Born in 1878 in Stornoway, the capital of the remote Isle of Lewis, Western Hebrides in Scotland, Norman took the Queen’s shilling and served as a drummer boy in the Boer War at just 12 years of age. He also served with the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders in the British Army.
Craig doesn’t know when Norman emigrated to Australia but he was working on the overland telegraph through South Australia and the Northern Territory before World War I. And so one hundred and three years ago today, on 1 October 1914, Private Norman McLeod enlisted in the 16th Battalion AIF in Adelaide, service number 1305. He was now 36 years old.
Norman was wounded at Gallipoli by a gunshot wound to the chest on 3 May 1915. After recovering in England he transferred to the 48th Battalion on 3 March 1916. He met Catherine in England and got married in 1916 and was courtmartialled for being AWOL on 14 March 1916. Perhaps that was when they got married? Certainly every service record I have seen for enlisted men shows them being AWOL at least once if not more times. So this was not unusual. Many were wounded in one battle, only to recover and be sent back to be wounded again. And sometimes, again!
Norman then saw action on the Western Front at Bullecourt. Although at first presumed dead, one of his battalion sent a Red Cross card saying Norman was wounded and left alive in a German pillbox when they evacuated. Norman was taken prisoner by the Germans on 11 April 1917 at Riencourt, and interred at Gelfilager, Limburg.
Here is an extract from Australian Battlefields in France WWI: http://www.anzacsinfrance.com/1917/
General Gough ordered Major General W. Holmes (who succeeded General Cox as commander of the Australian 4th Division to attack German positions east of Bullecourt on April 10 with the assistance of tanks.
By the jumping off time of the attack, the tanks had not arrived and the attack was cancelled. Luckily, the advanced Australian troops, lying in wait for the commencement of actions were able to withdraw under the cover of a snowstorm. General Haig now ordered the attack to commence at 4.30am April 11, 1917.
By the start of the attack only 3 tanks had arrived to assist the Australians. When engaged these tanks proved unreliable and too slow so the Australian proceeded without them. The tanks failed to even reach the wire and by 7am they were all burning. With no tanks or artillery the Australians fought their way to occupy sections of the Hindenburg Line, with parts of the Australian 4th Division occupying the Hindenburg Line without artillery assistance. They sent up flares asking for artillery support on Reincourt, 1.5 kilometres from Bullecourt, a position from which they were receiving machine gun and rifle fire. However, the support failed to arrive and the Australian 4th Brigade found themselves cut off by enemy shells, machine guns and counter attacking infantry. Incorrect reports had suggested that the attacks were successful and therefore artillery support was unnecessary. They had no option but to withdraw.
On the left flank of the Australian front, closer to Bullecourt, the 12th Brigade of the Australian 4th Division was also intensely engaged. German troops on either side of the Australian 48th Battalion and a portion of the Australian 47th Battalion worked their way behind the Australians. This now meant the Australians were completely surrounded. Under Captain A.E. Leane, the men of the Australian 48th attacked and captured the trench to their rear. Now artillery from the 5th Army began to fall, but it fell on the Australians. Again, there was no option left but to withdraw.
The battle had lasted 10 hours, with shooting ceasing at about 2 pm. The 4th Brigade took 3,000 men into battle and sustained causalities of 2,339. The 12th Brigade took 2,000 into battle and lost 950. Part of these casualties included 28 officers and 1,142 men captured, by far the most prisoners taken in a single battle during the whole war. The reason for this was the fact that the attack by the Australian 4th Division had actually breached the Hindenburg line but been left isolated and unsupported by inadequate artillery fire.
This perfectly explains how Craig’s grandfather came to be left behind when the Australians pulled back. No one liked leaving men behind and Normans’ mates were no exception.
Somehow this tough old soldier from a remote Scottish island survived his wounds and being a POW. He demobbed as a corporal in 1919. He and Catherine had one daughter, Catherine, Craig’s mother born in 1921, just like my mother. After the war Norman worked as a lighthouse keeper in South Australia for the rest of his life. Norman died in 1956 just three years before Craig was born. Lest we forget!