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Partridge, Frank John (1924–1964)

by Barry O. Jones

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Frank John Partridge (1924-1964), by unknown photographer

Frank John Partridge (1924-1964), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 043599

Frank John Partridge (1924-1964), soldier, farmer and quiz-champion, was born on 29 November 1924 at Grafton, New South Wales, third of five children of Patrick (Paddy) James Partridge, an Australian-born farmer, and his wife Mary, née Saggs, who came from England. Frank left Tewinga Public School at the age of 13 and worked on the family farm—dairying and growing bananas at Upper Newee Creek, near Macksville. While serving in the Volunteer Defence Corps, he was called up for full-time duty in the Australian Military Forces on 26 March 1943. He was posted to the 8th Battalion, a Militia unit which moved to Lae, New Guinea, in May 1944 and to Emirau Island in September.

From June 1945 the 8th Battalion operated in northern Bougainville, containing Japanese forces on the Bonis Peninsula. On 24 July Partridge was a member of a patrol ordered to destroy an enemy post, known as Base 5, near Ratsua. The Australians came under heavy machine-gun fire. Despite wounds to his arm and thigh, Partridge rushed the nearest bunker, killing its occupants with grenade and knife, then began to attack a second bunker until loss of blood forced him to stop. He was awarded the Victoria Cross. Of the Australians who won the V.C. in World War II, he was the youngest and the last, and the only militiaman. After visiting London in 1946 for the Victory march, he was discharged from the A.M.F. on 17 October in New South Wales; he was again to travel to England in 1953 for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and in 1956 for the Victoria Cross centenary celebrations.

Returning to Upper Newee Creek, Partridge lived with his father in a dirt-floored farmhouse. He devoted himself to self-education, reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica by kerosene lamp and developing an extraordinarily retentive memory. In 1962-63 he appeared as a contestant on the television quiz show, 'Pick-a-Box', compered by Bob Dyer; his laconic manner appealed strongly to viewers. Partridge was one of only three contestants to win all forty boxes; his prizes were valued at more than £12,000. At St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sydney, on 23 February 1963 he married Barbara Mavis Vyvienne Jenniffer Wylie Dunlop, a 31-year-old nursing sister who lived at Turramurra. The wedding received extensive media coverage. Barbara remained at Turramurra while Frank built a new home at the farm. He drove to Sydney every weekend to see her.

Partridge was an honorary member of the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia, a life member and patron of the Macksville Ex-Servicemen's Club, and vice-president of the Nambucca district council of the Banana Growers' Federation Co-operative Ltd. Harbouring deep political ambitions, he confidently sought Country Party pre-selection for the House of Representatives seat of Cowper in 1963. His views were regarded as rather extreme, and he lost to Ian Robinson. Partridge agreed to be Robinson's campaign-manager for the election that year. To supplement the income from his farm, Partridge travelled around the district selling life assurance. He was killed in a motorcar accident on 23 March 1964 near Bellingen and was buried with full military honours in Macksville cemetery. His wife and three-month-old son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Wigmore, They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • personal knowledge.

Citation details

Barry O. Jones, 'Partridge, Frank John (1924–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/partridge-frank-john-11346/text20265, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 26 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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