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NORMAN CHARLES FLACK - ANOTHER NOTEWORTHY FLACK

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Norman Charles Flack

Born 2 January 1920, Hay, N.S.W. Australia.
Married 1953, Hay, N.S.W. Australia.
Died 16 December 1990 Hay, N.S.W. Australia.

WIFE Marjorie Pocock
Born 1934 Hay, N.S.W. Australia

CHILDREN
Julia Annette Flack:
Born 19 May 1954 Hay, N.S.W. Australia
Partner Terence John Eason

Catherine Isabel Flack:
Born 22 March 1956 Hay, N.S.W. Australia.
Spouse Garry Davis.
Married 6 April 1974 in Hay, N.S.W. Australia.

Elizabeth Flack:
Born 22 June 1966 Hay, N.S.W. Australia.
Spouse Jose Rubio.
Married 15 September 1997 in Monsagro, Spain.

 

Keith Flack, Norman Flack & Owen Williams

Early Days
Once the Flacks moved closer to the town of Hay, Norman travelled to and from school and later to work, a distance of 12 miles including the return trip, by bicycle or horse and cart. Norman became a very good bike rider and placed in many road races. He was a popular and highly thought of young man who regularly attended and participated in the service of the Anglican Church. He was a member of the church tennis club as were other members of his family.

Norman completed a 5 year apprenticeship as a motor mechanic with Hay Motor and Engineering Pty. Ltd., and remained employed by them after serving his time. The Flack family had moved into their home in Orson Street, Hay in early 1940.

World War II
Norman enlisted in the Australian Army on 26 June, 1940 at Wagga Wagga. His Service Number was NX35752, Ordnance Corp, 8th Division, 2/19th Battalion consisting mainly of recruits from the country and in particular the Riverina area of N.S.W. It was said that "You could see it in the way they walked, the way they talked and in the squint of their eyes. They told yarns Bushmen tell: about sheep, drovers and cocky farmers. Pitt Street and Bondi Beach were foreign to them". ('The Singapore Surrender' by G. Mant.) Norman trained in camps at Wagga Wagga, Wallgrove, Bathurst and Liverpool.

The troops embarked from Sydney aboard the great liner, The Queen Mary (QM) which departed 2.20pm on 4 February, 1941 for a destination unknown. The ship headed northerly but shortly after, changed course (apparently for security reasons) and went southward headed for Fremantle. Such manoeuvres were designed to deceive spies and the troops had no idea where they were headed. The QM had all portholes covered up and at night, the ship remained in darkness as part of a convoy

 

Norman Charles Flack

To gain some idea of Norman's thoughts, despair, fear and exhilaration during this period of his army life, the following is information and quotations taken from Gilbert Mant's book 'The Singapore Surrender'.

"I have seen some stirring and moving scenes in a lifetime of wanderings over the world, but nothing has stirred me more deeply than the day the QM left the convoy somewhere in the Indian Ocean. We had been warned in advance that something was afoot, and for once the whole contingent was able to crowd onto the decks, where battalion bands already had taken up their positions. The day was perfect with bright sunshine floating down onto the smooth, deep, dark blue of the Indian Ocean. There were other famous ships in our convoy, great in size and reputation, but despite their presence, one had a feeling of immense loneliness in the vast expanse of dark ocean that lay around us

"The convoy reduced speed and formed a new alignment. The QM altered course, leaving a widening swathe of cream in her wake, and began her stately course past the other ships which had arranged themselves in line. The bands played their loudest and the ship's sirens 'cock-a-doodle-dooed'. We broke into cheers, the massed thousands of us. We came to the last ship, a liner as illustrious as ourselves, and came so close we could see through glasses, the faces of her troops. They were New Zealanders on their way to fame in the Middle East. They were cheering as madly as we were as they packed the decks and clung to the rigging. We could hear their own bands. 'Coo-ees' punctuated our cheers and echoed away across that lonely ocean. You thought what a pity it was only ourselves and a few undemonstrative albatross were witnesses of this ocean - if only hundreds of thousands of people could have lined the Indian Ocean and applauded as the ships marched past!

