Norman Rees Willacott MID

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Norman Rees Willacott MID
Willacott Norman Rees 1.jpg
Personal Information
Date of Birth 19 Sep 1916
Place of Birth Cardiff, Wales
Death 30 Sep 1990
Place of Death Esperance, Western Australia
Age at Enlistment 23 years,
Description 5'9" (1.75m) tall ; ; fair complexion ; grey eyes ; fair hair
Occupation Miner
Religion Church of England
Address Forrestdale, Western Australia
Next of Kin Mother , Mrs. Olive Willacott
Military Information
Reg Number WX693
Date of Enlistment 30 Jul 1940
Rank Private
Unit/Formation 2/28th Australian Infantry Battalion
Military Movement
1st Departure from Australia
Journey Dates 16 Apr 1941 ‒ 14 May 1941
Transport Details SS Île de France Convoy US 10 Fremantle to Port Tewfik via Ceylon
Journey Dates Aug 1942 ‒ Aug 1942
Transport Details unknown Libya to Italy
Journey Dates 21 Jun 1945 ‒ 22 Jun 1945
Transport Details plane Italy to UK
Return to Australia
Journey Dates 25 Jul 1945 ‒ 7 Sep 1945
Transport Details SS Mauretania England to Sydney
Journey Dates 11 Oct 1945 ‒ 16 Oct 1945
Transport Details SS Strathmore Melbourne to Fremantle
Post War Details
Fate POW 26/27 Aug 1942
Awarded MID
Returned to Australia
External Monument(s) The Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial Ballarat, Victoria
Medals 1939-45 Star
Africa Star
Italy Star
Defence Medal
War Medal 1939-45
Australian Service Medal 1939-45
Mentioned in Despatches

Pre War

War Service

Joined at the Claremont Recruit Reception Depot on 30 Jul 1940 and was identified initially as a General Reinforcement. He was sent to the Melville Training Depot on 2 Aug 1940 and on 2 Sep 1940 moved again, this time to the 3rd Depot Battalion at Northam. On 14 Jan 1941 he was transferred to the 13th Australian Infantry Training Battalion where he was AWOL from Midnight 3 Feb 1941 until 10:00pm on 6 Feb 1941. Awarded 7 days Confined to Barracks and extra duties, he also forfeited 3 days pay (15/- or $1.50). Norman was granted pre-embarkation leave from 9 to 18 Mar 1941, and returned later than allowed leading to being charged with AWOL again from 9:00am 18 Mar 1941 until 6:00am on 19 Mar 1941. Norman was admonished and forfeited 1 days pay.

On 16 Apr 1941 he embarked for the Middle East on SS Île de France with Convoy US 10. Mid voyage the convoy split and SS Île de France was to spend 10 days moored off Colombo, waiting for congestion in Port Tewfik harbour to clear before sailing there. On arrival they spent another two days waiting to disembark their passengers which eventually occurred on 14 May 1941. On arrival he joined the 24th Australian Infantry Training Battalion until he was transferred to the AIF (ME) Staging Camp on 17 Jun 1941. On 19 Jul 1941 Norman was taken on strength by the 2/28th Australian Infantry Battalion at Tobruk. The 2/28th participated in rotational defensive duties, manning parts of the Red Line, working on the Blue Line, and aggressively patrolling no man's land. The Red Line was Tobruk's outer line of defence and was a series of concrete pillboxes forming a semicircle around the town. The Blue Line was the second line of defence.

In Sep and Oct 1941 the majority of Australians were evacuated by sea. The 2/28th was evacuated on 23 Sep 1941 and sailed to Alexandria, from where it was transferred to the camp at Kilo 89 in Palestine. The brigade later moved to Syria and then Lebanon for rest, training, and garrison duties.

By July 1942 the war in North Africa had become critical for the British forces. The Germans and Italians had reached El Alamein in Egypt, about seventy miles from Alexandria. Consequently, the 9th Division was rushed to the Alamein "box" and held the northern sector for almost four months, as the British Eighth Army was reinforced for a new offensive.

The 2/28th Battalion reached the Alamein front on 10 July and the division attacked a week later. Just after midnight on 27 July, the 2/28th attacked Ruin Ridge and by 1:00 am they were on the feature. But things were starting to go wrong: the Germans were attacking the Australians from rear positions; three company commanders were wounded; and many of the vehicles that should have brought forward ammunition were destroyed or damaged. Increasingly cut off, an attempt by British tanks to relieve the battalion was abandoned after 22 vehicles were "knocked out". Shortly before 10:00am enemy tanks began moving in on the Australians from three directions. 'A' company was overrun and the battalion's commander had little choice but to surrender. The Australians were rounded up and marched through the British artillery barrage, resulting in more casualties, as they moved behind the German lines. Over 500, including Norman were taken into custody by the German forces.

Norman was reported to be missing believed to be a POW, and this was confirmed on 4 Nov 1942. He was interned at Camp 106 in Italy. At some point he escaped from his POW camp prior to the conclusion of hostilities in Italy. On 22 Jun 1945 he deplaned in the UK as a recovered POW and was granted efficiency pay. On 25 Jul 1945 he embarked on B 17 for Australia, disembarking in Sydney on 7 Sep 1945. On 8 Oct 1945 he was sent to the 107th Australian Convalescent Depot in Ballarat from 8 - 10 Oct 1945 when he embarked on the SS Strathmore in Melbourne for Fremantle, disembarking on 16 Oct 1945. On arrival in WA he was sent to the 109th Australian Convalescent Depot at Melville for rehabilitation treatment before being discharged on 12 Nov 1945.

Post War

At the time of his discharge, Norman's address was Railway road, Kenwick.

On 13 Mar 1947 the authorities resolved that he be also granted the Italy Star by virtue of the service he rendered by escaping from captivity, and that he had been Mentioned in Despatches[1][2]


SS Île de France was a member of Convoy US 10, which also included SS Mauretania, SS Nieuw Amsterdam, and HMT Queen Elizabeth.

  1. London Gazette dated 23 Jan 1947, page 442 position 18
  2. Commonwealth of Australia Gazette dated 20 Feb 1947, page 401 position 24.

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