German spy may have caused Captain Lovett's death

Name: Norman  Lovett
Date: 1914-1918
Unit: 1st Light Horse Unit
Location: Europe

Norman Lovett was well known in the Wellington area. His father Fred was the Maryvale Public School teacher and Norman had spent much of his life there. He had followed in his father's footsteps and was also a teacher in charge of the tiny Bearbung School near Gilgandra when he enlisted on 23 August 1914.

He was taken on strength of the 1st Light Horse Regiment and went overseas with the rank of Sergeant. He trained in Egypt and fought at Gallipoli, where he was slightly wounded in May 1915. Upon recovery he returned to Gallipoli and remained with the 1st until the evacuation. Back at Tel-el-Kebir he gained his commission and transferred to the infantry where he became a 2nd Lieutenant with the 53rd Battalion.

Upon the Battalion's arrival in France he was detached as one of the junior officers in charge of an Australian Contingent to take part in the Allied Military Review which took place in Paris on 14 July 1916.

The group photo shows Lt Lovett with some of the other officers who took part in the parade. Only 52 Australians marched in the parade, in a composite company alongside the Canadians, the Aussies proudly wearing their slouch hats and their cleanest uniforms. However, it was not on the parade ground that Norman Lovett distinguished himself.

It was only five days later during the Battle of Fromelles on 19 July 1916 that Norman Lovett earned his first gallantry decoration: Lt Lovett led his platoon of the 53rd Battalion during a charge on German trenches at Petillon. He was wounded during the charge but continued in command of his men through a night of very heavy fighting, taking command of the captured enemy position.

He returned to the Australian front line at daylight in order to have his wound dressed, but as a counter-attack by the Germans developed he disregarded his own wounds, organised a party of wounded men and stragglers to resist the attack and to cover the retirement of the remainder of his company and that of the adjoining company.

Lt Lovett, unaided, took charge of and fired a Lewis Gun, the crew of which had been killed. He showed a great example of coolness and courage throughout. For his gallantry he was recommended for and later awarded the Military Cross.

Once again Lt Lovett was in the thick of the action in February 1917. This time, while on detachment to the 13th Battalion on the night of 4/5 February he was participating in an attack by that unit. After the position had been captured, the enemy counter-attacked.

The Officer Commanding the 13th Battalion needed mortar support to engage the enemy's left flank and as all communications were out Lt Lovett took the request himself. He had to pass through a particularly heavy enemy barrage and performed the task in a most gallant manner. With very little delay the mortars were able to lay enfilade fire and decisively defeated the portion of the counter-attack at a moment when the position was becoming critical for the Australians.

General Birdwood personally wrote the citation for the bar to Lt Lovett's Military Cross in appreciation and recognition of his bravery.

Lt Lovett was promoted to Captain and became Adjutant with the Headquarters of the 54th Battalion in the Villers-Bretonneux area. He was killed in extraordinary circumstances on 9 April 1918. A French Artillery Lieutenant approached the 54th Battalion asking for permission to return to his family's house in Villers-Bretonneux. He insisted upon gaining written permission from the 54th's Commanding Officer and was shown to the HQ dugout.

After gaining permission he walked towards the town. Later that day the 54th's HQ dugout was shelled, killing the CO, Lt-Col McConaghy, Capt Lovett and Lt Staples.

Many within the Battalion and even official war historians believed that the 'French' Lieutenant may have been a German spy. Norman Lovett was later posthumously awarded the Croix-de-Guerre for his acts of gallantry. He is buried in the Aubigny British Cemetery at Somme in France which was established by Australian units, mainly of the 54th/57th Battalions in April-August 1918.

The original material for this article was written by Trevor Munro of the Wellington Historical Society with cooperation from Norman's sister Thelma O'Brien N

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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), German spy may have caused Captain Lovett's death, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 25 June 2024,
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