Photograph of Norman by kind permission of Mr Robert N. Harrison
(L to R) British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal
Norman was born on the 9th May 1897 in Countesthorpe, Leicestershire. His father was called William and his mother was Sarah Jane. He was their eldest son. He had a younger brother called Douglas William who was born on the 6th January 1900.
Both William and Sarah had worked as teachers before they married. In 1896 William became Superintendent and Sarah became Matron of the Countesthorpe Cottage Homes. This was a children's home that took the form of a village rather than a single large building. It contained large houses for the children, schools, workshops and an infirmary, as well as open spaces. The Poor Law Guardians responsible for the homes had advertised for a married couple to be Superintendent and Matron. Norman and Douglas were both raised in the Superintendent's residence.
We don't know anything about Norman's education. As teachers this is likely to have been very important to his parents. We know Douglas attended the Wyggeston Grammar School in Leicester, and he could well have been following in his elder brother's footsteps.
Both boys were musical. Douglas played the piano, and would accompany Norman on the violin.
Norman was also artistic, a talent which he may have inherited from Sarah. She had been awarded a prize 'as a reward for success in an examination in Drawing' in April 1880. A number of Norman's paintings have remained with the family, and in 2013 hang in his nephew Robert's home. Robert has always especially liked Norman's painting of some horses, which reflects Norman's fondness for horses.
Norman grew up wanting to become a farmer. This may have come from his father's side of the family. Three of William's brothers owned farms in the Lake District. Two were at Burns Farm and Shundraw near Keswick and the third was at Glencoyne overlooking Ullswater. We know Douglas spent school holidays with his uncles and it is likely that Norman did as well.
The First World War broke out in August 1914 and Norman joined the Army on the 15th November 1915. He was working on a farm at the time. He gave his job title as farm labourer, but it is quite likely that he was working there in order to learn the business of farming. Robert understands that William bought some land for his son, so that he would have a farm when he returned from the Army.
We believe Norman enlisted under the Derby Scheme, where he joined the Army, but then returned home until he was called up. This call came on the 10th May 1916.
When he enlisted Norman was 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 132 pounds. It would appear that he was first assigned to the Royal Artillery, but we don't believe he spent very long with them before being transferred to the infantry. Despite this Norman was very proud of the spurs he was issued by the Royal Artillery.
Norman was first assigned to the 21st (Reserve) Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers, and was given the service number 26628 whilst he trained. This unit was based at Prees Heath in Shropshire. On the 1st September 1916 it changed its name to the 72nd Training Reserve Battalion, and Norman's service number became TR/3/36060.
Once he was trained Norman joined an unknown unit of the East Lancashire Regiment and was given another service number: 34644. He was sent to France as a member of this unit on the 7th October, but after just 2 weeks he was reassigned to the 18th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. He was one of almost 200 soldiers sent to this unit to make up for the men it had lost during attacks on the villages of Ligny-Thilloy, Thilloy and Le Sars on the 10th October. Norman joined them in Bellacourt and was given the service number 41591. He was assigned to A Company.
We don't know much about what Norman did with the 18th Battalion. The opening months of 1917 were fairly quiet. They did not take part in major fighting until the 11th April, when they attacked the German Hindenburg line near Mercatel. This was part of the Battle of Arras. Norman seems to have avoided injury during this operation.
In early June the 18th Battalion moved north to the Ypres area of Belgium. Soon after they arrived Norman was wounded. We don't know exactly when or how. His injuries were too severe and he died on the 13th June 1917. He was 20 years old. His family believed he died from gas poisoning.
Norman was never able to farm the land his father had bought. William died in June 1922. This meant Sarah had to leave the Cottage Homes.
In 1924 Douglas married Edith Tan-y-Castell Gee. She was the daughter of Robert Gee, who won the Victoria Cross on the 30th November 1917 during the Battle of Cambrai as a member of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers.
Robert had joined the Army in 1893 and became an officer in 1915. He also won the Military Cross and was Mentioned in Despatches 3 times during the First World War. After the war he became the Member of Parliament for Woolwich East between 1921 and 1922, and then for Bosworth in his home county of Leicestershire between 1924 and 1927. He later moved to Australia and died in 1960.
Douglas and Edith's only child, Robert Norman, was born in 1925. He remembers that William and Norman 'were hardly ever spoken of in the family' as he grew up. He believes this was because 'it was too painful for my grandmother who had lost her eldest son and her husband'. Sarah died in March 1962.
Norman is one of 249 men buried in Hop Store Cemetery near Ypres (now called Ieper). His grave reference is I. B. 43. His medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in December 2009.