Kokoda veteran keeps Sallyman legend alive
20 October 2015
A “Sallyman” offering a steaming mug of coffee was a welcome sight for worn-out Kokoda Trail soldiers, many miles from their home and loved ones.
Keeping memories of the Sallymen alive, along with many more Kokoda tales, is World War II veteran Norm Ensor, a volunteer guide and supporter of the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway at Concord in Sydney. He and a team show around 3,000 schoolchildren through the memorial each year.
One feature of the tour, Norm says, is pointing young visitors to one of five images at the memorial centrepiece which celebrates the work of the Sallymen, who offered offering support and refreshments to troops during World War II.
“We had a great respect for the Salvos,” Norm says.
“We have tour groups from schools and explain to them the different images. One photo shows The Salvation Army representative handing out a cup of tea to the soldiers. We’ve been telling (students) about The Salvation Army for years – how they were always near the frontline to look after us.”
Norm enlisted just after he turned 17. With two brothers already in the armed forces, he says he was keen to join up to “do his bit.”
In November 1942, Norm was posted to Papua New Guinea.
“We were responsible for laying and maintaining a series of telephone lines around the battle front. It was dangerous, because the [Japanese troops] used to cut all the lines and then we’d come back to repair them,” he says.
With his “303 rifle, tools and a telephone over his arm,” as a signalman Norm served in the battles of Sanananda and Buna-Gona. After a short return to Australia, he then served at the battle of Balikpapan, Borneo.
Norm married his fiancée Betty after the war, and today has a daughter, three grandsons and a number of great grandchildren.
As well as volunteering at Concord to keep history alive for the next generation, and at the age of 90, Norm also serves as senior vice-president of the 7th Division AIF Association.
One of the great comforts of his war years, he still fondly recalls today, was having the Salvation Army hop-in tents and canteens on the field where he could get a cup of tea and paper to write home to his parents and later to his fiancée Betty.
"If it wasn't for The Salvation Army blokes during the war, I reckon we would have had a very poor time. They certainly did a lot of good work up there. Wonderful!”
By Naomi Singlehurst