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Sir Charles Willoughby Moke Norrie (1893–1977)

by P. A. Howell

This article was published:

Charles Willoughby Moke Norrie (1893-1977), by Lenare, 1944

Charles Willoughby Moke Norrie (1893-1977), by Lenare, 1944

State Library of South Australia, B 11164

Sir Charles Willoughby Moke Norrie, Baron Norrie of Wellington and of Upton (1893-1977), army officer and governor, was born on 26 September 1893 at Brompton, London, son of George Edward Moke-Norrie, barrister, and his wife Beatrice, née Stephen. Willoughby was educated at Eton and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He joined the 11th Hussars in 1913 and was in active service from the outbreak of World War I. Wounded four times, he rose to temporary major, and won the Military Cross (1915) and Bar (1916); he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (1919) and twice mentioned in dispatches.

On 9 June 1921 at Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Street, London, Norrie married Jocelyn Helen Gosling (d.1938). A keen polo-player, fox-hunter and steeplechaser, he was also a successful owner and breeder of racehorses. Gaining steady promotion in the army, he served in India, attended staff college and became a specialist in mechanized warfare. At the parish church of St Peter with St Thomas, Marylebone, London, on 28 November 1938 he married 31-year-old Patricia Merryweather Bainbridge. At the beginning of World War II he commanded the 1st Armoured Brigade. Promoted acting lieutenant general (October 1941), he led the XXX Corps in North Africa with distinction and heroism in 1941-42 and was appointed C.B. (1942). Back in Britain, by 1943 he held the post of major general, Royal Armoured Corps.

Norrie retired from the army in September 1944 on accepting the governorship of South Australia; he was appointed K.C.M.G. Accompanied by his wife, children, an orphaned niece and twelve staff, he sailed to Sydney, travelled by train to Adelaide and assumed office on 19 December 1944. A handsome couple who liked meeting people, the Norries believed that their duty was to keep the 'Empire spirit alive'. Within two years he had visited every local government area and mining district in the State, and as many as three hundred schools, delivering up to ten speeches a day. He made a point of greeting servicemen when they returned from abroad, and calling on former prisoners of war. Lady Norrie and their elder children supported many charitable and patriotic causes, including the Food for Britain Appeal.

Sir Willoughby's confidential reports to the Dominions Office were unusually full and frank. He criticized the 'misguided sentimentality' of the Aborigines' champion, Charles Duguid, but praised the 'sound judgement' and 'honesty of purpose' of Prime Minister Chifley. He also admired the government of (Sir) Thomas Playford, claiming that—although labelled 'Liberal and Country League'—it was 'what in England would be termed sound Right Wing Labour'. While keeping his views on local politics private, he publicly scorned Winston Churchill's opposition to both independence for India and the revival of assisted immigration to Australia.

During leave in Britain in 1947, Norrie persuaded the Ministry of Food to ease its restrictions on the volume of Australian wine which could be imported; he also induced the Peninsular & Oriental and Orient steamship companies to resume their pre-war practice of allowing some passenger ships to call at Port Adelaide. He expressed 'shock' when Playford's bill to nationalize the Adelaide Electric Supply Co. Ltd was defeated on the casting vote of the president of the Legislative Council. Considering the measure 'very reasonable', he privately exerted influence on its main opponents. When a revised bill was presented in 1946, (Sir) Collier Cudmore absented himself from the crucial divisions, and it was passed.

In 1948 Norrie's term was extended for four years, but he was allowed to leave in June 1952 to become governor-general of New Zealand. He served in that post from December 1952 to July 1957. Appointed G.C.M.G. (1952) and G.C.V.O. (1954), he was created Baron Norrie of Wellington (New Zealand) and of Upton (Gloucestershire, England) in 1957. In his retirement he was a director (from 1958) of the London branch of the Bank of New South Wales and president (1967) of the British Boys' Movement for Australia. He always claimed his greatest achievement was catching a 2225-lb. (1009 kg) shark with a rod and reel off Port Lincoln, South Australia. Survived by his wife and their son and two daughters, and by the son and daughter of his first marriage, he died on 25 May 1977 at Wantage, Oxfordshire, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • People (Sydney), 8 Oct 1952
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Dec 1944
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 28 May 1977
  • duplicate dispatches and newsclippings, 1944-52 (Government House, Adelaide)
  • private information.

Citation details

P. A. Howell, 'Norrie, Sir Charles Willoughby Moke (1893–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Charles Willoughby Moke Norrie (1893-1977), by Lenare, 1944

Charles Willoughby Moke Norrie (1893-1977), by Lenare, 1944

State Library of South Australia, B 11164

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Baron Norrie
  • Norrie, Baron

26 September, 1893
London, Middlesex, England


25 May, 1977 (aged 83)
Wantage, Oxfordshire, England

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.