Military life took Norm Jones far but Hamilton was always home

Norm Jones was just 16 days short of his 100th birthday when he died in January.
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Norm Jones was just 16 days short of his 100th birthday when he died in January.

OBITUARY: Norman Lloyd Jones RN 25637 February 6, 1917 – January 19, 2017

Norm was one of those men in a dark blazer who, left breast covered in a good half-a-dozen campaign medals, always stood a little straighter on Anzac Day.

But, for those in the know, it was the blue-and-white-striped ribbon of the campaign medal awarded by the Greek Government and worn by Norm on the right breast that was the clue to a tough war.

Norm Jones’ war started in 1939 when, aged 22, he was among the first to sign up for active service overseas.
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Norm Jones’ war started in 1939 when, aged 22, he was among the first to sign up for active service overseas.

A Hamilton man all his long life, Norm's war started in 1939 when, aged 22, he was among the first to sign up for active service overseas. The long years of the Great Depression, and a boring job adding figures across herd testing sheets for the Auckland Herd Improvement Association in Anglesea Street meant, with war's outbreak, that he was ready for travel and adventure.

Norm was to get both, but perhaps not in the manner he expected.

As he recounted in his memoirs, his travels began when he embarked from Wellington on the Mauritania. "We landed at Perth and were given 12 hours' leave. There was a huge bar there and I ended up as barman. Some girls asked us to go to a ball. We were in our hobnail boots, Bombay bloomers, putties and open-neck shirts. The ball happened to be at Government House, and was quite magnificent."

His travels continued through Bombay where he changed to the troopship Ormonde and landed in Egypt. Posted to the Greek mainland, Norm's war was at first a series of rapid retreats. He found himself fighting doggedly, but going the wrong way, as part of the month-long retreat from the Greek mainland and followed by an even tougher fighting retreat across Crete. At one point during a bombing, he dived into a ditch and recalled coming to after losing consciousness, only to find both of his mates on either side of him dead. This tendency to be lucky characterised his life.

Two sea evacuations later, and by now an expert at destroying his own equipment, Norm found himself back where he had started, in Egypt. A period of relative calm followed and he was able to turn tourist – if one in hobnailed boots – and travel through south Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria.

Norm, whose ability at trigonometry had seen him appointed as a bombardier surveyor and scout for the NZ Artillery Division, had to a wait a while to exact some revenge on the enemy. But when his chance came it was spectacular as he took part in the famous barrage of guns that announced the opening of the battle of El Alamein, a turning point in the fight against fascism.

After another year or so in the desert, during which he managed to meet up with his brother Llew, he returned home in 1944 and decided, perhaps with good reason given his experiences, that Hamilton suited him just fine. Besides a few short holidays, he was to spend the rest of his days in the city of his birth at his homes in River Road and Sandwich Road. It was, after all was said and done, the town where he had been educated (Whitiora Primary and Hamilton Technical College) and where he had played his sport for Tech's first XV and first XI. It was also the area that held the memories of summer holidays at his grandfather Walter Sayer's bach at Raglan, where he was one of the earlier holiday makers.

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Settling back into civilian life, Norm completed an agricultural course at Massey College in 1945. He would have liked to try his hand at farming, but lacked the capital, and took up a position with seed merchants Wright Stephenson, where he was to remain in their Hamilton branch until he retired as merchandise manager in 1977.

Three years after returning home, Norm married a young woman eight years his junior, Doreen Dingle, whom he first met while on a blind date with another girl. Norm became a regular visitor to the Dingle home, often "popping in" after church on a Sunday evening for singalongs around the Dingle family piano. Norm's son Mark said the marriage was a long and happy one.

"Doreen's father Bill Dingle had said to Doreen that if Norm wanted to marry Doreen, he'd better do it before he turned 30. Duly warned, on February 1, five days before his 30th birthday, Norm married Doreen at St George's Anglican Church in Somerset Street, Frankton." The couple were to be together for just short of 70 years, raising two children, Dale and Mark, and becoming thoroughly involved in their extended family of grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Having grown up in a close-knit family in Selkirk Street, Norm was at his happiest when surrounded by extended family.

Norm's retirement years were many, and he filled them well with golf at St Andrews, bridge, gardening, and by supporting grandchildren from the sidelines of many a sporting code.

Right until the end, Norm maintained his sense of humour, his eye for a pretty face, and his ability to relate to family members. He died just 16 days short of his 100th birthday.

Norm leaves his wife of 70 years, Doreen, his son Mark, daughter Dale, grandchildren Amelia, Simon, Ashley, William, Matthew and Alex, and great-grandchildren Freida, Grace, Mia and Carter.

 - Stuff

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