11 December 2009

The Victoria Cross and other medals awarded to Commander Norman Holbrook, Royal Navy, which had been donated by his widow to the Australian town of Holbrook in New South Wales, have now been loaned to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra where they have recently been placed on display.

Following the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 a wave of anti-German feeling swept across Australia, one place that took action was Germanton, a small town on the Hume Highway north of Albury in New South Wales. The town council decided on 24 August 1915 to change their name from Germanton to Holbrook in recognition of the heroic exploits carried out by Lieutenant Norman Holbrook, Royal Navy, in successfully navigating the Dardanelles with his submarine B.11 and sinking the Turkish battleship "Messudiyeh" in the Sea of Marmara in December 1914.

Norman Holbrook visited the town named after him several times during his life and following his death in July 1976 and his subsequent burial in St James Old Churchyard, Stedham, West Sussex, his widow decided to donate her husband's Victoria Cross medal group to the Council of the Shire of Holbrook. This was carried out on the 11th May 1982. The care of the Victoria Cross subsequently passed to the Greater Hume Shire Council upon the amalgamation of several Riverina Shires, including Holbrook, in May 2004.

( select to enlarge )
Medal entitlement of Commander Norman Holbrook,
Royal Navy ( HM Submarine B.11 )

  • Victoria Cross
  • 1914-15 Star
  • British War Medal ( 1914-20 )
  • Victory Medal ( 1914-19 ) + MiD Oakleaf
  • Defence Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • War Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • King George VI Coronation Medal ( 1937 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal ( 1953 )
  • Knight, Legion of Honour ( France )

Image courtesy Australian War Memorial
Accession number PAIU2009 / 189.10

British interest centred upon the Dardanelles, the straits connecting the Aegean with the Sea of Marmara. If the Dardanelles could be forced, Constantinople could be bombarded into submission. The ease with which this might be accomplished was demonstrated by a successful naval bombardment of the southern Dardanelles forts on 31 October 1914, and the incredible feat of the tiny fifteen-man submarine B.11 which, on 13 December, broke through the Turkish minefields to penetrate The Narrows, where she torpedoed and sank the old battleship "Messudiyeh".

For the award of the Victoria Cross

[ London Gazette, 22 December 1914 ], Dardanelles & Sea of Marmara, Turkey, 13 December 1914, Lieutenant Norman Douglas Holbrook, Royal Navy ( HM Submarine B.11 )

For most conspicuous bravery on the 13th December 1914, when in command of the Submarine B-11, he entered the Dardanelles, and, notwithstanding the very difficult current, dived his vessel under five rows of mines and torpedoed the Turkish battleship "Messudiyeh" which was guarding the minefield.

Lieutenant Holbrook succeeded in bringing the B-11 safely back, although assailed by gun-fire and torpedo boats, having been submerged on one occasion for nine hours.

Norman Holbrook was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 5th October 1915.

In 1972 a scale model of a 'B' Class submarine, similar to Norman Holbrook's vessel, was unveiled in the town.

The submarine carried a crew of 15 and following the action in sinking the Turkish battleship in the Sea of Marmara and subsequent escape back through the Dardanelles, all the crew received gallantry awards.


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Iain Stewart, 28 December 2009