Remembrance Day

Letters by Norman McDonald offer link to past for grandson Norman Sims

By Myles Peterson

Shepparton’s Norman Sims never knew his grandfather and namesake Norman McDonald but keeps the World War I soldier’s memory alive through stories, letters and artefacts.

The pride of that collection is a series of letters written by Private McDonald, his brother Hugh and sister Effie, all of whom served during the war.

Their mother Mary McDonald, who died at the age of 99 in 1948, saw each of her three children serve.

Private Hugh McDonald died at the Battle of Polygon Wood on September 26, 1917.

Effie McDonald worked in France as a nurse.

‘‘She writes in her letters how they tried to stabilise their wounds to get them well enough to get over the channel to England,’’ Mr Sims said.

‘‘Most of the flesh wounds they could heal, but stomach or anything like this were much more serious.’’

In 1915, Private Norman McDonald enlisted at the age of 42 and served at Gallipoli and across France, fighting first against Turkish and later German forces.

Private Norman McDonald.

‘‘He was very patriotic,’’ Mr Sims said.

‘‘He started off in the 23rd Battalion in Gallipoli and when he was transferred back to France they transferred him to the 5th Battalion in the 5th Division.’’

During the famous Battle of St Quentin Canal, Private Norman McDonald was with a mixed group of Australian and American soldiers who broke through the Hindenburg Line.

According to his own account he captured 37 prisoners, 28 of them with nothing but a box of matches.

But his bravery and service brought heartache and hardship to his family.

Along with the loss of his brother, Mr McDonald suffered the loss of his farm, and his wife and children were forced into poverty.

‘‘He was very patriotic to leave a wife and three young children to fight for his country,’’ Mr Sims said.

‘‘When he came back, they’d taken his farm off him. The mortgagees did that because he wasn’t able to make the payments because he was only getting five bob a day — that could barely keep his family fed.’’

Another parcel of land was granted when Mr McDonald returned, about 260ha near Saltlake in the Mallee where the family raised wheat and sheep.

The war left the legacy of a rasping cough — the lingering effects of inhaling mustard gas — and reportedly shrapnel worked its way out of Mr McDonald’s scalp and would fall out when he combed his hair.

Mr McDonald died in 1943, never knowing his grandson — Mr Sims — who was born shortly afterwards, but Mr McDonald has spoken down through the years via his rich collection of letters, excerpts of which are reprinted here today.


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