"Then we took to our heels and ran for Singapore. The impatient engines of the QM., up to now harnessed to the pace of the slowest ship, throbbed eagerly beneath us as she gathered the speed that won her the Blue Riband of the Atlantic. Away on the horizon, we saw the grey shape of another warship that had come to escort us in to Singapore. The secret was out at last. We were Singapore-bound, to what fate we knew not, but we felt that sooner or later we would be fighting the Japanese."

 

"Stanley" with 2/19 Battalion's Ray ClendenningMalaya
Norman recounted to his family some of the 'lighter' sides of his war experiences while stationed at Jemaluang in Malaya. There was a steep road which swept a few miles down a mountain into their camp. Norm said he was often called up before their captain (affectionately known as) Roaring Reggi Newton, (later Major) for sweeping down the mountain on his bike. He delighted in entertaining his family by re-enacting the event with all the actions and noises of the 'broom-broom' of his Harley Davidson. He had a pet monkey named Stanley which, if let off its chain, would cause havoc and much merriment among the men when it would get into their toothpaste and shaving cream. Stanley liked watches, pens, combs and anything portable. He would scoop up anything left lying around and climb into a tree out of reach and chatter, defying anyone to get the items back. Often when Norm returned from bivouac, he would be greeted with cries of "That bloody monkey". When the fighting started, Norm set it free.

 

 

Battle of Muar
Gilbert Mant states, at the conclusion of the Preface to his book: - "The Battle of Muar remains a symbol of the 8th Division itself."

"So 2/19th was born, pledged to uphold the traditions of the "Fighting Nineteenth" of the First AIF. No veteran from Gallipoli and France of the old 19th can doubt how well that tradition was upheld, after reading this story."

"While the 2/29th was battering their way back along the tragic mile, things had not been quiet for the 2/19th. Our artillery had done excellent work, but most of it was shooting from the map. Then suddenly, the Japanese launched a heavy attack on the south and captured high ground overlooking, and within, 150 yards of 2/19th Battalion Headquarters. 'A' Company went into attack. They retook the hill but were heavily pressed. Colonel Anderson ordered 'B' Company to make a flank attack on the Japanese. It was very successful. The Japanese retreated, leaving at least 80 casualties behind them. 'B' Company had suffered only two wounded."

"...... And that afternoon a message had been received ordering Colonel Anderson to withdraw on Yong Peng." ".......... the two Australian Battalions and the Indians formed a night perimeter." "Long before dawn broke, the wounded were made as comfortable as possible in trucks, and all other unessential equipment destroyed. This was to be the most dreadful day of all: this was to be Australia's greatest day in Malaya, to rank with Gallipoli, Greece and Crete.

"At 7am on Tuesday, 20th January, the columns began the long road home - 2/19th Battalion forward - then 2/29th Battalion transport and artillery, with Indians of 45th Brigade, under Colonel Anderson covering the rear, now there were less than 1000 Australians left, and an indeterminate number of Indians. On all sides of them were closing in 15000 or more crack Japanese troops. An hour later contact was made with the Japanese, at the 99 Mile Post. The first of the seven road blocks was encountered - there were to be 7 miles of road blocks before the day was through. The first road block, consisting of rubber trees fallen across the road, was covered by a well-dug Japanese strong post, on top of a cutting, with 6 machine guns spitting death from it. 'Great difficulty,' says a bald official story, 'was experienced in taking the position.' The Australians charged with fixed bayonets and smashed their way through the second road block and began singing 'Waltzing Matilda' as the enraged Australians charged and took their vengeance at the point of a bayonet. Fierce fighting continued and superhuman efforts were made to force the Japanese positions. Success was only limited and casualties were heavy. Bayonet charge after bayonet charge was made. The force had contracted into 800 yards of roadway. The Australians made their supreme effort. At about 6.30pm, the Japanese had had enough. Their dead lay strewn in hundreds along the roadway and sprawled under the rubber trees. They gave up the fight and retired. Colonel Anderson's column, its ranks thinner than ever, moved on and contact with the enemy was lost.

Map

"....... If they could stumble along the causeway during the night and cross the bridge at Parit Sulong before dawn, all would be well. From there it was only a few miles to General Bennett's main forces - and safety.

"It was as well Anderson did not know in advance the heartbreaking knowledge that the bridge at Parit Sulong was no longer in British hands.

"All through the night the tattered force trudged along the long stone causeway which ran in a dead straight line across the steamy swamp country. The walking wounded limped on through the night; it was sheer fortitude that got them through. It was a tragic cavalcade of gaunt bearded men, perilously on the edge of physical exhaustion. At the rear, the enemy were pressing on and tightly closing any gap towards Muar.

