Bernard George NORTON was born on 29 May 1888 in St. Johns, Deptford, Kent, and baptised on 16 September 1888 at the Greenwich Road Congregational Church in Greenwich, Kent. He was the eldest of two sons of Rev. George Norton (b.c.1853 in Wandsworth – d.1920) and Clara Ellen, née Dewey, Norton (b.c.1855 in Cheshunt – d.1930).
In 1891, the family was living at 14 Cliff Terrace, St Paul, Deptford, London. Bernard was 2 years old and his father was a Congregational Minister.
By 1901 they had moved to 38 Albert Street, Rugby. Bernard’s father was still a Congregational Minister and the census return suggests that they were living next to the Congregational Church and the School Room. Bernard attended Lawrence Sheriff School.
In 1911 the family had moved to Haywards Heath, where Bernard’s father George was still a Congregational Minister, now aged 59 and having been married 25 years. Bernard’s brother, Clifford John Norton, who was some three years younger than Bernard, had attended Rugby School, and was then studying at Queen’s College, Oxford. Clifford also joined up, into the 1st/5th Battalion, Suffolk Regiment, and served at Gallipoli and in Palestine, being promoted captain in 1917. By 1920, their father, George Norton had moved to High Wycombe, where he died.
By 1911, Bernard was 22 and still single. He was boarding at 57 Grove Street, Leamington where he was working as an Architect. He was still at the same address, Cumberland House, 57 Grove Street, in 1913.
No Service Record survives, but at some date he signed up as a Sapper, No.91714 in the 213 Army Troops Company, Royal Engineers, which seems to have functioned from March 1916 until December 1919.
The War Diary of the 213 Army Troop begins on 8 March 1916 in Buxton, Derbyshire, when they entrained for Southampton and early the next morning most embarked on SS Princess Victoria, with a fewer number and the Motor transport on SS Inventor, to cross to Havre, disembarking the next morning, marching to the Docks Rest Camp, ready to entrain to Poperinge and then to march six miles to billets near Proven on 12 March. It is assumed that Bernard was already with them.
Companies took over various tasks from running a sawmill; to revetting trenches; and building a concrete emplacement for a 4.7inch gun. They were based in the Poperinge area until mid-August with a brief visit to Ypres.
On 18 August 1916, an Officer and six NCOs, who are, unusually, individually named, were sent on a ‘10 day course on Heavy Bridging’ at ‘No.3 Base Park’ – the most junior of the party was ‘91714 L/Cpl Norton B G’. They returned on 1 September 1916. The following notes have been abstracted and edited from the War Diary.
September saw the ‘Company employed in Hutting, Water Supply, Sanitation works’ and with ‘general construction’, which continued through to the end of 1916.
In January 1917, one section continued at the sawmill making various structures – huts, sheds, latrine and ablution huts etc; whilst the rest of the company was involved in erecting these. More men had been sent on the Heavy Bridging course. Similar activities continued, with a Section dealing with water supply in Ypres in March 1917. In April the company was again employed on bridging, water supply – along the Yperlee at Ypres, and hutments in connection with the 8th Corps laundry at Blondeques etc. etc.. These activities continued in May with the addition of trench construction in 8th Corps area.
In June 1917, they were attached to 5th Army headquarters for duty and similar work continued with the addition of work at Casualty Clearing Stations [CCSs], aerodromes and general construction work. In July further areas of work included prisoners’ compounds, ammunition dumps and Army Headquarters.
From 16 to 29 July they were temporarily encamped at Chateau Lovie grounds ‘owing to being shelled out at ‘U’ Camp at L.6.a 8.8.’ They returned to camp on 8 August – a number of huts had been damaged, but there were no casualties. The saw mill was damaged and the main engine had to be replaced with four petrol engines. Work continued and included preparing material for CCSs; preparing and extending aerodromes, with Chinese labour; water supplies; tree felling and making furniture for 5th Army HQ.
By the end of October 1917, the 213 Company RE had a total strength of 652 men from various parts of the services – including 72 Belgians and 147 Chinese.
On 15 November they were attached to the 2nd Army ‘viz 5th Army left’.
The December diary section is missing, which is frustrating as on 11 December 1917, Bernard was ‘Mentioned in Dispatches’. ‘FRIDAY, 14 DECEMBER, 1917. War Office, 11 December, 1917. The following is a continuation of Sir Douglas Haig’s Despatch of 7th November, submitting names deserving special mention, published in a Supplement to the London Gazette of Tuesday, 11th December, 1917: … ROYAL ENGINEERS. … Norton, No. 91714 Spr. B. G. …’.
