The beginning of 1942 brought unexpected news for Norman Hunter. The young 19-year-old was in the first year of his accountancy studies when he received his papers and was called up on 2nd January. When he informed his boss, Mr Wilson, that he would soon become Private Hunter, his employer replied that he was soon to become Private Wilson.
Norman reported to the Drill Hall at North Sydney and after a brief medical examination, he found himself heading to Narellan for his initial training.
Norman’s family had an association with military service. His father had been a runner with the Royal Scots Regiment at Fromelles. It was there that he first met these strong, tall suntanned Aussie soldiers as he was guiding them to the frontlines. They had said to him, “Don’t worry Wee Jock. We’ll get the Hun for you.”
Private Hunter travelled with his unit to Brisbane, then to Toogoolawah and later to Esk where he joined the HQ Ist Australian Corps Transport and Supply. They were transported to Cairns and then up the Gillies Highway to Mareeba on the Atherton Tablelands for further training with over 20 000 troops and military personal.
The sobering news of the bombing of Darwin brought an understanding that they were all moving closer to the warfront. Shortly afterwards Norman reported to the Mareeba airport and was put onto a DC3 aircraft. From one of the aircraft windows he found out that he was flying over Port Moresby and towards the Owen Stanley Mountain Range.
“As we crossed PNG, we flew through a gap in the mountains where enemy fighter planes had a reputation for picking off transport planes. The pilot put the plane into a power dive and after we landed at Dobodura, I couldn’t hear for about a fortnight.”
Norman worked with his battalion on Dobodura to manage supplies, load ships and try to avoid becoming ill with malaria. He was sent to Lae aboard an Infantry Landing Craft. During the trip the heavy seas meant they mistook the route and sailed well beyond Lae.
They landed on a tiny beach that was surrounded by impenetrable jungle. If the enemy aircraft had spotted them they would have been in trouble as they were “sitting ducks on the exposed beach”. Luckily the tide turned and they were able to get the ILC off the beach and back to Lae by evening.
The next months were spent working in hot, tropical conditions loading supplies and ammunition, burying bodies and feeding the troops. There was the constant worry of disease and rats were everywhere. Norman had to transport a group of six jeeps to Finschhafen and stayed there for a week as the front was at nearby Sattelberg.
“I was just a kid, but I became a man overnight. You just had to cope with it as best you could. Whatever you were told to do, you just got in and did it.”
Norman then had to deal with a tragic situation back home. “News came through that my mother was dying so I was given a fortnight’s compassionate leave to return to Sydney.”
Without having time to grieve over the loss of his mother, he was sent back up to Townsville where he boarded the Troopship, USS General Buttner, heading through enemy waters to PNG.
The conditions on board the ship were very poor. They were kept in almost total darkness for days in cramped conditions five decks below and sleeping on wire bed frames. One day there was a tremendous explosion. Everyone thought it must have been a torpedo and rushed for the stairs in a panic. A few seconds later there was another explosion and then silence. The ship carried on as usual.
“Thirty years later I found out, by accident that the gunners, who thought they were pretty good with their shooting on land, wanted to try some target practice at sea. They tied their eighteen pounders to the deck and were aiming at a packing case they had thrown overboard.”
For the remaining war years, Norman was stationed on Morotai, an island in the Dutch East Indies. He worked to support the Australian troops as they attacked Balikpapan, Tarakan and North Labuan.
One night the soldiers got the news that the Americans had landed bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Yanks got very excited. Our blokes just said, ”You beaut! The bloody thing’s over so we can go home.”
Norman was eventually flown home to Sydney and stationed at Victoria Barracks until he received his discharge papers. He resumed his accountancy studies and became a Company Secretary. He married and had a family of three children.
Norman didn’t share his wartime experiences with his family.
“I could never bring myself to take part in the Anzac Day March until one Sunday I had a phone call from one of my unit mates saying that I had been AWL for 46 years.
“I started attending reunions and participated in the Anzac Day March from that year onwards until 2014. The first time I marched my wife was waiting outside the Queen Victoria Building in George Street. She was so proud to see me marching that I felt as if there was a ray of gold coming from her to me as I passed by. She was so thrilled to see me and was the proudest woman in the world.”