Norman Francis Sullivan
- Born: 3 Mar 1897, Narrandera,,New South Wales,Australia
- Died: 4 Oct 1918, KIA WW1, The Somme, France at age 21
- BuriedMale: 1918, Tincourt New British Cemetery, France
Norman enlisted in the AIF in Liverpool, New South Wales, on the 26th July 1915 and was assigned the Service Number 2151 and the rank of Private. He was just 18 years & 4 months old, occupation Draper. He was not married, and his next of kin was recorded as his father, then resident in 26 (?) Larmer St, Narrandera. In a letter dated 15th July 1915, his father provided permission for Norman to "join the Australian Expeditionary Forces and to fight for his King & Country at home or abroad until the Military authorities dismiss him".
Norman was just 5 feet 3 3/4 inches tall, weighing 112 lbs with fair complexion and grey eyes. A photograph of Norman in his uniform and standing beside his rifle with bayonet affixed reveals that his gun was almost as tall as he was. His hair was fair and religion Roman Catholic. He was assigned to the 5th Reinforcements of the 20th Battalion. on the 9th September 1915, and embarked on the Argyllshire 30th September 1915.
It's not clear precisely when he arrived in Egypt but on the 29 November 1915 he was admitted to hospital in Abbassia (a garrison in Cairo, Egypt) with the Mumps, being discharged on the 31 December 1915. Up until this time the 20th Battalion had been playing a defensive role in Gallipoli and were responsible for the defence of Russell's Top. On the 19th January 1916 he was assigned to C Coy of the 20th Battallion in Telelkebir, Egypt where his Unit was now training in preparation for deployment to the Western Front. On the 18th March 1916 he embarked with his Unit on the HMT Ingoma at Alexandria bound for Francet, disembarking one week later on the 25th March at Marseilles.
After further training in Egypt, the 20th Battalion proceeded to France. It entered the trenches of the Western Front for the first time in April 1916 and in the following month had the dubious honour of being the first Australian battalion to be raided by the Germans. The 20th took part in its first major offensive around Pozières between late July and the end of August 1916. After a spell in a quieter sector of the front in Belgium, the 2nd Division, which included the 5th Brigade, came south again in October. The 20th Battalion provided reinforcements for the attack near Flers between 14 and 16 November, launched in conditions that Charles Bean described as the worst ever encountered by the AIF.
In 1917, the 20th was involved in the follow-up of German forces after their retreat to the Hindenburg Line, and was one of four battalions to defeat a counter-stroke by a German force, almost five times as strong, at Lagnicourt. The Battalion took part in three major battles before the year was out, second Bullecourt (3-4 May) in France, and Menin Road (20-22 September) and Poelcappelle (9-10 October) in Belgium.
Source: AWM Website http://www.awm.gov.au/units/unit_11207.asp
Clearly with an understanding of the dangers he faced after more than a year of ferocious fighting Norman wrote a Will on the 13 July 1917 in which he made his mother his sole beneficiary, her address being recorded as Audley St, Narrandera.
Norman reported to the Field ambulance suffering from Scabies on 27 December 1917 in Belgium and following treatment he rejoined his Battalion on 3rd January 1918. On the 5th January he took leave in England, rejoining his unit on the 24 January 1918. It was, no doubt, a much needed respite but just a small window of R&R before the Germans launched their Spring offensive and then began their gradual but bloody retreat.
The spring of 1918 brought a major German offensive. The 20th Battalion was one of many Australian battalions rushed to stop it, and it encountered some particularly severe fighting when ordered to attack at Hangard Wood on 7 April. With the German Army's last desperate offensive defeated, the 20th participated in the battles that pushed it ever closer to defeat: Amiens on 8 August, the legendary attack on Mont St Quentin on 31 August, and the forcing of the Beaurevoir Line around Montbrehain on 3 October. Montbrehain was the battalion's last battle of the war.
Source: AWM Website http://www.awm.gov.au/units/unit_11207.asp
At around lunchtime on 1 October 1918 the 20th Battalion arrived at Hargicourt in the Somme region of northern France, having marched in on busy, slippery, muddy roads from Villers Faucon that morning. The Unit War diaries [http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/AWM4/23/37/] reveal that there was...
