Private Norman Wilfred Savage AM, BE, FIE, FAIM, FIIE.

Australian Army - 1938

Service number: 262 069

Sydney University Regiment:

The King's winner being Chaired from the range.


Norman Wilfred Savage was born on 5 September 1913 at Concord, New South Wales.

His father was a tailor by profession, and was the Mayor of Concord Council in Sydney. His father died in the influenza epidemic of 1919 and Norman was raised, together with his three elder brothers and his younger sister, by his mother Ethel.

He attended Sydney High School, leaving school in 1929 without finishing his studies at age16 in the midst of the Great Depression.

He became an apprentice engineering tradesman at the Coote Jorgensen gear factory in 1930. After completing his apprenticeship as a fitter, turner and machinist, and after much hard work, he won a P. N. Russell Scholarship to Sydney University to study Engineering in 1935. 

The King's Medal

Whilst a student at Sydney University and a member of the Sydney University Regiment he won the King's Medal in 1938.

The following account was written by his Engineering classmate, Eric Adam:

"On one occasion in fourth year, Norm said that he would not be in the following day so would I let him have a copy of any notes which I took. He did not say why he would be away, but going home in the train the following night, I looked at the headlines on the back page of another passenger's evening paper, and read: 'Savage wins the King's Medal for Rifle Shooting'

"Sure enough, there was Norman's photo and quite a story about how he became the Champion Rifle Shot of the Australian Army. He had been the first New South Wales Militia Soldier ever to do so. I was amazed! I had no idea that he was involved in rifle shooting and he had never mentioned it.

"Next morning there was a complete column about it in the Sydney Morning Herald and a ten inch high photograph of Norm being chaired by the other competitors.

"The Engineering school was buzzing and Norm was famous. We assembled in the Seminar Room for a session to be given by the Dean of the Faculty, Sir Henry Barraclough. We soon could see that he was in a bad mood. Sir Henry announced 'We have another subject to discuss this morning. One member of this seminar class has been carrying out some extra-curricular activities. I will now ask Mr. Savage to come forward and tell the seminar - How I won the King's Medal'.

"We didn't know if he was joking, or being sarcastic. He held out the piece of chalk in his hand and said 'Come on Mr. Savage'.

"Norm hesitated for a few seconds, until he was sure Sir Henry meant it. In those few seconds, he told me later, he decided that as the Dean gave boring lectures and had not said how long he was to speak, he would take over the full 50 minutes of the lecture.

"As he walked the few steps to the blackboard, he planned the structure of the presentation on: 'The application of Engineering principles and statistics to the testing of an item of precision equipment - the army rifle.'

"He stated this and went on to develop the subject in a systematic manner for the remainder of the lecture. I had thought, as Norm walked forward, that all he would say was that he sighted along the barrel and then pulled the trigger. Once again I had under-rated my friend.

"After an appropriate acknowledgment to the Dean, Norman said that he felt he had an unfair advantage over the other finalists because the training he had received in Engineering principles had enabled him to develop theories on how one should use a precise, but not perfect, item of equipment - the rifle- to the best advantage.

"Norm explained that even precision equipment had some limitations and it was the understanding of these limitations which was amenable to statistical analysis. If the bulls eye was 12 inches in diameter and the limit of accuracy of the rifle, ammunition, and the firer could only ensure that it would put ten shots in an eight inch circle, then the objective of the competitor was to be aware of this and not proceed as if the rifle was perfect and could put every shot in the same hole.

"Norm described how some rifle shooters indulged in error chasing. If one shot was four inches to the left of the centre of the target, it was thus within the normal statistical distribution of an eight inch circle (which was to be expected) then the next shot had an equal probability of being four inches to the other side of the centre, or up or down. Only if the shot was outside its expected diameter should the sights be changed.

"If one proceeded in the belief that the rifle was perfect and one shot was slightly to the left, the next shot would be directed by the shooter slightly to the right, when it may have gone that way anyway, because of the inherent slight inaccuracy of the rifle. To endeavor to put shots into the target within a circle of less size than the capacity of the rifle, would mean that some shots would unnecessarily go out of the bulls-eye by error chasing.

"Norm developed the statistical theory on which he worked and showed how it was possible to build up information from the two sighting shots, which were allowed at the start of the rapid fire part of the competition, so that there was an improved chance that the whole group would be placed to best advantage over the centre of the bulls-eye.

"The lecture now had everyone, including Sir Henry, completely absorbed in the subject. Norm went through the way he had tested dozens of rifles until he found their performance in all types of conditions. (I found out later that he would travel by train and tram the 12 miles to the rifle range with four rifles each weighing 9 pounds (4 kgs). Then he would walk the mile and a half from the tram to the rifle range (as he did not have a car) with two rifles on each shoulder.

"The lecture went into the testing of bullets in conditions of wet and dry weather, as there was a difference in performance depending on weather, and one could not know what the conditions might be on the day of the competition. What could be done was to test the difference and be prepared for whatever might come.

