Norman J. Self was born on 19 September 1933, at Sydney NSW, to Emily and Fredrick Self; the eldest of four boys. He completed his education at Ipswich North State School (with a scholarship) in 1947; then moved to join his family at Wallangarra, on the Qld-NSW border, due to his father being posted there by the Army.
After working for Queensland Railways for a while, on 21 March 1951, Norman Self enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy, at Brisbane, Qld., for a six-year term. He was then posted to HMAS Cerberus FND Recruit School in Victoria. Here he was selected for training as a telegraphist, and on 21 September 1951, after further training was rated Ordinary Telegraphist.
Self was then drafted to HMAS Condamine on 12 April 1952; which was due to go to Korea. However, fate intervened when walking on a footpath he was hit by an errant car, which broke his arm. Being temporally disabled, he ended-up at HMAS Penguin, until he was drafted to the RAN air station, HMAS Albatross (RANAS Nowra). At Albatross he volunteered for aircrew training; this happened because telegraphists were required for the new Fairey Gannet aircraft that the FAA planned to buy.
Meanwhile, on 3 November 1952, Self was drafted as a telegraphist to the newly recommissioned, tribal-class destroyer, HMAS Arunta; sailing with the ship as it cruised Australian waters until 31 December 1953. During 1953 Norman married his sweetheart Margaret, with a daughter Marion arriving some time later.
Self’s next posting was to HMAS Penguin, from 1 January 1954 until 21 October 1954. This was followed by a short posting to HMAS Kuttabul, the fleet support depot near Garden Island Dockyard. Then on 9 February 1955 he was drafted to HMAS Albatross (RANAS Nowra) where he began aircrew training as a FAA telegraphist (T). This included short period at HMAS Watson, a training establishment, on Sydney’s South Head, and the aircraft carrier HMAS Vengeance for specialist training, before returning to Albatross to complete his aircrew course.
On 13 June 1955, Self was posted to HMAS Vengeance, joining the many FAA maintainers and aircrew on passage to the UK to begin their conversion training on the new Fairey Gannet and Sea Venom aircraft that would form 816, 817 (Gannets) and 808 (Sea Venoms) Squadrons. HMAS Vengeance, was being returned to the RN – having been on loan while HMAS Melbourne, which was being fitted with an angle deck. Vengeance sailed from Sydney Harbour for the last time on 16 June 1955, arriving at Devonport on 13 August 1955.
On arrival in the UK the maintainers and aircrews were assigned to various RN training establishments. In mid-August 1955, Self, together with the aircrew assigned to 817 Squadron, were drafted to HMS Seahawk (RNAS Culdrose), a major RN FAA training establishment, located near Helston, Cornwall. Here the aircrew began their conversion training on the Fairey Gannet AS 1 aircraft. The Fairey Gannet was long-range, anti-submarine aircraft with a crew of three in separate cockpits – for pilot, observer, and telegraphist.
At RNAS Culdrose, training began immediately on the Gannets, under the guidance of specialist RN FAA instructors. From the beginning, the routine was strictly supervised with an intensive training program covering all aspects of anti-submarine operations, with detailed instruction for each of the aircrew. Self’s aircrew position was in the rear cockpit of the Gannet; with access to its ASV radar, and other electronic equipment to detect submarines and surface targets. Much of the training was done flying over the ocean far from land engaged in realistic exercises.
It was on one of these exercises, while flying along the English Channel, at about 11 am on 10 November 1955 that (for no apparent reason) a Fairey Gannet was seen to crash into the sea off St Catherine’s Point, near the Isle of Wight, claiming the lives of all three crew members, and whose bodies were never found. Those killed were ACMNH Norman John Self (T) RAN; the observer Lieutenant David Padgett (O) RAN, and the pilot Sub-Lieutenant James Patrick van Gelder (P) RAN.
An excerpt from HMAS Melbourne’s Report of Proceedings for Nov/Dec 1955 (below) gives a possible cause of the accident, but not the reason. Whatever it was, it caused the loss of three young lives who were both popular and well liked in the Squadron.
Compiled by Kim Dunstan from the following References:
National Archives of Australia – some pencil records are illegible
‘Submarine Hunter’ by Ben Patynowski, Mushroom Model Publications, 2008.
HMAS Melbourne’s ROP