"Dawn broke as the force came in sight of the little village of Parit Sulong beside the river. The bridge over the river was a concrete arc about 80 yards long. The bridge was in Japanese hands, ideally suited for defence, which the enemy had exploited to the full, defended by machine gun nests in adjoining houses. After bitter fighting, the western approaches of the bridge were captured, but further progress was found to be impossible without air support. At about 11am, after a heavy artillery barrage, and intense machine-gunning of the road from the air, the Japanese launched another tank attack. It faired no better than other tank attacks they had made against the Australians. One tank was destroyed by small-arms fire and two others by accurate shooting by anti-tank gunners. American planes piloted by the Japanese rained down anti-personnel bombs. The positions of the Australians became untenable. The Japanese covered the bridge with a deadly phalanx of machine-gun nests. Heavy enemy artillery shelling began at daybreak and caused more tragic gaps in the ranks of the Australians. Nevertheless, a final attempt to capture the bridge was made by 2/19th Battalion but were cut to pieces and the Japanese planes continuously circled overhead, to drown the noise of their approaching tanks and machine-gunned the approaches to the bridge. Anderson ordered the destruction of all equipment; the badly wounded were loaded into Red Cross vans and left to the good-graces of the enemy. They were all killed. The Australians moved off on a bearing of 340 degrees to a distance of 1000 yards and then turned east. The Japanese in that sector saw them coming and misinterpreted it to be a strong counter attack. They hurriedly withdrew and left a gap of 400 yards up the Sempang River between the edge of the Japanese line and the river.

"The battle of Muar River was over and Providence had come to the aid of the Australians at the last moment. They hurried through the miraculous gap towards Bukit Incas. There were to be long hours of wading through swamps, of plunging through jungle and rubber trees ahead of them - but they were safe, and the Japanese had let them slip out of the trap. They formed a human chain in the creeks to get the wounded across. Night was spent in a jungle so dense that they moved at the rate of only 100 yards an hour. The swamps were sometimes waist-deep, the trees were laced with vines, their jagged spikes shaped like fish hooks. In the open rubber country, they were guided by friendly Chinese, who gave them food and water, and so those who remained got through". Norman's war records show that he was missing for eight days after this encounter with the enemy. He recounted that he had received assistance from some friendly Chinese.

"Less than 2,000 strong at the beginning, the Australians fought along the Bakri-Yong Peng road surrounded by the enemy's finest shock troops, they defied every effort of the Japanese to annihilate them. 'No surrender' was the spur that drove them on. They fought the enemy to a standstill. They were subjected to continuous artillery and mortar, dive-bombing and machine-gunning from the air. They smashed their way under fire with axes through miles of jungle road blocks; blasted Japanese tanks at point-blank range and made bayonet charge after bayonet charge. They were given up as lost, but the remnants went through, and in that dogged retreat, saved the British left flank in Malaya and gave vital breathing space to our main army in the centre.

"During the 5 days of fighting, it was estimated that the Australians had killed between 1000 to 3000 of Japans front-line soldiers, the crack 1st Japanese Guards Division, hot with conquest; Nippon's best equipped and seasoned soldiers who had captured Canton like a whirlwind in 1938. The rifle and bayonet had proved to be the decisive weapon. Infantrymen had averaged 50 rounds per man and 8 out of 10 shots had taken effect. Of the two Australian battalions, less than four hundred came out of it, including 271 officers and men of the 2/19th Battalion.

Singapore Defence
"The Australian battalions were given the western half of Singapore Island to defend. The battalions had been reinforced to full strength with new arrivals just off the boat. These new recruits were only partly trained and were a sacrificial offering destined for death or imprisonment for three and a half years. The task was to begin to build defensive positions along a very long front. It was then that they felt far more than before, their serious weakness in the air. When the Japanese bombardment began, they destroyed all beach lights and guns in the sector. They launched their attack in boats in the dark, and, by concentrating all their efforts on one section, completely overwhelmed the thin defence. Even at this stage, the AIF managed to form a strong perimeter against which the enemy were smashed over and over again. During the final stages, Australian numbers were so depleted that it was necessary to use non-combatant troops to occupy positions in the firing line. The Australians occupied the perimeter from which they refused to budge, and it was in this position that they stood when the decision to surrender was made.

