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australian rowers profiles and history

Norman J Fegan

Barwon Rowing Club (VIC)

Norman Joseph Fegan was born in Geelong and when he enlisted was 21 years old, 5' 7', 9 st. 7 lbs., with brown eyes and brown hair. He had attended Central College in Geelong and worked as a clerk with Godfrey Hirst & Co. at the Excelsior Woollen Mills. He joined Barwon Rowing Club in 1912. Norman had seen previous service as a Sgt. Major with the Citizen Military Forces.

He enlisted on his 21st birthday, 2 September 1916, but his departure was delayed as the mill managers considered him essential to their work. On his last day at work he was presented with a silver plated safety razor and camp knife by the staff and a case of silver mounted pipes by the managers.

He embarked on 23 November 1916 as a Private in the 24th Battalion and arrived in England for training where he was hospitalised with severe bronchitis. He arrived in France in June 1917.

Norman was killed on 4 October 1917; the first day of the Battle of Broodseinde Ridge. The Australian troops were shelled heavily on their start line and a seventh of their number became casualties even before the attack began. When it did the attacking troops were confronted by a line of troops advancing towards them: the Germans had chosen the same morning to launch an attack of their own. The Australians forged on through the German assault waves and gained all their objectives along the ridge. It was not without cost, however. The Australian divisions suffered 6500 casualties. In the 24th Battalion 4 officers and 49 O/R's were killed, amongst them Norman.

His section leader wrote to his parents explaining the circumstances of his death: “Please accept my deepest sympathy on the death of your son, Norman. I was in charge of six men in the hop over. If anything happened to me, Norman would have had charge. He received a parcel the night before we went up the line, and all we boys shared in the good things, he intended writing himself, if he had a chance. We all took cover in a shell hole before we went over, waiting on our barrage, but strange to say Fritz was making an attack on us at the same time. He opened his barrage before us, and I never expected any of us to come out alive. We were all snuggled up to each other, as close as we could get, and every man, I am sure, put up a prayer that night. Two of my lads were hit during the time we were in the shell hole, and Norman was hit just when we got over the top. Death was instantaneous and if it's God's will, I would ask for nothing better than die to like him, going over the top. I was the only one to come out of the section that day. Norman's body was never recovered.

There were many close friendships between the Barwon members who enlisted: Albert Patten, who joined the club the same year as Norman, had the following notice inserted in The Geelong Advertiser:

A tribute of love to the memory of Corporal Norman Fegan, faithful comrade of Bert Pattern

The dawn is gently breaking
O'er France's distant shore;
Breaking gently on the grave
Of one we'll ne'er see more.

He sleeps not in his native land,
But under foreign skies;
Far away from those who love him
In a soldier's grave he lies.

Norman Joseph Fegan is commemorated at Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Belgium.

Karen O'Connor 2015

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