• Robert Charles Norman

Army / Flying Corps
  • 21st Australian Infantry Battalion
  • 6th Brigade
  • Private

To select multiple units, brigades and ranks, hold the ctrl or shift key on your keyboard and select your options

  • 1914–1915 Star
  • British War Medal
  • Victory Medal
  • Birth

    Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

  • Enlistment - WW1

    Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Stories and comments
    • Letter from Pte R.C. Norman in regard to the Southland saga
    • Posted by FrevFord, Thursday, 25 September 2014

    THE HERALD, Tue Nov 23, 1915: FIVE SHIPS TO RESCUE MEN SEASICK IN BOAT The following letter has been received by Mr C. Norman J.P. of Moreland road, East Coburg, from his son, Robert Charles Norman, aged 25. He is a private in the 21st Battalion, 6th Brigade. September 5, 1915 Lemnos Island – On SS [censored] “We left port on Monday evening expecting to get here on Thursday. We zigzagged our course all the way, and kept a good lookout for submarines. Everything went well till Thursday morning, when we had just cleaned our rifles and were going to fall in for a bit of instruction. About 5 to 10am we were struck by an Austrian torpedo. She struck us in No. 2 hold, just in front of the bridge. Luckily, the hold was full of coal, and that had a lot to do with the saving of the ship. I saw the coal and water fly up into the air about 30ft. “We dropped our guns, and rushed downstairs for lifebelts, which were lying on the beds. Talk about shock – we nearly dropped with fright, but soon recovered our nerves, and went to our boat stations on deck, which we were shown the day before. Charlie and I stuck together, and when we arrived on deck one boat was full and lowered. When it reached the water it turned over, and they all fell into the sea, which had a good swell on at the time. About five of them climbed back on to the top of the boat and clung there. The next boat was let down by only one end, and shot most of the chaps into the sea. That was enough for me. “We took off our boots, putties, and tunics, and went astern, where we threw over some of the hatchway and slid down a rope to them. We paddled away a bit from the ship, which we though might sink at any minute. We passed by plenty of boats, but they would not pick us up. Talk about being shipwrecked. I had read about it, but never thought I would ever be in one. We were on our rafts for about an hour, and were getting pretty cold. We had a job to keep together, and were drifting apart all the time. I never gave up hope, and kept my head all the while. It was everyone for himself. FORTY IN CANVAS BOAT. “At last I decided to swim to a boat about 150 yards away. I had a lifebelt on, so struck out, and at last reached it. It seemed like a year before I got there. I was a bit tired, but soon recovered, and started baling out the water with my hat. The chaps were sick all over the place and helpless: there were 40 of us in a canvas boat. We were in her for about three hours before we got picked up by the [censored]. She came from Lemnos, and did 28 knots an hour. My word, I think every man prayed when we could see her coming. There were five ships who came and rescued us. The navy ship had her steam cutters out, and towed us to their ship. “When the chaps in our boat saw the cutter coming to us they lost their heads, and stood up and shouted and waved their arms. You can guess the result. We sank till we were up to our waists, and were like that for 10 minutes. I thought we would turn over, and was ready to jump out any second. We got hooked on in the end and were towed to the ship. My word, we weren’t sorry, either. We got into Lemnos about 5.30 tired out as you may guess. We moved up to the S.S. [censored], where we still are. BEACHED BY VOLUNTEERS. “The Southland held together marvelously, and a volunteer crew got her into the harbor and beached her. We can see masts from here. I forgot to mention that there was a ship anchored on the horizon when we got torpedoed, and instead of coming to our aid fled for her life. She must have been supplying this submarine. We heard yesterday that she was caught and sunk, but we don’t know how true it is. The 23rd reinforcements and New Zealand suffered most; they were just where she got struck. It was a miracle that there were not hundreds drowned. The submarine fired another torpedo, and missed us; it passed by the stern. If we had been struck by that one few would have lived to tell the tale. I got all my kit back, and have only to get a pair of boots and putties. The crew went back to their ship on Friday morning, and looted all the officers and soldiers’ kits, stealing razors, etc. I left my tunic on deck when I went over the side, and all they shook were my badges. MEN’S NERVES AFFECTED. “I was delighted to get the pocket Bible which mother gave me, also my diary. I lost my pipe and tobacco pouch when swimming; they got washed out of my pockets. It took us two or three days to get over the shock, and I am feeling fit and well again now. A lot of the chaps are still very bad; their nerves are gone. Some of the worst cases went back to Alexandria by hospital ship tonight.