No shelter whatsoever for the troops who had to dig in and make shelter for themselves. All men were issued with Talcom Powder [sic] for feet and a clean change of socks.
At 6:45pm the order was given for the Battalion to move to the front lines in the village of Estrees. They arrived at 11:45pm. The 2 October was relatively quiet as the Battalion Commanders began making preparations for the attack planned for the next day. In the early afternoon the C.O. made arrangements for a hot stew to be delivered to the front lines, in addition to the normal rations, at 3:00am the next morning, 3 October, and then attended a meeting where he received orders for the attack planned for the next day on the Beaurevoir Line. The orders were communicated to his Company Commanders in meetings held that evening.
At around 10:30pm light rain started falling and the enemy began shelling the area. At about 1:30am
Hot stew arrived on pack mules and was issued to troops. It was greatly appreciated.
By 2:30am the 20th was subjected to heavy shelling from the German forces for several hours:
Enemy heavy shelling our course with H.E. and mustard gas shells, making it necessary for the troops to wear Small Box Respirators whilst on the move. This caused great inconvenience to the men on account of the darkness of the night and the roughness of the ground.
At 4:15am the 20th reached their designated positions alongside the 19th Battalion at Estrees.
The attack commenced at 6:03am with a protective artillery barrage providing cover for the troops who set forth a few minutes later, just as a storm began to break. The attack proceeded well but by 8:00am the 19th Battalion were meeting fierce resistance and were not making progress. At 9:30am the C.O. of the 20th received a report that "C" Company, of which Norman was a member, was meeting solid resistance in front of the village of Beaurevoir. Orders were despatched telling them to hold the valley they were in.
The Beaurevoir Line was the last of a series of German defensive lines known collectively by the Allies as the Hindenburg Line. It was approximately eight kilometres to the rear of the main Hindenburg Line and consisted of thick barbed wire entanglements and well-sited machine and anti-tank gun bunkers. The bulk of the trenches, however, were only partly dug. The original attack on the Hindenburg Line launched on 29 September had been intended to smash right through the Beaurevior Line as well, but had not succeeded in this objective. Along with the 46th British Division, the 2nd Australian Division was ordered to breakthrough the Beaurevoir Line on 3 October 1918. The Australians were to seize the village of Beaurevoir, and the British Montbrehain. The Australian attack was a success, but was stopped short of the village due to insecure flanks. The British captured Montbrehain, but were unable to retain it. After an ill-fated attempt to capture Beaurevoir on 4 October, the 6th Australian Brigade was launched against Montbrehain the next morning. The village was secure by the end of the day, but came at the expense 430 casualties - a cost regarded as excessively high for such a limited objective. The action at Montbrehain was the last battle fought by Australian infantry during the war.
Source: AWM website, https://www.awm.gov.au/units/event_125.asp
Sadly, Private Norman Sullivan was one of the many casualties of the battle for Beaurevoir on the 3rd October. He received a gunshot wound to the abdomen and died from his wounds on the next day in the 12th Casualty Clearing Station. Just over a month later the War was officially over. It's quite possible that Norman's family received news that the War was over before they learned that their son had been killed in that last battle fought by the Australian infantry.
Norman was buried at Tincourt Military Cemetery in Plot 5 Row D. Tincourt is a village about 7 kilometres east of Peronne and Tincourt New British Cemetery is on the west side of the village, just off the D199.
On the 6th May 1919, Norman's father, Frank, wrote to the Army seeking information about the whereabouts of Norman's personal effects which had not yet been returned to the family. A reply was forthcoming on the 10th May indicating that considerable delays had been experienced in forwarding personal belongings of members of the AIF due to lack of shipping space. Normans effects were subsequently returned on 16 July 1919 in 2 parcels and consisted of (first consignment):
"Post Cards, photos, wallet, note case, note book, Rosary (damaged), chain, 5 centimes" and
(second consignement, contents of a kit bag):
"Cards, 1 Devotional book, 2 Photos, Letters, Wallet".
On the receipt for the goods, signed by his mother and dated 24 July 1919 are the words "With thanks" and also "Someone must have got down on his Watch" indicating that this item was missing from the belongings.
Private Norman Sullivan was the recipient of the 1914/1915 Star, No. 17268; the British War Medal, No. 20634; and the Victory Medal, No. 20556.