Westgarthtown & WWI





Norman Albert Groening



Norman Albert Groening. Photo: Australian
War Memorial.
Norman Albert Groening (1898-1917) was born at Newport, Victoria on 17 March 1898, the son of Frederick Adolph and Laura Alma (née Rathnow) Groening who had married at Ballarat in 1887 and moved to Newport.

Norman’s grandfather Julius Groening, from Bernburg in Sachsen-Anhalt, had arrived in Australia aboard the Alfred in 1850 and was an original settler at Westgarthtown. In 1853, however, he sold his 70 acre farm at there to Christian Kurtzmann and moved to the goldfields, first at Ballarat, then Bendigo. In 1863 Julius married Marie Wilhelmina Junge from Hannover at Castlemaine and practiced as a chemist at Bendigo until his death there in 1871. His widow continued the business and her son Frederick and granddaughter Hilda also became chemists.

Norman attended Newport State School and Williamstown Grammar School. He was working as a clerk with the Victorian Railways when he applied to enlist at Melbourne on 17 July 1915. He gave his religion as Methodist and age as 18, although he was still only 17.  He was accepted on 19 July and after training with the 77th Company from 26 July to 22 November, he attended the Signal School until 20 December when he was posted to the 13th Reinforcements, 8th Battalion, Private, No. 4344, 2nd Infantry Brigade.

On 29 December 1915, he embarked aboard the Demosthenes and arrived in Egypt on 31 January 1916. On 31 March he was taken on strength of the 14th Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade at Serapeum, then left for Marselles on 1 June, where he arrived on 8 June 1916.

Norman served with the 14th Battalion in France until April 1917. By then a Lance-Corporal, he received a gunshot wound to his right arm and was captured at Riencourt on 11 April 1917 in an attack on the Hindenburg Line during the first Battle of Bullecourt. He was one of over a thousand Australians taken prisoner by the Germans. First recorded as missing, but soon reported to be a Prisoner of War, he was interned at Gefangenenlager, at Dulmen in Westphalia, Germany. By postcard dated 1 September 1917, he advised he he had been transferred to ‘Münster Lager 111 – arrived on 26.8.17 and at present in good health‘.

In December 1917 he was admitted to hospital at Hagen in Westphalia but the reason is not recorded. Following the Armistice on 11 November 1918, he was repatriated to England, arriving at Hull on 7 December 1918. He left England on 5 March 1919 aboard the Nevasa and arrived back in Melbourne on 25 April 1919. He was discharged from the AIF on 9 June 1919.

On 7 June 1928 aged 30, he joined the Royal Australian Air Force (No. 1405), after over 13 years with the Victorian Railways. He then had a wife Ivy (née Peevor) and one son. In 1933 he was an Aircraftman Class 1 serving in the Seaplane Squadron at Point Cook and lived at Ascot Vale. Norman was discharged from the RAAF on 6 June 1934 on completion of his six-year term of service. Ivy died in 1935 aged 32 and Norman on 27 October 1973 aged 75.