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Lieutenant Norman Douglas Holbrook

Norman Holbrook was born in Southsea, Hants on 9th July 1888 and he was the son of Sir Arthur Holbrook – a newspaper proprietor (one of the founders of Holbrook's Printers in Hilsea, Portsmouth) and Amelia M Holbrook. At the time of the 1891 Census two year old Norman was listed as being at home with his parents, two sisters and three brothers at 25, Victoria Road North, Portsea, Hants. By the time of the 1901 Census the family had increased by another two daughters and another two sons and the family had moved to Warleigh House, Grove Road South, Portsmouth.

Norman Holbrook was educated privately and at Portsmouth Grammar School. He joined the Royal Navy as a Cadet at the Britannia, Royal Naval College in 1903 and was promoted to Midshipman on 30th Jan 1905.

He was appointed to the 14,900 ton Twin Screw Battle Ship HMS Jupiter in the Channel Fleet on 20th September 1905. This was followed by an appointment to the 9,800 ton Twin Screw Armoured Cruiser HMS Monmouth 'on commissioning at Devonport for service on the China Station' on 10th Apr 1906.

He was promoted to Sub Lieutenant on 30th Mar 1908. Lieutenant Holbrook (Seniority 30th Sep 1909) joined Submarines in 1910 when, on 4th January 1910, he was appointed to HMS Mercury at Portsmouth 'for Training'. This was followed, on 11th Apr 1910, by a further appointment to HMS Mercury 'for Submarines' in Submarine Section IV which, at that time consisted of fifteen submarines of the A Class, B Class, C Class & D Class.

At the time of the 1911 Census, which was conducted on Sunday 2nd April 1911 Norman Holbrook – who was listed as an officer in the Navy and serving in the Submarine Depot Ship HMS Mercury - was living at home with his family in Warleigh House.

His next appointment was to HMS Bonventure 'for Submarines' on 4th Apr 1911 followed by an appointment to HMS Thames (5th and 6th Flotillas) – both of C Class boats) 'for Submarines' on 12th Jan 1912.

On 15th Oct 1912 he was re-appointed to HMS Bonventure 'for Submarines'. His first Command then followed with the appointment, on 19th Mar 1913 to HMS Dolphin 'for Submarine A13 in Command'.

An appointment to HMS Egmont at Malta 'for Submarine B11 in Command' followed on 30th Dec 1913.


Lieutenant Norman D Holbrook was awarded the Victoria Cross (London Gazette of 22nd December 1914) for his action in successfully sinking the Turkish Battleship Messudieh at the Dardanelles on 13th Dec 1914.

The King has been Graciously pleased to approve of the grant of the Victoria Cross to Lieutenant Norman Douglas Holbrook, Royal Navy for the conspicuous act of bravery as specified below.

For most conspicuous bravery on 13th December, when in command of the Submarine B11, he entered the Dardanelles, and, notwithstanding the very difficult current, dived his vessel under five rows of mines and torpedoed the Turkish Battleship "Messudiyeh", which was guarding the minefield.

Lieutenant Holbrook succeeded in bringing the B11 safely back, although assailed by gun fire and torpedo boats, having been submerged on occasion for nine hours.

This was the first Victoria Cross awarded to the Royal Navy in the First World War and the first ever to a Submariner.

On 5th July 1915 Lieutenant Holbrook was transferred, with Submarine B11, to the Submarine Depot Ship HMS Adamant.

On 7th Oct 1915 he was reported as being appointed to HMS Dolphin as 'Sick'.

Then followed an appointment to HMS Arrogant' for 'Submarine F3 in Command – Building' to date 1st Jan 1916 – see Nominal List of 10th Feb 1916. Submarine F3 was built by Thorneycroft of Woolston, Southampton and was 'Launched' on 15th Feb 1916 and 'Completed' on 15th Jul 1916. On commissioning Submarine F3 was attached to the Submarine Depot Ship HMS Alecto (8th Submarine Flotilla).

His next appointment was to HMS Alecto 'for Submarine V4 in Command' on 8th Dec 1916 (Nominal List of 1st Jan 1917).

Norman Holbrook was appointed a 'Chevalier of the Legion of Honour' (France) – see London Gazette dated 7th Apr 1916 and an 'Officer of the Order of St. Michael and St. Lazarus' (Italy) – see London Gazette dated 14th July 1916.

Norman Holbrook was next appointed to 'Submarine E41 in Command - Standing by whilst refitting' to date 14th Feb 1917 – Nominal List of 1st Mar 1917. The refit followed the accidental sinking of E41 in a collision with Submarine E4 on 15th August 1916. Submarine E41 a mine-laying Submarine, re-joined the 9th Submarine Flotilla based on HMS Maidstone at Harwich on re-commissioning.

Norman Holbrook was promoted Lieutenant Commander on 30th September 1917 and, on 26th January 1918, he was appointed to HMS Titania (11th Submarine Flotilla) at Blyth 'for Submarine J2 in Command' (Nominal List of 1st Feb 1918).

On 30th Oct 1918, returned to General Service and was appointed to HMS Glory IV 'for Gunnery Duties'.

Norman Holbrook was married to Viva Dixon at St George's, Hanover Square, London in 1919.

In January 1920 he was listed without an appointment.

Norman Holbrook was transferred to the Retired List at his own request on 30th September 1920. He then became a Director of Holbrook's Printers. He was promoted to Commander on the Retired List on 9th July 1928.

He was recalled for duty on 25th Aug 1939 and was appointed to HMS President 'for service in the Admiralty Trade Division'.

Norman Holbrook died at Steadham Mill, Sussex on 3rd Jun 1976. He is buried in the St. James' Churchyard at Midhurst, Sussex. There is a memorial plaque, unveiled by the Duke of Edinburgh in the Royal Naval and Royal Albert Yacht Club in Pembroke Road, Old Portsmouth.

NOTE. After the outbreak of the War in 1914 the population of Germantown in New South Wales decided that they needed to change the name of their town to something a little more patriotic. Following the award of the Victoria Cross to Norman Holbrook it was decided to change the name to Holbrook. The name and the achievements of Norman Holbrook are commemorated annually by the town of Holbrook on ANZAC Day.

Norman Holbrook's Victoria Cross and other medals are on display at The Australian War Memorial in Canberra.



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