The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (VX19633) Sergeant Norman Lyall Fartch, 2/2nd Pioneer Batallion, Second World War.

Accession Number AWM2019.1.1.281
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 8 October 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

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 (VX19633) Sergeant Norman Lyall Fartch, 2/2nd Pioneer Batallion, Second World War.

Speech transcript

VX19633 Sergeant Norman Lyall Fartch, 2/2nd Pioneer Batallion
KIA 17 June 1941

Today we remember and pay tribute to Sergeant Norman Lyall Fartch.

Norman Fartch was born on 31 October 1908 in Mount Gambier, South Australia. Known as “Norm” to his family and friends, Fartch grew up with his two brothers and one sister around Mount Gambier before the family moved to the Gippsland region of Victoria, where they ran a sheep and dairy farm.

Fartch attended school in Neerim, east of Melbourne, and later worked as a relieving station master for Victorian Railways. His job saw him move around the state to a number of localities. He spent time living in Sealake in north-east Victoria, where he was a member of the local fire brigade. Before joining the army he gained valuable military experience by serving in local militia units.

Fartch signed up to serve for Australia in the Second World War on 6 June 1940. He was one of two Fartch brothers to serve: his older brother, Hector, who enlisted not long after Norman, served in an artillery unit.

Soon after his enlistment, Norman Fartch began training with the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion. During his training and service, he showed himself to be a valuable soldier. He was promoted several times, eventually reaching the rank of sergeant.

In April 1941 Fartch and the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion sailed from Sydney for overseas service. Arriving in Egypt in May, the battalion set up camp near Gaza in Palestine. There, they trained, adjusted to the desert conditions, and in their free time enjoyed sightseeing trips to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

In June 1941 Fartch and the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion were sent to form part of a force tasked with fighting pro-Axis Vichy French forces in Syria and modern-day Lebanon.
The campaign against the Vichy French forces in Syria began on the night of 7/8 June. Fartch’s unit formed part of the centre of the Allied attack and was aimed at taking the important airfield at Rayak, about half way between Beirut and Damascus.

As part of this attack, Allied forces successfully took the strategically important fort of Merdjayoun but were forced to abandon the position after a Vichy-French counter attack on 15 June.

On 17 June 1941, Fartch was ordered to make a frontal assault on the fort as part of a joint attack by the 2/25th Infantry Battalion and two companies of the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion. It was a formidable task. Their target was a well-defended fort with six-metre high walls that were so thick that Australian 25 pounder artillery fire did little damage to them. These walls were defended by well-concealed Vichy-French rifle and machine-gun positions supported by tank fire. The companies of the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion had to attack across open ground scattered with mines and barbed wire against an enemy far more familiar with the terrain.

The attack was also especially dangerous because Fartch’s 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion had not yet received advanced infantry training. They were to attack with only one light automatic machine-gun and one sub machine-gun per company, and no mortars.

The attack began at 5.30 am when Australian artillery fired on the fort. Soon after, Fartch and the men of the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion began their advance into strong enemy fire. They ran into thick barbed wire entanglements about 70 metres from their objective and began to sustain heavy casualties. They suffered 27 killed and 46 wounded in this single action.

Fartch was one of those killed, likely in the assault towards their objective. He was 32 years old.

In the chaos of the battle he was originally reported as missing in action, but was later able to be identified as having been killed during the assault.

Today his remains lie buried in the Damascus Commonwealth War Cemetery in Syria, where over 500 Commonwealth soldiers of the Second World War now lie.
His friends and family left many memorial notes in local newspapers upon hearing of his death. Some of his friends wrote:
“To live in the hearts of those we love is not to die”.
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 Norman Lyall Fartch, 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 (VX19633) Sergeant Norman Lyall Fartch, 2/2nd Pioneer Batallion, Second World War. (video)