"He described the conditions under which the competition was conducted with all 13 competitors, drawn from all round Australia, firing at the same time so that there was no unfairness of one having better light, or more wind with which to contend.

"The following details I got from the newspaper report. The match started at 600 yards with each competitor having ten shots with 20 seconds between each shot. Then all competitors had to run through the sand to 500 yards and fire two shots while lying down; to 400 yards and to 300yards, where two shots were fired at each from a kneeling position; finally to 200 yards and 100yards where two shots were fired at each from a standing position. By this time, physical condition was important, as it was difficult to control breathing and accuracy after 500 yards of running in full uniform with a time limit for each stage. Norman explained the intensive physical training programme he had undertaken in the evening for six months, running at a local park in full military uniform. This developed adequate breath control, which was necessary for steadiness.

"The competitors then returned to 300 yards where 10 shots of rapid fire had to be fired in 40 seconds, including scrambling down and loading the rifle. Norm described preparation for this part of the competition as being a matter of practice to the stage where he could fire 10 unaimed shots in 8 seconds of the 40 seconds allowed, as regards the manipulation of the bolt of the rifle and pulling the trigger. It became a completely reflex action. Most competitors used only 15 of their 40 seconds for aiming. Norm had so reduced the mechanical part of the process that he had 25 seconds for the aiming of 10 shots. All his training involved development of reflex action, so that his finger pulled the trigger when the eye and brain saw the right image.

"A final stage of the competition comprising firing at a 22 inch disc target 300yards away, when the target could appear at any random location over a length of 20 yards. There was an inner bulls eye of 12 inches in the centre of this disc. (I found out later that eight of his ten shots were in this central bull and one was an inner).

"Norm did not mention his scores, but again I found out from the newspaper that, although the weather conditions were said to be difficult, with a cross wind coming in gusts, he had won by the biggest margin (9 points) ever in the competition and his score was the third highest ever recorded. So much for the application of engineering theory and physical skill.

"The lecture was timed to finish precisely on the scheduled time and Norm returned to his seat. Of course there was more to it than I have set out, and I remember Norm bringing in the engineering principle of precession. He said it was only to pad out the last 3 minutes.

"The seminar room audience, including Sir Henry, were amazed at the way Norman had prepared for this event. The Dean had changed his attitude, and congratulated Norm on his presentation.

"Before he closed the meeting Sir Henry did something which Norm later said had made the Dean the victor in their encounter. He said - 'Mr Savage that was very interesting. I feel that a record of it should be in our Engineering Library, would you mind preparing a written report of your whole presentation and lodge it with the library!"

For his accomplishments as a rifle shooter he was awarded a Sydney University Blue, and following intervarsity success in Adelaide, an Australian Universities Blue and a British Empire Universities Blue for Rifle Shooting.

On the same day as the King's Prize shoot in 1938 he was a member of the winning pair for the Digger's Silver Trophy. This event was a rapid fire service rifle event and was shot at Sydney's Long Bay rifle Range. His partner in that event was Driver R. Cutler also of SUR (Later Sir Roden Cutler VC).

Norman's elder brother Robert was also an accomplished shot making the final of the King's Medal shoot on no less than 7 occasions. He won the New South Wales championships as a Private, Corporal and a Colonel during his Military career.

Norman Savage was the first NSW Militiaman to have ever won the King's medal. He remains the only "Old Boy" of Sydney High School and the only member of Sydney University Regiment to have won this award.

Having won the King's Medal, Norman turned his attention to other pursuits and shot only occasionally for the rest of his life.

At the time of the competition He was a member of the Sydney University Regiment but the day after war was declared he received a letter of discharge from the Army due to the fact that he was a qualified Engineer and his services were required in that capacity for the war effort.

On 11 July 1942 he married Beryl Jocumsen a Cypher and Communications Officer in the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force, who had formerly been a dramatic actress and leading lady in radio plays and serials on the ABC. Together they had one daughter, Lenore.

During his war service he was involved in establishing and controlling all aircraft propeller overhaul facilities in the South West Pacific theatre of war for the RAAF, RAF and USAF.

Awards and Achievements

Following the war he worked as a consulting engineer to government and the private sector in several countries. He was the author of many articles in professional journals, press articles and training films.

He was a Fellow if the Institute of Engineers, Australia, a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management and a Fellow of the Institute of Industrial Engineers. He authored several books in the field of Management.

In 1977 he was awarded the Queens Jubilee Medal, for services to Industry and in 1983 was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia, for Service to the Community.

In his spare time he enjoyed observational Astronomy.

His first wife Beryl predeceased him in November 1987.

Norman Savage died on 26 June 1998 at Concord Repatriation Hospital, Concord, New South Wales.

He is survived by his second wife Margaret, his daughter Lenore and his son in law. He has two grandchildren.

In 1988 Norman published his autobiography entitled "A Modern Pilgrim's Progress", which has been used in the preparation of this article.


Pte Norman Savage and his brother Captain Robert (Bob) Savage

Sydney University Blues Blazer and Cap - Rifle Shooting 1938

 Information courtesy of Mrs Margaret Savage.