Norman Huon - the Wodonga boy who never made it home

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Norman Farquhar Bruce Huon left to fight with the Australian Light Horse aboard HMAT Mongolia on 11 July 1916. A month after his arrival in Egypt he was transferred from the 8th Light Horse Regiment to the Imperial Camel Corps. The Corps was formed in January 1916 in response to the revolt of pro-Turkish tribesmen in Egypt’s Western Desert.

The Imperial Camel Corps had a rough reputation, partly due to Australian battalion commanders using it as an avenue to offload some their more difficult characters.

In late 1916, however, the Imperial Camel Corps were transferred from the Western Desert — where British commanders had gained an appreciation for their fighting qualities — to the Sinai Desert to take part in operations against the Turkish army who were blocking the route to Palestine.

As a Lance Corporal in the 3rd Australian Camel Battalion, Norman Huon fought with Major General Harry Chauvel's ANZAC Mounted Division in the Battle of Magdhabaon 23 December 1916.

Sadly, only five months after leaving Australian shores, he was killed in this battle, his first major engagement. His commanding officer Colonel J R ‘Rex’ Hall wrote:

“Corporal Huon’s tragic end should never have occurred. He was detailed for duty with the ‘LED’ Camel that is behind the firing line. He pleaded with me to let him go into the firing line, claiming that as a reinforcement he had not had the opportunity the others had. Against my better judgement I consented. Never Again!”

The battle was intense, lasting 8 hours, and just as Chauvel ordered his force to withdraw the battle was won through a resolute bayonet assault by the 1st Light Horse Brigade.

Australian soldier firing a machine gun

Australian soldier with a Lewis MK 1 machine gun in action at the Battle of Magdhaba, 23 December 1916.
Source: Unknown Australian Official Photographer, Australian War Memorial, collection P00812.011.

Combined with the success at Rafa, on 9 January 1917, this action opened the way for the final expulsion of the Turks from Sinai.

Lance Corporal Norman Huon had strong roots in the Wodonga district. His grandfather Paul Huon and granduncle Charles gave the name ‘Wodonga’ to the stock run they took up in the district in 1836. His father William built the homestead ‘De Kerilleau’ in the 1870s at the foot of Huon’s Hill in Wodonga, and his mother, Florence, was a descendent of the famous Australian explorer, Hamilton Hume.

Lance Corporal Norman Huon’s personal effects were returned to his mother in 1917, however, as he had no known grave his name was inscribed on the Memorial to the Missing, erected in Jerusalem Cemetery.

Portrait photo of Norman Farquhar Bruce Huon, formerly 8th Australian Light Horse Regiment and later 3rd Australian Camel Battalion.

Norman Farquhar Bruce Huon, formerly 8th Australian Light Horse Regiment and later 3rd Australian Camel Battalion.
Source: Unknown Australian Official Photographer, Australian War Memorial, collection H06509.

There is a plaque in his memory in Albury’s Botanical Gardens not far from the memorial to his famous ancestor, Hamilton Hume.

The story of Lance Corporal Norman Huon is just one of many about Australian servicemen and women.  Their legacy is remembered in the Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience which is visiting the Wodonga Sports and Leisure Centre until 10 September 2015. Entry is free but bookings are essential.