Driven by duty
From an early age, Norm White had his eyes on the sky. He grew up on a dairy farm, near Leongatha, in eastern Victoria, where aeroplanes were in short supply. But every time one flew over he and his family would rush outside to witness it—even in the middle of Christmas lunch! So when World War II came to Australian shores with the bombing of Darwin on 19 February 1942, Norm felt there was only one place for him—the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).
The 23-year-old was described as ‘clean, neat and respectful’ by his RAAF assessors, and went to war with a profound sense of duty. It wasn’t an easy transition from a quiet country life to the bustle of war-time Melbourne. In the stifling conditions of the Exhibition Buildings, Norm struggled with homesickness and cried himself to sleep on the first few nights. He longed for open space and refused to close the blinds at night—he wanted to see the moon and stars and wake to the day’s first light.
Norm trained as an electrician in Melbourne and was soon posted to air bases across southern Australia. But when it became clear he was destined for service beyond Australia Norm married his sweetheart, Mary Anderson, wearing his Air Force uniform. The newlyweds managed a fleeting honeymoon in Lorne before Norm embarked for Goodenough Island, New Guinea, with No. 14 Fighter Sector in June 1943.
He worked as part of the effort to repel Japanese forces following the battle of Goodenough Island the previous year. Bombing raids, seaward surveillance and submarine patrols were regular assignments for crew stationed at the base. But just months after his arrival, Norm was struck down by malaria. So severe was his illness that he thought he would die. He was bought back to Australia to recover.
Norm spent much of the next two months in hospital and was transferred to the East Sale RAAF base where he finished his service. Fortuitously, this meant he was close to home when he and Mary welcomed the birth of their first child. On his weekends off Norm would cycle the 125-kilometre journey home, which often took him more than six hours!
After his discharge on 11 December 1945, Norm and Mary raised their children on a dairy farm. They had a long and happy marriage. Norm was active in the local RSL and Legacy, and spent much of his later life giving advice, comfort and support to others.