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Norman George Imlay (1887–1973)

by K. R. White

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Alexander Peter Imlay (1885-1959), Norman George Imlay (1887-1973), soldiers, and Ellen Jeanie Imlay (1881-1978), nursing sister, were the sons and daughter of Alexander William Imlay, station manager, and his wife Emma Carbery, née Woodlands. Ellen was born on 15 April 1881, at Toowoomba, Queensland, Alexander on 1 February 1885 at Comongin South station, Bulloo River, and Norman on 11 January 1887 at Croydon, Sydney. Alexander Imlay was their grandfather. Their father, who had served in the Maori Wars as a naval surgeon, died in 1888.

Alexander, educated at Crown Street Superior Public School, Sydney, was a commercial traveller at the time of his marriage to Edith Henrietta Murray at the Marrickville Presbyterian Church on 22 December 1909. He soon went to Adelaide as a mercantile manager for Arthur Cook & Sons. Norman, also state school educated, became a clerk with John Hunter, Sydney, in April 1910 and then with Burns, Philp & Co. in 1910-13. In Papua he joined the public service as a customs officer.

Both Alexander and Norman showed an early interest in military affairs. They served in the New South Wales Scottish Rifles, Alexander in 1901-08 and Norman in 1904-06. In Adelaide on 1 July 1914 Alexander joined the 75th (Hindmarsh) Infantry, Australian Military Forces, as second lieutenant; he was commissioned second lieutenant, 16th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, on 29 September. Norman served in Papua from October 1914 with the European Armed Constabulary and joined the 20th Battalion, A.I.F., on 8 October 1915. Ellen also evinced an interest in army work before the war: she trained as a nurse in Sydney and joined the Australian Army Nursing Service in 1912, transferring to the A.I.F. on 20 March 1915.

Alexander embarked for Egypt on 22 December 1914. Promoted lieutenant on 25 March next year, he landed at Gallipoli on 26 April, and was involved in heavy fighting. Seriously wounded on 2 May, he was evacuated to England, but rejoined his battalion on Gallipoli as company commander on 31 October. On 20 January 1916 in Egypt he was promoted captain and in March transferred to the 48th Battalion as second-in-command with promotion to major. Between March and June, as part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, he was involved in operations against the Turks in the Sinai Desert. Wounded on 13 May, he was hospitalized for two weeks before embarking for France on 2 June.

Between June and November in France and Belgium Imlay engaged in operations at Houplines, Fleurbaix, Pozières (where he was wounded but remained on duty), Mouquet Farm, Wytschaete, Flers and Gueudecourt. On 1 March 1917 he transferred to the 47th Battalion as second-in-command and after the 1st battle of Bullecourt on 11 April was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. He took command of the battalion on 20 April following the wounding of Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Lewis and was promoted temporary lieutenant-colonel. On 12 October at Passchendaele he was severely wounded by shell-fire and was evacuated to England; for his 'gallantry and conspicuous bravery' he was awarded a Bar to his D.S.O. Returning to France on 4 February 1918, he was again wounded on 5 April at Dernancourt but remained on duty. In May the 47th Battalion was disbanded and Imlay, who had been four times mentioned in dispatches, was given command of the 12th Training Battalion at Codford, Wiltshire, England. He remained with this unit until it was disbanded in February 1919. His A.I.F. appointment was terminated in August after his return to Australia.

Alexander Imlay was promoted major in the A.M.F. in August 1920 and transferred to the reserve of officers as lieutenant-colonel in October. Next year he joined the Gordon Highlanders, British Army, as captain and in 1930, after a period of secondment, transferred to the Royal Indian Army Service Corps. Promoted major in 1935, he retired in 1937 but was reappointed in 1940 as major (honorary lieutenant-colonel) for service during World War II. He died on 23 April 1959 at Skene, Aberdeen, Scotland, survived by his wife and children.

Norman Imlay left Australia for Egypt with the 8th Reinforcements for the 20th Battalion on 17 December 1915. He joined the 12th Brigade Machine Gun Company on 27 March 1916, was promoted corporal on 23 May and arrived in France on 11 June.

On 19 August at Pozières Norman was commissioned second lieutenant and four days later transferred to Alexander's battalion (the 48th) as a platoon commander. On 8 December he was promoted lieutenant. He received the Military Cross in June 1917, probably for his splendid efforts during the 1st battle of Bullecourt when he was in charge of a bomb and ammunition carrying party.

After promotion to captain on 12 July 1917 Imlay served with the 12th Training Battalion from August until January 1918 when he returned to the 48th Battalion. Severely wounded in the assault on Monument Wood on 2-3 May when he commanded the left front company (and deliberately ignored orders he deemed foolish), he rejoined his unit on 18 September but saw no further action. He returned to Australia in November 1919.

In 1920 Imlay resumed his career in the New Guinea Customs Department as collector of customs at Samarai. On 31 March 1927 at the Pitt Street Congregational Church, Sydney, he married Jessie Mildred McMaster. After various New Guinea postings he moved in 1930 to Port Moresby as Treasury accountant and in 1934 became acting treasurer and member of the Executive Council. On his retirement in 1937 he returned to Australia to work until 1957 as postmaster at Willoughby, New South Wales. During World War II he saw further service in a training role but this was of a limited nature, his wound from May 1918 having resulted in the loss of a lung. He died on 18 August 1973 at Balgowlah, survived by his wife and son, and was cremated.

Ellen Imlay embarked for Egypt on 10 April 1915 as a staff nurse reinforcement for the 1st Australian General Hospital at Heliopolis. She served there until 19 March 1916 when she re-embarked on a hospital transport for Sydney, returning to Egypt in May. On 20 May she was appointed sister and further promoted to temporary matron for another trip to Australia on 10 July. Leaving Sydney on 7 October as temporary head sister in the Ceramic for service in England, she worked at the 3rd Australian Auxiliary Hospital at Dartford, Kent, from 29 November until 8 January 1918 when she was transferred to France for service with the 2nd A.G.H. at Boulogne and later with various casualty clearing stations. In December she became ill and was invalided back to Sydney on 7 February 1919 and discharged in June. Miss Imlay retired from the A.A.N.S. Reserve in 1930 and later moved to Toowoomba, Queensland. She lived in Sydney after her marriage to a retired public accountant Harry Ninham Gooch on 10 July 1945 at Mosman. In old age, alert and good-humoured and wearing her medals on Anzac Day, she recalled the lighter moments of her nursing experience at Heliopolis where the hospital was a disused amusement park and the troops slid down the slippery dips on their pillows. Predeceased by her husband, she died in Sydney on 11 June 1978.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Devine, The Story of a Battalion (Melb, 1919)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac, 1917 (Syd, 1933), 1918 (Syd, 1937)
  • C. E. W. Bean and H. S. Gullett, Photographic Record of the War, vol 12 (Syd, 1923)
  • C. Longmore, The Old Sixteenth (Perth, 1929)
  • A. G. Butler (ed), The Official History of the Australian Medical Services in the War 1914-18, vols 2, 3 (Canb, 1940, 1943)
  • London Gazette, 2 Jan, 1 May, 1, 15 June, 14, 25 Dec 1917, 25 May 1918
  • Reveille (Sydney), June 1934, p 18, Aug 1934, p 30, Nov 1934, p 27
  • Bulletin, 2 Mar 1922
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 26 Apr 1977
  • war diaries, 47th and 48th Battalion, AIF (Australian War Memorial)
  • biographical file for A. P. Imlay (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

K. R. White, 'Imlay, Norman George (1887–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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