Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Winning, Norman Isaac (1906–1950)

by Darryl McIntyre

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Norman Isaac Winning (1906-1950), by unknown photographer

Norman Isaac Winning (1906-1950), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 076455

Norman Isaac Winning (1906-1950), army officer and planter, was born on 27 May 1906 at Oban, Argyllshire, Scotland, second child of Isaac Winning, schoolteacher, and his wife Eliza Clark, née Greenlees. Probably educated at a local school at Troon, Ayrshire, Norman worked briefly as an apprentice in a shipping company. Before World War II he was employed by an Anglo-Dutch firm, Pamanoekan en Tjiasemlanden, as a planter in Java, Netherlands East Indies. He married Georgie Nell Morris Taylor; they had no children.

Having travelled to Sydney, Winning enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 2 September 1940 and was posted to the 1st Cavalry Training Squadron. He rose to temporary warrant officer and in December 1941 was commissioned lieutenant and transferred to the 4th Independent Company. Promoted captain in March 1942, he embarked for Port Moresby next month with the 5th (2nd/5th) Independent Company which was later renamed the 2nd/5th Cavalry (Commando) Squadron. The company flew to Wau, New Guinea, in May and, as part of Kanga Force, began to patrol the tracks leading into the Bulolo Valley and to harass the Japanese forces.

On 29 June Winning led a highly successful raid on Salamaua. At least one hundred Japanese soldiers were killed, buildings were destroyed, and enemy equipment and documents were captured. It was the first offensive action on land against the Japanese in World War II. Winning continued to display inspiring leadership. He earned considerable respect from his troops for his outstanding planning skills, boundless energy, resourcefulness and concern for their welfare in adverse climatic conditions and rugged terrain. The unit's war diary described him as 'not only their leader but their friend—a man among men'. He was twice mentioned in dispatches.

The 2nd/5th returned to Australia in May 1943 for further training in Queensland. In November Winning was transferred to the 2nd/4th Cavalry (Commando) Squadron as second-in-command and sent to New Guinea, where the unit was deployed in operations near Finschhafen. Back in Australia in February 1944, he was seconded to the Far Eastern Liaison Office in April. On 8 July he was promoted major and given command of the 2nd/8th Commando Squadron which trained at Lae, New Guinea, before arriving on Bougainville in October-November. The squadron was primarily employed in patrolling. Winning's men took part in a number of engagements with the enemy near the Jaba River and in the area north of the Buin Road. Following the cessation of hostilities, Winning came home to Australia where his A.I.F. appointment terminated on 26 September 1945. He was recommended for the Distinguished Service Order for his exploits in Bougainville but, for reasons which are unclear, the award was downgraded to M.B.E. (1947).

Despite an outward appearance of severity, Winning had been enormously popular with his troops. His red hair earned him the nickname 'Red Steer'. Tough, active, unorthodox, enterprising and shrewd, he gained the confidence and co-operation of the men he commanded. The 2nd/5th was often heard singing the ballad 'When the ''Red Steer's'' eyes are gleaming, Sure it looks like trouble ahead' to the tune of 'When Irish Eyes are Smiling'. After briefly working as a clerk in Sydney, he returned to Java to manage Sumurbarang estate for P. & T. He was shot dead by terrorists on 2 or 3 December 1950 near Subang and was buried in the local cemetery. His wife survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • D. McCarthy, South-West Pacific Area—First Year (Canb, 1959)
  • G. Long, The Final Campaigns (Canb, 1963)
  • A. A. Pirie, Commando—Double Black (Syd, 1993)
  • D. Astill, Commando White Diamond (Syd, 1996)
  • war diaries, 2/5 Independent Company, AWM 52, item 25/3/5, and 2/8 Cavalry Commando Squadron, AWM 52, item 2/2/60 (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Darryl McIntyre, 'Winning, Norman Isaac (1906–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/winning-norman-isaac-12052/text21617, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 18 September 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2019

Norman Isaac Winning (1906-1950), by unknown photographer

Norman Isaac Winning (1906-1950), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 076455