Surrender of Singapore
"Singapore's agonies ended at 8.30pm on 15th February, 1942. This was the greatest disaster in British military history which marked the beginning of the end of the British Empire. It was also the end of the journey that had begun, with flags flying and bands playing, from Sydney Harbour a little more than a year before. By then the city water supply was exhausted. Civilians were being killed and injured by air raids. Food was running short, only three days rations and no artillery ammunition. There was no Dunkirk for these men - and no understanding of their sacrifice by the outside world for years to come. Details of their sufferings were, rightly, censored by the various governments until the war's end in order not to provoke the Japanese into reprisals. Australian, British, Dutch and other prisoners of the Japanese were condemned to a captivity of such sadistic cruelty that it appals civilised imagination. It was a more personalised savagery than the mass savagery of the Hitlerite German. For three and a half years they were lost to Australia, wiped off as failures and defeatists by soldiers of other AIF divisions who had won great reputations in other theatres of war, other Dunkirk's and a second chance. Then, after the mushroom-shaped clouds arose over Hiroshima, the stories of the great victories of the 8th Division (we are concerned here only with Australians) in captivity were able to be published. These were victories of the spirit over the body - Dunkirk's of the soul, but nonetheless real."

The book from which these extracts have been taken, "The Singapore Surrender" was written by Gilbert Mant ".......... in honour and admiration of the men and women of the 8th Division, recruited in the dark days of Dunkirk in 1940. The book is addressed to the sons and daughters, their grandsons and grand-daughters to assure them that 'Menzies' Glamour Boys' fought to the death, true patriots all. Their spirit and courage during their prisoner of war days has been recorded in many, many books, television and radio documentaries. They deserved a better fate, a chance of military glory and immortality, but it was not to be. They were made sacrificial offerings to an already lost cause, I cry for them."

Norman's war records show that he was missing from 20/1/42 to 28/1/42, when he rejoined his unit. He was again reported missing on 16/2/42, then on 1/9/43 confirmed missing, believed P.O.W., then recorded on 23/9/43 that he was a Prisoner of War. Imagine the anguish of his family not knowing whether he was alive or dead from the 16/2/42 to the first report on 1/9/42 that he was possibly a Prisoner of War.

Death Railway
The following few quotations and information are taken from Clifford Kinvig's book 'Death Railway'.

Two days after the fall of Singapore, carrying rations for ten days and a minimum of equipment, the British and Australian prisoners had been marched out of Singapore city to the Changi area in the north east of the island, thereby losing contact with their Indian troops. Conditions rapidly deteriorated; stocks of service rations begun to run low and were replaced by a monotonous diet of rice to which European stomachs were unaccustomed, and which, lacking in protein as it was, began the rapid process of debilitation which, for many became a permanent condition until the end of the war. At Changi the POWs were left to themselves; a perimeter fence was erected but within it they were responsible for their own administration, for a time at least! The prisoners saw little of their captors, but after a few weeks the POW administration had to provide working parties for tasks on various parts of the island where, they cleared war damage, disposed of mines, built roads and worked at the docks. The Japanese worked the prisoners hard, and subjected them to beatings for any failure to obey orders. The camps were primitive affairs and basic amenities were installed by prisoners themselves, often with materials they stole. Few drugs were provided for the increasing numbers of men who fell ill. The first POW labour force to move north to Burma and Siam left their camps in Changi, Batavia and Padang in April and May 1942, just as the South-West monsoon was beginning to break. The force, known as 'A' Force, 3000 Australians left Changi for Burma to work on the 'Death Railway', on one of the first of the 'hell ship' journeys with which many more prisoners were later to be familiar. The men were crammed into the airless and unsanitary holds of Japanese freighters where the rapid spread of tropical infections was unavoidable. Other POW's made the trip from Singapore Station in small steel box cars into which about 30 men were crammed. To lie down was out of the question and a roster had to be drawn up for each to take a turn to sit down. For five days and nights the trains rattled on to Ban Pong, the point from which the new railway was to commence. Thus began the life of the POW working on the now famous bridge, in the film called 'The Bridge over the River Kwai'. The bridge in fact is not over the river it lay alongside the river.

