investigator, Tour Guide and Blogger