Filtering by Tag: Norman Carson Letts (VX63740)

Norman Carson Letts (VX63740) 1922 – 2012

Added on by 2/29 Battalion.

Norm Letts was born in Wedderburn, where he was known from boyhood as 'Digger'. His father was the mail driver (horse and buggy), and 'Digger' milked cows for cocky farmers around Boort. He enlisted at 19 in September 1941, trained at Darley near Bacchus Marsh, at Bonegilla and at Queenscliff, before embarking on the Aquitania from Sydney. Arriving in Singapore on 10 January 1942, he became a 2/29th Battalion reinforcement, as part of C Company. After the surrender, and the march to Changi, Norm went into Singapore on work parties, including building the Japanese shrine at Bukit Timah. With F Force on the Thai-Burma Railway at Kami Songkurai in Thailand, Norm worked with Jack Coffey, 'a good bloke', and 17-year- old Bobby Harvey [Nancarrow], 'a good worker'. Other mates Norm recalled were Queenslander 'Snowy' Reid, and Doug Cameron and Gordon Wilson (both from Camperdown). Norm also was part of a six-man team on a pile driver sinking bridge poles. Cholera was the big killer: 'there was a big red-headed Queenslander got it. He was crook all right. He was a married bloke, four kids, and I abused him something terrible [to try to save him], but he said "I'll be dead in the morning, Norman." . . [And] he was dead in the morning.' Norm was at Hellfire Pass, where he survived beri-beri and Japanese brutality. 'Some [officers] tried, put it that way, they tried to get a bit less work out of you, but there wasn't much they could do. They'd stand up for you, but they copped their share [of bashing] then. They didn't miss out.' Back on Singapore Island, Norm dug tunnels at River Valley Road, but they were not permitted to timber them properly and there were many earth falls: 'a bloke we called "Goofy", he was a good bloke, as far as Japs went. He'd give us his dinner and go down the street and buy his own. He was the only one, old "Goofy".' When the war ended Norm and five mates crammed into an Austin and drove around Singapore. As for taking revenge on their tormenters, Norm decided, after looking at the young blokes in camp in Singapore, 'I couldn't hit an innocent bloke. They were only doing [to us] what they had been told [to do].....They were only kids. They were, they were only kids. I picked.....out one who'd given me a belting, but he was only young. I just couldn't hit him'.

Norm came home on the Largs Bay in October 1945. He went back to milking cows at Boort, then went to Barham, and returned to Wedderburn, cutting eucalyptus leaf for eucalyptus oil, then went shearing for 30 years. In 1946 Norm met Jessie, a telephonist at Wedderburn, and they married in 1948 when 'Digger' was working at the Barham brick works. 'You missed your mates for a fair while. That's when I got into Barham. There were a few of us working there, at the brick works.' Over the years, Norm and Jessie kept in contact with Norm's army mates, attending reunions in Tassie and Queensland, sometimes meeting them in Sydney, combining meetings with visits to their daughters in Sydney and Brisbane. 'When they'd get together,' Jessie recalled, 'then they'd talk about all the good times, not the bad times, the good times.'

When Marguerite spoke with Norm in August 2011, he and Jessie had been married 63 years, and Norm was 89: 'heading 90, I'll make 90'. And he did, passing away at 90 years of age at Bendigo Hospital, Victoria, on 16 September 2012. His funeral service was held at the RSL in Wedderburn.

John Lack