On 1 February 1918, the Company left Poperinge and entrained for Peronne then to Omiecourt by road. Similar construction activity continued – and in March the Company was engaged in building PoW cages; staging camps; YMCA huts; an ammunition dump; an aerodrome, three Casualty Clearing Stations; dumps; water supply and headquarters buildings.
With the onset of ‘Operation Michael’ on 26 March, the Company was moving to Villers Brettoneurx. 88 men and eight officers moved to trenches east of Hamel, and the Germans were sighted at 4pm on 28 March. They were under fire until the end of the month, but succeeded in holding up the German advance but with casualties.
By May, having moved to Flixecourt, after the German advance had been halted, ‘routine’ work on building Staging Posts, Hospitals and PoW cages had resumed. The reports are barely legible for a while!
In September, they were still based at Flixecourt, constructing a rifle range and a sniping school; targets for aircraft bombing practice; a rest camp at Amiens, and infantry and artillery training schools, and further hospital construction. Meanwhile the HQ had moved to Bartangles and in October after a further move, the Company were building ‘hutting for Tank Corps HQ’; adapting railway carriages to form a train for the army commander and staff; heating was installed at 41 Stationary Hospital at Amiens and various water supply projects completed.
Similar work continued in November – the Armistice did not get a mention!!
In December they moved east to Namur and were again building various facilities including ‘Latrines & ablutions accommodation … at 4th Army released PoW Camp’; also alterations at the Army Cinema. In January they were in the Cavalry Barracks and undertaking a wide range of remedial work, particularly with water supply. They also painted the town name on the Namur station roof, so that it could be identified for delivery of ‘aerial post’.
During January a total of 55 ORs were sent to England for demobilisation or for leave during which some others were also able to demobilise. It seems likely that among them, in about mid January 1919, was Lance Corporal Bernard George Norton. Whilst he was ‘on demobilisation leave’, he contracted bronchitis and pneumonia, probably the result of the ‘Flu’ and he died at Strathlea, Waltham Cross, on 11 February 1919; he was aged 30.
His death was confirmed by the Register of Soldiers’ Effects which noted that he ‘died of illness whilst on demobilisation leave, Waltham Cross’.
A few days later the Rugby Advertiser reported,
‘Death – Mr Bernard Norton. – The death has occurred at Waltham Cross of Bernard Norton, eldest son of the Rev George Norton, formerly Congregational minister at Rugby. About three weeks ago Mr Norton returned from France, and contracted bronchitis and pneumonia, from which he died.’
He was buried in Plot: 0.4. BM. in the nearby Cheshunt Burial Ground, Hertfordshire at Bury Green, a little way south-west of the church. He has a CWGC gravestone but no family inscription was added.
Bernard George Norton was ‘Mentioned in Dispatches’ and was awarded the British War and Victory Medals although it seems that these were returned in 1923.
He is remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gates; on his CWGC gravestone at the Cheshunt Burial Ground; and on the WWI Lawrence Sheriff School Plaque, which reads,
‘In Commemoration of our Brother Laurentians who Fell in The Great War, 1914-1918, Orando Laborando.’
Probate was awarded on 24 April 1919 in Hertfordshire, to his Executors, his father, George Norton, Dissenting Minister and John Lawrence, Estate Agent. His Estate was valued at £12,820-9-1d.
His outstanding pay of £10-8-3d was paid to his Executors and his War Gratuity of £18-10-0 appears to have been placed in a ‘P.O.S.B.’ [Post Office Savings Bank].
RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM
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This article on Bernard George NORTON was researched and written for a Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the RFHG, October 2018.
 Norton, Sir Clifford John, KCMG, CVO, (1891–1990) had a career as a diplomatist – for a fuller biography see the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography which is available on-line. Some of his papers are in the Imperial War Museum.
 Spennell, Directory of Leamington, 1913.
 The National Archives, Fourth Army, 213 Army Troop Company Royal Engineers, Ref: WO 95/484.
 The list of names was published in six separate supplements at intervals of a few days.
 13082, Supplement to the London Gazette, 14 December 1917.
 Rugby Advertiser, Friday, 21 February 1919.
 Information from https://www.rugbyfhg.co.uk/lawrence-sheriff-school-plaques.