Frank Partridge VC: country boy, war hero, quiz champion, husband, father

Frank Partridge VC was the youngest and last Australian WWII soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry in Bougainville, 1945. Photo: courtesy of the Frank Partridge VC Military Museum

Frank Partridge VC was the youngest and last Australian WWII soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry in Bougainville, 1945. Photo: courtesy of the Frank Partridge VC Military Museum

Many know the name Frank Partridge to mean 'war hero', but beyond that title there was also a shy country boy, an unassuming quiz champion, a husband, a father.

Frank Partridge is a familiar name in the Nambucca Valley. There is the Frank Partridge VC primary school at Nambucca and the Frank Partridge VC Museum at Bowraville.

Having also been a successful quiz show champion on TV show Pick A Box in 1962 and '63, Frank Partridge has to be one of the biggest celebrities in our area.

However, his life story is sad to me. He was born in 1924 in Grafton to parents Patrick James and Mary. His father was a veteran of the First World War and was said to be a tough hard-drinking bushie. His mother was born in England and was said to be elegant and demure when Patrick brought her to the valley.

Their home was a dirt-floored house on a dairy farm and banana plantation at Upper Newee Creek. Frank went to Tewinga Public School along with his brothers and sister. As Frank would later demonstrate an extraordinary retentive memory and intelligence it seems unfortunate that he left school to help on the family farm at just thirteen.

In December 1942, during World War Two, an 18-year-old Frank was conscripted by the Australian Army. He served as a private in the 8th Battalion. In May 1944, the 8th Battalion was posted to New Guinea.

An 18-year-old Frank Partridge was conscripted by the Australian Army in December 1942 to fight in World War II.

An 18-year-old Frank Partridge was conscripted by the Australian Army in December 1942 to fight in World War II.

On July 24, 1944, in one of the last actions of the campaign on Bougainville, two platoons of the 8th Battalion attacked a Japanese post. Frank's section came under heavy machine-gun fire and suffered severe casualties, including a Bren gunner who was killed.

Although wounded in the arm and leg, Frank retrieved the Bren gun and began shooting at the nearest bunker while under fire himself. He rushed forward armed with a grenade and a knife, silenced the Japanese machine-gun with his grenade and killed the only living occupant of the bunker with his knife.

Finally he attacked a second bunker until loss of blood stopped him. Later he re-joined the fight and remained in action while the platoon withdrew. For his heroic actions he was awarded the Victoria Cross. This is the highest decoration for gallantry in the face of the enemy.

Frank was the last and the youngest Australian to be awarded the Victoria Cross in World War Two.

After the war Frank went to London as a member of the Australian Victory Contingent, then settled back onto the family farm, living quietly with his father. In the evenings, to overcome his lack of education, he avidly read the Encyclopaedia Britannica by lamplight.

Frank Partridge and his father Patrick in their pumpkin patch. Photo: courtesy of the Frank Partridge VC Military Museum.

Frank Partridge and his father Patrick in their pumpkin patch. Photo: courtesy of the Frank Partridge VC Military Museum.

In 1962-63 he appeared as a contestant on the television quiz show, 'Pick-a-Box', compered by Bob Dyer. His laconic manner appealed strongly to viewers.

Frank was one of only three contestants to win all forty boxes; his prizes were valued at more than £12,000. Interestingly a lot of his prizes were electrical appliances which would have been useless at his unpowered home.

At St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sydney, on 23 February 1963 he married Barbara Dunlop, a 31-year-old nursing sister who lived at Turramurra.

Frank Partridge married Barbara Dunlop in 1963. Photo: courtesy of the Frank Partridge VC Military Museum

Frank Partridge married Barbara Dunlop in 1963. Photo: courtesy of the Frank Partridge VC Military Museum

The wedding received extensive media coverage. Barbara remained at Turramurra while Frank built a new home at the farm. He drove to Sydney every weekend to see her.

Frank with wife Barbara (left); and with his baby son Lachlan.

Frank with wife Barbara (left); and with his baby son Lachlan.

There is a hand-written letter of Frank's at the Headland Museum. He writes a full page to explain that he could not attend a museum function.

The letter is written in an attractive neat hand with great politeness. It is dated late 1963 just a few months before his death in a car accident near Bellingen in March 1964.

He was buried with full military honours with a crowd of 4000 attendees at the Macksville Cemetery.

Frank and Barbara, 1963. Photo: courtesy of the Frank Partridge VC Military Museum

Frank and Barbara, 1963. Photo: courtesy of the Frank Partridge VC Military Museum

So why is Frank Partridge V C's life a sad story?

I think because it has it all, harsh beginnings, his shy bookish personality and a momentous act of bravery.

Frank Partridge VC died in a car accident near Bellingen aged just 39. He was buried with full military honours at the Macksville Cemetery. Photo: courtesy Australian War Memorial

Frank Partridge VC died in a car accident near Bellingen aged just 39. He was buried with full military honours at the Macksville Cemetery. Photo: courtesy Australian War Memorial

This was followed by celebrity, travel, a time as a quiz champion, then his last great goal achieved, a wife, a child and a home of his own, which was cut short by a tragic early death.

He was however at odds with his environment. I read that he had the habit of never wearing socks with shoes and was laconic in his speech and actions. Always the quiet country boy.

The plaque on his grave at Macksville Cemetery reads "Honoured and loved by all in life and death". He was just 39 years old.

The information for this segment was sourced from online obituaries and the records of the Nambucca Headland Museum.

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