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Norman Marshall (1886–1942)

by A. J. Hill

This article was published:

Norman Marshall (1886-1942), grazier and soldier, was born on 10 February 1886 at Callander, Scotland, sixth son of Rev. Alexander Marshall, D.D., and his wife Jean Crawford, née Hay. Alexander Marshall was called to Scots Church, Melbourne, in 1888, so Norman grew up as an Australian. He was educated at Scotch College. Tall, powerful and strikingly handsome, he excelled at games and became amateur welterweight boxing champion of Victoria.

Marshall was manager of a paper mill near Geelong when war broke out in 1914. Enlisting as a private in the 5th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, on 17 August, he was a sergeant at the Gallipoli landing and was commissioned on 28 April 1915. 'Darkie' Marshall was soon recognized as a fearless and daring leader. At Lone Pine he destroyed a troublesome sniper with a bomb of his own making and led bombers who cleared the Turks from the communication trenches with jam-tin bombs. For his work on Gallipoli he was awarded the Military Cross.

As a company commander in the 57th Battalion Marshall led the first trench raid of the 5th Division in France. On the morning after Fromelles he was observed running with another officer, half-way between the opposing lines, hunting for wounded soldiers. Marshall was for a few months second-in-command of his battalion until 10 April 1917 when he was promoted lieutenant-colonel to command the 60th Battalion. He had risen rapidly under the stern eye of Brigadier General H. E. Elliott and now became an outstanding unit commander with the distinction, unique in the A.I.F., of the Distinguished Service Order and two Bars. He was also mentioned in dispatches four times. The first D.S.O. was for his skilful and fearless handling of his own and other battalions at Polygon Wood, 25-26 September 1917, when he was largely responsible for the 15th Brigade's success. When Elliott visited him at a critical moment and Marshall indicated the source of the trouble, Elliott said, 'Come on, Marshall, you and I can fix that pill box'—and they did.

In the famous night counter-attack at Villers-Bretonneux, 24-25 April 1918, Marshall took control of the attacking battalions of the 15th Brigade at their forming-up position and 'got the whole brigade straightened up and moving forward on the right lines'; the operation was a brilliant success. He was awarded a Bar to the D.S.O. for his part in the battle.

Marshall led the 54th Battalion from May 1918 until the A.I.F. was withdrawn from operations in October. He again distinguished himself in the great battles beginning on 8 August and, for his part in the capture of Péronne on 1-3 September, was awarded a second Bar to his D.S.O. Against fierce resistance, he personally organized 'the attack on the ramparts and the mopping up of the town. Through his splendid energy and example … the town was held and three guns and about 600 prisoners captured by his battalion'.

In battle Marshall usually wore a short-sleeved khaki shirt and he liked to be 'here, there and everywhere'; this sometimes troubled superiors who wished to communicate with him. Nevertheless his presence and his evident disregard of danger greatly strengthened his battalion in many a battle. He was 'a natural leader who would be followed and obeyed without question anywhere'. Out of the line his energy was unflagging; he played football in the unit and brigade teams, organized and took part in boxing and exhibited 'a strong vein of merry mischief'.

After the Armistice Marshall was appointed to the Sports Control Board of the A.I.F.; he went to England to coach the A.I.F. No.1 crew which won the King's Gold Cup at Henley in 1919. Before embarking for home Marshall spent about three months investigating paper manufacture in London. He had married Kathleen Elsie Black of Melbourne at the Scottish National Church, Chelsea, on 24 February 1917; they had four children.

After demobilization Marshall went into partnership with his brother-in-law W. G. Davies, on a grazing property near Barraba, New South Wales, but in 1924 he took up his own station, Mount Malakoff, near Stanthorpe, Queensland.

Marshall did not serve in the Citizen Forces but in 1939 he was given command of the 11th Light Horse Regiment. In May 1940 he took command of the 1st Cavalry Brigade as a brigadier but relinquished the rank to become commanding officer of the 2/25th Battalion, A.I.F. In October 1940 he again became a brigadier, commanding the 27th Brigade. Increasing ill health forced him to relinquish command in July 1941 and he retired next January. Marshall died of cancer at Toorak, Melbourne, on 12 September 1942 and was cremated. His wife and three children survived him. Both his sons served in the 2nd A.I.F.; Lieutenant Archibald Marshall was killed in action at Tobruk and Major Alexander Marshall won the Military Cross. Two of Marshall's brothers had served in the 1st A.I.F., Lieutenant L. B. Marshall winning the M.C.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac, vol 1 (Syd, 1921)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • London Gazette, 16 Nov 1917, 13 Sept 1918, 1 Feb 1919
  • Reveille (Sydney), Dec 1931
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

A. J. Hill, 'Marshall, Norman (1886–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 19 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


10 February, 1886
Callander, Perthshire, Scotland


12 September, 1942 (aged 56)
Toorak, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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