Part 1-World War Two
Australian Armour was well represented in WW Two, and indeed an Armoured Division was raised in Western Australia. However, as the war receded from Australia’s shores, the Division was broken up with units being sent to different places. The 2nd /6th Armoured Regiment distinguished itself in New Guinea, and a First Armoured Regiment did well during the latter stages of the war in Borneo.
Captain Norman Gerard “Boofhead” Whitehead- Military Cross.
Norman Whitehead served with the Light Horse before the war. He joined the 2nd AIF on the first of May 1941 being discharged on the 14th of August 1944. From the Light Horse, he was posted as a Captain to the 2nd/6th Armoured Regiment. As well as action at Milne Bay, Gona and Sanananda, he served at Buna winning his Military Cross. He was, at the time, commanding a composite Squadron (X Sqn.)
The CO, Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Hodgson, had decreed that, because of circumstance, each Squadron would be represented at the action. X Squadron was in support of the 2nd/9th Australian Infantry Battalion. While the forward elements of Whitehead’s squadron were dealing with Japanese bunkers, Norm took his tank over to the left hand company which had not been allocated armour support and had suffered a number of casualties.
Whitehead dealt with a bunker and turned his attention to the next, with his gunner’s sight fogged over. To see, he had to place his face quite close to a vision slit. As he did so, a Japanese soldier jumped onto the tank, placed the muzzle of his rifle to the vision slit and fired, knocking Whitehead into the belly of the tank. His gunner, undeterred by this fired a round into a palm tree, killing a Jap sniper. The tank withdrew to evacuate Norm (no mean feat! He was a big man, 18 stone in weight and to drag him out of the small turret would have been a hard task. His driver was quite small.) and returned to the battle with the CO in the turret.
The father of Doctor Stuart Rowland, coincidentally also Norman and a 2nd/6th veteran, speaks of Whitehead and his edited remarks are reproduced here.
“Whitehead was a ‘great man’. He was a natural leader, highly respected by all ranks and an excellent Squadron Commander. After the battle at Buna, Norman Rowland didn’t see Whitehead until after the war, when he went to live in Wagga in the mid ’50s. Rowland was a banker, while Whitehead owned Urana station, one of the larger Riverina properties. He was held in the same high regard by all in and around the Wagga district.
“Whitehead’s business affairs took him into Wagga and with his dog, George, and he regularly had a few beers at Carmody’s Pub on a Friday with Rowland and other ex 2nd/6th Troopers. There were some 15 to 20 of them in the district. They used to, with affection, call him ‘Boofhead’ because of his head wound. He always had a ‘dig’ at me because, at pay parade, I could line up ahead of him. We did this according to Service Number-I was NX 31964, Whitehead was NX 34954!
“He was an exceptional man, a natural leader!”
Colonel Frank Pearson Medal of the Order of Australia, Efficiency Decoration, Reserve Force Decoration
The detail for this short portrait of Colonel Pearson is gleaned from the 4th/19th Prince of Wales’s Regiment history, ‘Hooves Tracks and Wheels’ by David Holloway.
Frank Pearson’s Army career extended from January 1930 until August 1964, rising from Sapper to his final rank of Colonel. He enlisted in the (then) Citizen Military Forces as an engineer with the 6th Field Company. His civilian life has been devoted to engineering since, especially in air conditioning.
Promotion was swift and he was promoted Company Sergeant Major and saw service with another Engineer unit, 2nd Field Company. In those days, the Engineer Corps was responsible for Anti Aircraft Searchlight units and Pearson joined the cadre of the 2nd Company of that service activity.
Frank was ambitious and sat for the promotion exam for Lieutenant in mid 1939 and was promoted in October of that year. His unit was renamed as the 53rd Anti Aircraft Company and it was ‘purged’ in the normal Army fashion to provide personnel for another Company, the 1st /54th. Pearson found himself in the latter company as second in command. Each of these companies received and trained the then equivalent of the later National Servicemen, known as ‘universal trainees’ at three monthly intervals.
With the advent of World War 2, the 1st /54th was despatched to Darwin and Lieutenant Pearson took command as a temporary Captain. This did not last long for Frank. The need for an Armoured Corps became apparent to the powers that were and in May 1941he was seconded to the Corps in the Australian Imperial Force.
As has been noted before, The First Australian Armoured Division was formed in Western Australia and later divided into separate units for service in the South-West Pacific. Like Captain Whitehead, Captain Pearson was allocated to the 2nd/6th Australian Armoured Regiment with the task of raising A squadron of that Regiment and later B Squadron. Having successfully achieved this, he was promoted Major and Officer Commanding Headquarters Squadron.
The 2nd/6th was posted to New Guinea and saw hard action at Cape Endaiadere and the touch and go horror of Buna. Pearson was there from October 1942 until April 1943. On return to Australia, the Regiment joined the 4th Armoured Brigade at Southport in Queensland where it remained until the end of the war, not seeing further action. Major Pearson was demobilized in October 1945. It can only be speculated as to the frustration of the men of the 2nd/6th while the other great battles raged further and further from the Australian mainland.
The Australian Government of the day realised that the previous system of defence, at least from the Army’s point of view, was totally in adequate. In 1948, the policy was formed to have a Regular standing Army supported by a reconstituted Citizen Military Force. Various Armoured units were raised, combining many of the old Light Horse units. One of these was 8th/13th Victorian Mounted Rifles, an amalgamation of the 8th, 13th, and 20th Light Horse Regiments. Frank Pearson, in 1948, was enlisted in this Regiment as second in command. Later, in 1953, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and appointed Commanding Officer of 4th/19th Prince of Wales’s Light Horse, which position he held until December 1956, finally retiring in 1964.
Colonel Pearson has been the driving force behind the Regimental museum of the 4th/19th and has served many years as the Patron of that Regiment’s Association. For these services he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia. Today, this old Trooper is frail and forgetful but yet keeps his connections with Corps, Regiment and Regimental Association.