The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (VX20200) Sergeant Norris William Bennett Dike, 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion, Second World War.

Places
Accession Number AWM2019.1.1.86
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 27 March 2019
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use
Description

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Richard Cruise, the story for this day was on (VX20200) Sergeant Norris William Bennett Dike, 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion, Second World War.

Speech transcript

VX20200 Sergeant Norris William Bennett Dike, 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion
KIA 17 June 1941

Today we remember and pay tribute to Sergeant Norris William Bennett Dike.

Norris Dike was born on 17 January 1911, one of four children born to Edward and Ada Dike of Melbourne. Known as “Norrie” to his family and friends, Dike worked as bank clerk, and in 1934 married Ivy Gladys. The couple had one son together, also called Norris. Before the war, Dike gained valuable military experience serving for ten years in a local Melbourne militia force. By 1940 he was living with his young family in Elsternwick, in Melbourne’s south.

Dike enlisted into the Second Australian Imperial Force on 31 May 1940. A day later, he was posted to the 2/2nd Pioneers Battalion, promoted to the rank of corporal on account of his militia service. Dike and the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion trained at Puckapunyal to the north of Melbourne, and in August, Dike was promoted once more, this time to the rank of sergeant.

In April 1941, Dike and his unit sailed from Sydney, bound for the Middle East, and arrived at Port Tewfik on the Suez Canal in May. The unit set up camp at Hill 95 to the north-east of Gaza in Palestine, where they trained, adjusted to the arid desert conditions, and, while on leave, took in the sights of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

In June 1941, Dike and the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion joined Exporter Force, a joint force consisting of Australian and British units who would fight against Vichy French forces in Syria and modern-day Lebanon. The four companies of the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion were split to allow them to support different units in the campaign. Pioneer Battalions supported infantry units by providing additional defence, as well as by conducting essential repair work on roads and bridges.

Dike transferred via train from Deir Suneid to Hadera, where his company, in conjunction with the Australian 25th Infantry Brigade, was to launch an attack to the north, secure Vichy French strong points, cut off the Damascus-Beyrough road, and occupy an important aerodrome and railway junction at Rayak.

A key part of this mission involved occupying the formidable fort at Merdjayoun, which had stood as an important military outpost in the region since the time of the crusades. The fort fell into Vichy French hands on 15 June 1941, and the four companies of 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion were immediately called back together to take part in its recapture.
Two companies of the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion were ordered to attack the Merdjayoun Fort. It was a formidable task. Their target was a well-defended fort with 6-metre high walls, described in one record as “impregnable”. The walls were so thick that the Australian 25 pounder guns did little damage to the structure. The men had to conduct a frontal attack in the face of well-concealed Vichy French riflemen and machine-gun positions, which were supported by tanks. The approach to the fort was laden with mines and enemy barbed wire, and the Vichy French knew the territory far better than the Australian forces.

On top of this, the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion had as yet received no advance training as an infantry unit and was not fully equipped to carry out infantry attacks. They had only one light automatic machine-gun and one sub-machine-gun per platoon, and no mortars.

At 5:30am on 17 June 1941, the 24 guns of the 2/5th Australian Field Regiment began their artillery barrage in support of the attack. Dike and the men of the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion launched their assault soon after. Despite heavy Vichy French machine-gun and mortar fire, they pushed forward, but the forward movement stopped when they encountered barbed wire fences about 70 metres from their objective.

Stuck out in the open, the Australian troops began to suffer heavy casualties. Dike, along with two other soldiers, Warrant Officer Tom Hulse and Sergeant Pat Sherman, attempted to crawl forward through the barbed wire to continue the attack. In the heavy and ultimately unsuccessful fighting, Sergeant Dike was killed in action. He was 30 years old, and survived by his wife and young son.

He is buried in the Damascus Commonwealth War Cemetery in Syria, along with over 1,000 Commonwealth soldiers of the Second World War. His grieving family left the following inscription on his grave: “Deep in my heart a sacred memory kept. His loving wife and son Norris”.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among almost 40,000 Australians who died while serving in the Second World War.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Sergeant Norris William Bennett Dike, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

David Sutton
Historian, Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (VX20200) Sergeant Norris William Bennett Dike, 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion, Second World War. (video)