PRIVATE NORMAN JOHN WARREN HOFFMEYER
31ST AUGUST 1918 AGE 23
BURIED: PERONNE COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION, FRANCE
What is duty? For some people today it has become synonymous with the word chore, but that is not how men like Private Hoffmeyer saw it. To them 'duty' was something you owed, in this case to your country, something you felt to be morally right despite the fact that it might involve self-sacrifice. There was no conscription in Australia so those who volunteered did so for any number of reasons, which in Norman Hoffmeyer's case amounted to a sense that it was his duty to do so.
Hoffmeyer, a farmer from Bendigo in Victoria, enlisted in September 1916, admitting that he had previously been rejected on the grounds of 'bad feet'. He served at the front from March 1917 except for two weeks in June 1917 when he was wounded, and two weeks in Britain in March 1918 when he was on leave.
On the 31 August 1918 at 4.20 am, the 38th Battalion took over the front line near the Canal du Nord prior to an attack. The war diary reported that at 3.15 pm the 37th Battalion moved through to continue the attack and the 38th went into reserve. 'Moved through' gives a hint as to how the fighting in August had changed from the trench warfare of the past four years, so do the diary's references to 'semi-open' and 'rapidly moving' warfare.
There is no indication as to how Hoffmeyer met his death. His family did not request information from the Australian Red Cross perhaps because, as his inscription suggests, someone was with him when he died who passed on the information. This suggestion is supported by a chance discovery in 2007. Two cousins, sorting out a shed in the family property on the outskirts of Bendigo, came across a collection of First World War photographs that had been taken by their fathers, Jack and Bert Grinton. The brothers served with the 38th Battalion and among the images in the collection is one of Hoffmeyer's grave, marked with a wooden cross. Evidence perhaps that Hoffmeyer was among friends when he died.