Victoria Cross winner and national quiz champion. A largely self-educated farmer, Frank Partridge was the youngest Australian soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in the Second World War.
Private Frank John Partridge, VC (1924–1964)
Having left school at 13 to work on the family farm near Macksville, New South Wales, Frank Partridge was called up for full-time army duty when he turned 18. He was posted to the 8th Battalion, a militia unit. The battalion moved to Lae, New Guinea, in May 1944, and from June 1945 operated in northern Bougainville.
On 24 July 1945 Partridge’s unit came under heavy Japanese machine-gun, grenade, and rifle fire and he was badly wounded. Ignoring his injuries, he snatched up a Bren gun from alongside a dead gunner and challenged the enemy to come out and fight. He next rushed the nearest enemy bunker while armed with grenades and his knife, and killed the occupants. Finally, he attacked a second bunker until loss of blood stopped him. He “inspired his comrades to heroic action”, and was awarded the Victoria Cross.
After the war Partridge went to London as a member of the Australian Victory Contingent, then settled back onto the family farm, living quietly with his father. In the evenings, to overcome his lack of education, he avidly read the Encyclopaedia Britannica by lamplight.
In 1962 Partridge first appeared on Bob Dyer’s television quiz show, Pick-a-box. He was an outstanding success and won many prizes, including electrical goods that were useless for his frugal lifestyle. Despite his natural modesty, and his slow bush speech, he soon became a national celebrity. Brave, intelligent, and with a retentive memory, Partridge also had strong political views. In 1963 he unsuccessfully sought Country Party pre-selection for the House of Representatives. He also married that year.
Partridge’s public successes did not bring happiness and his life lost the simplicity that he had previously known. His personal situation was overtaken by tragedy when, on 23 March 1964, he was killed in a motorcar accident.