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Norman Alfred Vickery (1917–1998)

by G. Paul Harris

This article was published online in 2023

Norman Alfred Vickery (1917–1998), soldier and judge, was born on 28 July 1917 at Lakemba, Sydney, son of Victorian-born Lillian Emily Vickery, and an unnamed father. At Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore) (1929–34), he was prominent in the sport of rifle-shooting, attained the rank of cadet-lieutenant (1934), and was member of the school magazine’s editorial committee. He studied at the University of Sydney (BEc, 1939), and in 1938 was commissioned in the Sydney University Regiment, Citizen Military Forces (CMF).

Immediately after World War II broke out, Vickery was appointed on 13 October 1939 as a lieutenant, Royal Australian Artillery, in the Australian Imperial Force, and was posted to the 2/1st Field Regiment. Following a brief period of training, he sailed in January 1940 to the Middle East, and was promoted to captain. When employed as a forward observer in the vicinity of Bardia, Libya, in January 1941, he and three others where reconnoitring enemy positions in a Bren-gun carrier when, in a feat of extraordinary daring, they attacked and secured the surrender of an Italian artillery battery, as well as approximately 1,000 troops. For that action, which became known as ‘Vickery’s bluff,’ he was awarded the Military Cross.

In February 1942 Vickery’s regiment returned to Australia and was assigned to defend Port Moresby, New Guinea. During this time he was made a battery captain (second in command) of the 51st Battery. By January 1943 he had been promoted to major and was briefly a battery commander for the 2nd Field Battery. In June he transferred to the newly raised 1st Naval Bombardment Group and returned to Australia to train in Victoria. The group directed the fire of naval ships in support of Allied troop landings and coastal operations in the Pacific theatre. He saw action in New Guinea, Borneo, and the Philippines, including time aboard several Australian and United States ships, and was mentioned in dispatches. Back in Australia, he was transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 13 October 1945. That year, he was appointed MBE.

Vickery remained in the army after the war, serving part time in the CMF. With the rank of lieutenant colonel, he was appointed commander of the Melbourne University Regiment (1951–54) and the 31st Medium Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery (1955). On promotion to brigadier in 1956, he commanded the 2nd Artillery Group, RAA (Field), based in Victoria. In 1963 he became the general officer commanding the 3rd Division, with the rank of major general. He served as CMF representative on the Military Board (1966–70), and was elevated to CBE in January 1969. Retiring from military duties in 1974, he went on to hold the honorary position of colonel commandant of the 3rd Military District (Victoria) RAA (1976–80).

After World War II, in parallel with his service in the CMF, Vickery pursued a successful legal career. He studied law at the University of Melbourne (LLB, 1950) under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme, worked in the university’s guidance office for ex-service students, and was elected student representative on the university’s council. On 7 December 1946 he married Helen Mae Cumming, a publication secretary at the university and fellow student, at St John’s Church of England, Toorak. While still studying, he was appointed head of the reference and procurement branch of the Joint Intelligence Bureau, Department of Defence (1948–50). He was admitted to practise as a barrister and solicitor in Victoria and signed the Bar roll in May 1951, ran a criminal and common law practice, and in 1962 accepted an appointment to the bench of the Victorian County Court. From 1965 he maintained and periodically revised the publication Vickery’s Motor and Traffic Law, Victoria, as an aid to jurists, law enforcement officials and insurers. During this phase of his career he chaired Victoria’s Police Service Board (1972–82) and Workers’ Compensation Board (1983–85).

Vickery remained active in service organisations after retiring from the bench in 1985. A fixture at Anzac Day services, he commanded deep respect among artillery ex-servicemen. Typically characterised as a man with an eye for detail, and with a common touch, he was comfortable in all company, including the soldiers of his regiments and defendants appearing before him in court. He was considered painstakingly fair as a judge, and as workers’ compensation commissioner he was reputed to have the fewest appeals against his decisions.

In his private life Vickery enjoyed photography, woodworking, and listening to classical music. He attained the position of senior grand warden of the Grand Lodge of Freemasons of Victoria (1973–74). On 14 August 1998 he died at Camberwell, Melbourne, and was cremated. He was survived by his wife and their son Peter, and daughters Marian and Karen.

Research edited by Peter Woodley

Select Bibliography

  • Australian War Memorial. AWM52, 4/2/1/27, [Unit War Diaries, 1939–45 War] Royal Australian Artillery, 2/1 Australian Field Regiment, April–May 1944
  • Australian War Memorial. AWM52, 4/10/1, [Unit War Dairies, 1939–45 War] 1 Australian Naval Bombardment Group
  • Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Nominal roll: 352003 Major General Norman Alfred Vickery
  • Horner, David. The Gunners: a History of Australian Artillery. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 1995
  • Long, Gavin. To Benghazi. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1952
  • Vickery, Peter. ‘Judge Norman Vickery.’ Victorian Bar News, no. 106 (Spring 1998): 19–23

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

G. Paul Harris, 'Vickery, Norman Alfred (1917–1998)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/vickery-norman-alfred-33021/text41156, published online 2023, accessed online 21 June 2024.

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