"The various POW task forces which the Japanese sent from Singapore to destinations throughout the region were known by code letters. By March 1943, the authorities had worked through to the letter 'D'." Norman's army records reveal that he was transferred to 'D' Force on 18 March 1943. "'D' Force was a party of 5000 prisoners, over half of whom were British and the rest Australian, who were bound for the Siam end of the railway. 'D' Force was to be employed on embankments and cuttings and other difficult tasks along the line where progress had fallen behind schedule. They made the five-day journey on the Nippon Golden Arrow and men were soon toiling in the conditions of slavery that the Japanese system demanded. They found a new spirit of urgency with which the Japanese were attacking the project. The first job was the construction of a huge embankment. It was built in 15 days by shifts of prisoners working around the clock, the last shift working for 30 hours until the embankment was completed. This was but one example of the frenzied activity which now engulfed the railway labour camps as the Japanese introduced what they called, a period of 'speedo working' which started as the tropical showers heralded the coming of the monsoon which was to continue until the last rail was laid. This period was simply a desperate struggle for survival as the monsoon produced more difficult conditions and brought fresh outbreaks of disease with it.

"While the last Singapore groups were beginning their marches to the railway camps, the existing labour forces were also being reorganised for the next phase. The fitter men moved on to new areas and No 2 group was switched to Takanum at the 206 kilometre mark, deep in the jungle belt yet in a strangely well-developed area, near a small Thai town which acted as a sort of collection centre and administration centre for the wolfram mines nearby". Norman was known to have worked in a tin mine which exists with wolfram. Could this have been the location? The fittest prisoners were eventually selected to work in mainland Japan supplementing the labour force of women and young people who were now being used for industrial work. The men for the Japan groups were first selected by their own medical officers and then subjected to a second scrutiny by the Japanese. Finally, they were divided up into groups of 150 with one officer to each group. Between April and June 1944, 10000 prisoners were collected at Saigon for shipment to Japan, but because of the scarcity of shipping many were transferred by rail to Singapore in the hope that a boat might be available for them there. Other groups of railway prisoners had been sent from the Siam base camps. The River Valley camp was the transit area. Those who were unfortunate enough to embark had the daunting experience of running the gauntlet of attacks by their own submarines and hundreds were drowned when their ships went down. Few convoys for Japan got through without loss as the Allied Forces grew stronger. Life in Japan was no improvement for the POWs as work in the coal and copper mines and shipyards was hard, the winters were desperately cold and the food grew steadily worse. As the blockade tightened even the supply of rice ran out in some areas and only coarse millet from Korea and edible seaweed were available to replace it".

As a Prisoner of War, Norman Flack worked on each of the following locations for periods of about six months:- Interned in Changi Prison; worked on the Singapore Wharfs; a tin mine; and as one of the 'White Coolies" on the construction of the Thai-Burma 'death' Railway. When a prisoner died, the body was cooked and fed to the prisoners who thought they were eating horse meat. Norman recounted that the Japanese guards would jump onto the sleepers that the prisoners were carrying to lay along the track, thus adding to the weight. Many a time, Norman felt like dropping the sleeper but he dare not. The prisoners used to collect coal to burn for warmth. It was collected and loaded onto a bag suspended between two saplings to make a stretcher. One day Norman was carrying the bag and his mate from Forbes, Doug Craig, was carrying the two saplings. When passing the guard, a sapling slipped out of his mate's hand, narrowly missing the guard. For this accident, his mate was taken away and flogged mercilessly to death. When asked what was in his mind at the time, Norman said 'I was just pleased that I was holding the bag, not the saplings.' If any prisoner was caught thieving food, it was not uncommon for the fingernails to be pulled out.

