We lost another remarkable Kokoda veteran yesterday when Keith Norrish OAM passed away in Perth aged 95.
Lt Keith Norrish, a Western Australian who served bravely with the renowned 2/16th Battalion, was wounded in the legendary attack at Brigade Hill.
He had previously fought with the 2/16th in the Middle East and was wounded fighting against the Vichy French in Syria. He recuperated in Australia before rejoining his unit for the Kokoda campaign.
At Brigade Hill, Keith was caught by a burst of Japanese machine-gun fire. He owed his life to a steel mirror his friend had given him shortly before the attack and to a wad of 17 letters he had received from his future wife Peg and his family that morning.
Keith stuffed the mirror and the wad of letters into his left breast pocket before the charge. When he ran into the machine gun burst, the mirror deflected four bullets down into his stomach muscles, another punctured his lung and damaged his pericardium and a six deflected into his bicep muscle.
That was the start of a remarkable six-day journey of survival as, after being patched up with field dressings, he was forced to walk back down the Track to safety, aided only by a young Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel.
Keith couldn’t lie down during the walk because his lungs were filling with fluid so he slept propped up against a tree or draped over a bush walking staff fashioned by his young Papuan ‘guardian angel’.
He eventually made it back to a Casualty Clearing Station where doctors operated and sent him on an arduous journey back to Australia.
Amazingly, Keith recuperated once again and transferred to the 2/22nd Battalion and saw further service in the Aitape-Wewak campaign in New Guinea.
Keith was Co-Patron of his beloved 2/16th Battalion and a revered figure in Perth at the Anzac Day march.
Lest We Forget.