WW2: Memories of a local dispatch rider

Tales from WW1 and WW2 about local nurses and soldiers never fail to spark our imagination and they help us to understand their lives and the world they lived in. We are fortunate to be able to share in their highs and lows, triumphs and tragedies via their letters, diaries and photograph albums.

Previous blog posts have told the stories of Australian nurse Marie Cameron and the sinking of the H. M. T. Marquette, the photograph album of Private Frederick Rogers of Coldstream and several others; there never seems to be a shortage of stories to tell.

One more story that deserves to be recognised is that of Noel Wilson, who served in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern theatre during the Second World War.

Noel Wilson

Noel’s photograph album was donated to the Ashburton Museum last year by his niece Elaine Bishop, which tells his story in great detail. Through his camera lens, we can peek back in time and see what he saw.

Noel astride his motorcycle in Syria.

Noel witnessed bombers screaming overhead en route to El Alamein, the imprisonment of hundreds of Axis soldiers and scenes of pure desolation as he carried out his duties as a motorcycle dispatch rider. In civilian life, Noel had a small dairy herd and was also very keen on racehorses. He was described by his niece, the donor of his album, as “a tough, wiry little fellow.”

Noel taking in the majestic architecture of Rome.

His farm sat on the corner of Boundary Road and Grahams Road, where there was once a blacksmith’s forge (later converted into a stable).

Noel is said to have kept quiet about his experiences during the war, with the exception of one story. He would gladly recall the time that he rescued two nuns who were hiding under a bridge. The two holy sisters were taking refuge from heavy gunfire, and so Noel rode both to safety on his motorbike one at a time.

Quite heroic, although he did once fall through a glasshouse in Italy while trying to steal some grapes.

On this page you will find a selection of interesting photos from Noel Wilson’s album, which has been scanned and specially preserved for longevity at the Ashburton Museum.

A big thanks to Elaine Bishop for donating Noel Wilson’s photograph album to the Ashburton Museum.

By Connor Lysaght

Unless otherwise stated, photographs and research materials on this page are owned by the Ashburton Museum & Historical Society Inc. This post was modified for this blog and was originally published in the Ashburton Guardian, 28 August 2021.

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