Hell Ship to Japan
Norman was transported to Kyushu, an island of Japan, by 'hell-ship'. a Malayan ex-rubber transport boat referred to by the Japanese as Bieoki Maru (ie Sick Ship). They encountered a monsoon which caused some of the rivets to pop out of their seams. The rough weather caused sea sickness in many of the prisoners which meant that they did not eat the little food that they were given. Norman, on the other hand, was a good sailer and relished the extra rations that became available. He worked on the island of Kyushu for a number of years in a diamond-coal mine which ran under the sea for seven miles. The seam was narrow and had to be worked by the prisoners on their knees with water continually seeping through the ceiling. When the second atomic bomb, Fat Man the Plutonium bomb, was dropped on Nagasaki at a minute past eleven o'clock hour on the 9th August, 1945, the 'mushroom' marked the final blow of the Pacific War. Norman recounted that he was working in the mine and some parts became unstable and collapsed. Norman was ten miles from Nagasaki and being down the mine when the bomb was dropped possibly saved his life. The prisoners had no idea that the bomb had been dropped and finished their shift. When they reached the surface, the Japanese head man General Yamashita, 'The Tiger of Malaya' and a lot of the guards had already left the camp. 'Tiger' was later found, tried and hanged for his war crimes at Los Banios in the Philippines in February, 1946.

Sister Peggie, Brother Keith and Mother Isabella, with Norman after the WarTOP PIC - 2/19 Battalion Reunion Temora Beres Turner & Norman Flack. BOTTOM PIC - Norman in 1953 with his 1934 Ford

For three days after the bomb was dropped the prisoners were not able to see the sun and it was very hot. They knew something had happened but were told nothing for a few days. Nevertheless, they did notice a change in their captors, for instance, after a guard bashed a prisoner, he was reprimanded by his superior officer! American planes flew over the camp and dropped leaflets declaring that the war had ended and advising that they stay together until collected. Later the Americans flew over, dropping food and clothing in drums. The American saviours arrived, many taking their own clothing from their backs to give to the prisoners, departing on the planes in their underwear

Symbol of Defiance
A battered and soiled Great Britain flag was the first Allied flag to be flown on Japanese soil after the war. It was flown as a replacement for the Japanese Rising Sun which was taken from the flag pole at the infamous Ohhama camp. The flag was in the possession of the 2/19 Battalion and when the unit was captured at Singapore, it was entrusted to the safe-and-secret keeping of Private Thomas William Beresford (Beres) Turner. Beres was a renowned antagonist of and held a lifelong loathing of the Japs. He was severely beaten and tortured on several occasions, such as when he was caught buying food for his sick mates (after ripping out a couple of his own gold fillings to sell in order to buy food). Throughout the difficult and arduous times, the POW's endured, Beres kept the flag hidden from the probing eyes of his captors during countless searches. The flag is now on display in the Heraldry Section of the Australian War Memorial, Canberra and stands as a symbol of defiance, hope and triumph over adversity.

Norman was recovered from the Japanese at Ohhama, Japan on the 15th September, 1945 and was transferred to a holding camp in Manila, Philippine Island from where he embarked on 15th October, 1945 for Australia aboard the H.M.S. Speaker. As a result of their severe malnutrition. a large number of the men were suffering from Beri Beri, including Norman. Their malnutrition resulted in a lack of Thiamine which causes severe lack of energy, loss of blood circulation and swelling of the joints and chronic fluid retention which in turn made the men look bloated. To give the men time to have some good food and to help with their recuperation, the army planned to keep them at sea off Freemantle for a while, maintaining the ship. However, the men almost caused a mutiny as all they wanted was to get back to their families in Australia.

Norman and Wife Marjorie 1989 Anzac DayAnzac Day, 1997. Granddaughter Janelle wearing Norman's medals.

Back Home, at Last
Norman was met in Sydney by a jubilant mother, happy sister Peggy and exuberant younger brother, Keith. Some time elapsed during which Norman, his family members present and friends "painted the town red". Norman requested a discharge from the army on compassionate grounds. This was granted on 10 January 1946. His army records show that he served in the A.I.F. for 2025 days (more than 5.5 years) including 1804 days of active service (nearly 5 years). He received a warm welcome on his return to his home town of Hay. A large 'Welcome Home N. C. Flack' sign was erected over the front gate of the home of his parents in Orson Street.

Norm resumed work with Hay Motors as a motor mechanic where he worked for some time. He then worked with his brother-in-law, Ron Turner for five years sinking artesian bores, then on Tom's Lake Sheep Station, near the village of Booligal, as a general and windmill mechanic for almost 11 years. Norman returned to the town of Hay where he secured employment with various employers. He had married Marjorie Pocock and had three daughters. He lived with his wife and children in the Orson Street family home. Marjorie, Norman's wife, recounted that Norman had nightmares and lived with his demons. He died of cancer on 16/12/1990, thought to have been caused by radiation from the atomic bomb.

 

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