Sometimes people survive the experience of war only to perish in circumstances that appear divinely unjust or ‘unfair’. Such is the story of Major Norman Isaac Winning, M.B.E.
Born on the 27th of May, 1906 in Oban, Scotland, Winning was a ‘planter,’ possibly in the then Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia) before enlisting in the A.I.F. one year after the outbreak of the Second World War. Enlisting as a private in Paddington, New South Wales, he was commissioned in the last days of 1941 and initially served in No.5 Australian Independent Company which performed a vital but now largely unheralded role in New Guinea during the worrying months of 1942. Several weeks before the Japanese established a beachhead on the Papuan coast near Gona, Winning (by then a captain) and No.5 Company, in conjunction with the local New Guinea Volunteer Rifles, staged a very successful surprise attack on the Japanese base at Salamaua, killing more than 100 of the enemy and capturing vital equipment and documents without fatalities themselves. Ten months later, with the unit at a low ebb after such a prolonged campaign, the 2/5th Independent Company (as they had been renamed) were returned to Australia. For his efforts, Capt. Winning was awarded a Mention in Despatches.
Winning then served in New Guinea again with the 2/4th Australian Commando Squadron and F.E.L.O., the Far eastern Liaison Organisation before being promoted to Major and assuming command of the 2/8th Australian Commando Squadron. The 2/8th served as the only commando squadron during the campaign on Bougainville, where they accounted for 341 Japanese killed and 11 prisoners of war, losing only 7 killed of their own. Ranging far and wide on the inland flank of the forward brigade’s operations, they provided a vital reconnaissance and harassing role. Eighteen months after the end of the Second World War in the Pacific, Winning was awarded an M.B.E., (Member of the Order of the British Empire). He had been known to the men who revered him, as the ‘Red Steer’ – on account of his red hair and his temperament – and “was known throughout the A.I.F. Commando Squadrons as one of the mightiest soldiers ever to don a uniform. Fearless and a born leader…”
There was little time for Winning – who was married to an Australian – to enjoy his new title however, for on the 2nd of December, 1950, he was shot and killed in an ambush by terrorists in West Java, Indonesia. He had returned to his pre-war occupation and was managing an estate near Subang for an Anglo/Dutch firm that had large land-holdings in the country when he became caught-up in the nationalist revolt to break away from colonial rule. He had visited the estate which had been previously evacuated due to terrorist attacks and was driving the 20 or so miles back to Subang when he was ambushed.
Hearing the tragic news, men from his former WW2 commando squadrons sent a memorial wreath with the note “Farewell, Red Steer” by Qantas Constellation aircraft to his funeral service which was attended by British and Australian expatriates living in the area. So passed a man of “ability and courage” who inspired those he was responsible for leading in times of war, and did so without fuss or fanfare.
[References are available upon request].