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Remembering Corporal Norman Womal MID

© Neville Case
Platoon Sergeant
2 platoon A Company 1st Tour

Author: Neville Case

On Monday the 31st August 2009, my wife and I stood gathered at the Bowen Cenotaph along with the family, relatives and friends of Corporal Norman Womal, a 5RAR Tiger who was Killed in Action in the Republic of South Vietnam on the 17th October 1966. A large number of veterans and the local public were also in attendance.

The Womal family with Norm's Medals and citation The reason for the ceremony was a special presentation of replicas of Norm's service medals encased with a copy of the citation for his posthumously awarded 'Mentioned in Despatches' to his immediate family, who had never received or sighted his medals or citation. This was not common knowledge and the fact was only discovered when Norm's niece, Louisa Forbes of Melbourne tried to find out more about her uncle's service history.

Two 5RAR Tigers, Michael von Berg MC and Jock Letford took up a collection and procured copies of all Norm's Medals which were presented to the family by 5RAR Association elder Colonel Mike Dennis. A letter from Michael von Berg MC, who was Norm's platoon commander in Vietnam was read out by Bowen RSL Branch president, Brian Schwartz.

Both Norm and I were born and bred in the North Queensland town of Bowen and we knew each other as good friends do.

Norm's family was of Island ancestry. They were, and still are a very popular family, very well respected and participate in all aspects of small town life.

Norm was born a twin. His twin brother Tom, tragically died as the result of an accident early in his life.

I knew Norm at school, on the sports field and at our workplace. A more friendly, easy going man you would never meet.

While attending the ceremony in Bowen my thoughts went back to what I knew of Norm's time in the regular army and my memory of the lead-up to that fatal day in 1966 on 'Operation Queanbeyan'.

I had joined the Australian Regular Army late in 1958 and Norm joined early in 1959. We met one another again at the Infantry Corps Training Centre at Ingleburn and after completing corps training Norm was sent to 1RAR and off to Malaya. I was just 18 years and was posted to 2RAR at Holsworthy.

We had several chance meetings over the next five to six years but never served in the same unit until 5RAR was formed and warned for service in the South Vietnam, when I was posted from the Airborne Platoon at the RAAF Base at Williamtown to join the new 5RAR as a platoon sergeant. I found Norm as a Corporal in Anti-Tank Platoon.

We saw each other fairly often until we arrived in South Vietnam where nobody moved much to socialise in early 1966.

I do remember the second last time I spoke to him; we were up at the village of Binh Ba and a re-supply by vehicle came up from Nui Dat and Norm alighted and sought me out. He had come to rejoin his platoon after being in Vung Tau to see Henry 'Buddie' Lea a friend of ours and another Bowen Lad who had been wounded at the Battle of Long Tan. I remember he told me that they had patched Henry up enough to send him home. We were both very happy for Buddie's survival and to be going home.

The very next time I spoke with Norm was on that fateful day, 17th October and although it was a long time ago, I will try to pass on the events of that day as I remember them.

The battalion was moving from their task of holding open a section of route 15 for some American Reinforcement convoys to travel safely along. The move for 5RAR was a return to the 'Warbies' or the Warburton Mountains the name given by the diggers to the Nui Thi Vai, Nui Toc Tien mountain complex. The nickname being derived from the popular song, regularly played on the US Armed Forces Radio.

If memory serves me correctly I was acting platoon commander of 2 Platoon. A Company at the time was to return to the area of the base of the mountain where a track led up to a pagoda near the crest of Nui Thi Vai. This led to some concern among the troops as we had been down over this area during Operation Canberra, prior to the move out to Route 15. While on 'Canberra' the evidence of enemy activity and occupation of this area was very obvious by pits, fresh diggings, caves, tracks, spider holes and footprints. We also picked up a Buddhist monk in a cave, he had a large amount of rice cooking
far to much for his own use. He also had bundles of female and male civilian clothing. He said that he did not know who we were, but through our Vietnamese interpreter he said that he had heard of Australia but thought all Australians to be coloured people. You could smell the enemyyou could just feel their presence; why they didn't make contact will never be known.

I believe the order of march in our sub-unit was A Company, followed by Anti-Tank Platoon and then Battalion HQ. My platoon was in the lead of A Company and we were following a sandy track as the axis of the advance., when the lead section stopped and signalled me forward to a track junction. The strangest thing was a sign, dressed timber, secured to a tree, which in good English simply stated "get another way." We considered this a warning and reported back to our OC, Major Peter Cole who was coming under pressure from BHQ to keep moving.

Moving on we discovered a fair-sized enemy camp, well built. While clearing this camp an A Company soldier tripped a booby trap.

At this point I must stop and clear up a point that has concerned me for many years. On page 141 of Robert J. O'Neill's book 'Vietnam Task', the incident of the booby trap explosion states that "it exploded without harming anyone". In fact two A Company soldiers were wounded. I cannot recall one soldier's name but the other man is 5RAR's current webmaster Corporal Ted Harrison. We were told to secure the area and clear a chopper pad to get the wounded out.

As BHQ wanted to push on to the summit of Nui Thi Vai, Anti-Tank Platoon was pushed forward to take over our lead. Corporal Womal's section was up and knowing that A Company had recently been down the mountain he questioned me about the track in relation to the pagoda. I informed him of the obvious recent enemy occupation, the Buddhist monk and also the fact that we in our platoon thought they were still there and were forewarned. As they moved off I warned him to be careful and said when we get back to Nui Dat to contact me as I had several copies of the 'Bowen Independent' (The local home town newspaper) I would pass onto him. That was the last conversation I had with Norm Womal as he led Anti-Tank Platoon and BHQ through our company and up Warburton Mountain. We were not to know that the words of the first line of the song would apply to Norm
"They say don't go on Warburton Mountain."

The country lost a good man―The army lost a good soldier―All who knew him lost a good friend; when Corporal Norman Womal was lost on 17th October 1966.

Rest in peace old mate.

Neville Case.

Corproal Norman J. Womal MID
15170 Corporal Norman J. Womal
9 February 1938 - 17 October 1966



Webmaster: To read the citation accompanying the award of Mentioned in Dispatches to
Cpl. Womal (Posthumous). »Click Here
  To read the article of the presentation of Norm's medals to his family »Click Here

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