Bertie Norton

Service number: 33739 | Rank: Private | Regiment: Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment)

Killed in action, October 11, 1918, in Flanders.


Born in Brandon, enlisted at Ipswich.


Bertie was born on 11th November 1899.  His parents, Walter, a bricklayer’s labourer, and Ada were living in Thetford Road at the time.  Bertie had an older brother and sister, Frank and Bessie.  The family lived next door to Edward Norton and his family, whose three children were the same age.  It looks likely that that Walter and Edward were brothers.

By the 1911 census, the family had moved from Thetford Road to 22 George Street and Bertie’s father was then employed as a platelayer for the Great Eastern Railway.  The family had also grown in number and along with Bessie, who was working at a fur factory, Frank and Bertie, there was also Wesley, Gertrude, Cecil, Cyril and Percy, the latter being only 9 months old.  The family had welcomed the birth of a baby every two years over the course of the past decade!  This trend continued after 1911 with the birth of Eric and finally Edna.

At the outbreak of war many Brandon lads were enlisting to fight as part of Kitchener’s Army, but for Bertie this was not possible.  Firstly he was under age, only 14 years old.  Secondly he had been a bit of a scoundrel and was no longer in the town with his family.  On the day war was declared Bertie had been at Brandon’s railway station with a friend, Alfred Ashley.  They had seen a package on an unattended cycle at the station and temptation proved too much for Bertie so he took the package.  It contained some handkerchiefs and socks that had just been bought in Brandon by a Weeting man.  Bertie and Alfred shared the contents and then made their way home.  The theft was promptly reported and Inspector Mobbs of the Brandon Police was on the case.  He saw the two boys, searched them and found they both possessed the stolen goods.  Each boy blamed the other but both admitted they had been at the railway station with the other lad.  The boys and their parents were summoned to appear before Brandon’s magistrates and both sets of parents were bound over for the sum of £5.  The boys had to be on their best behaviour for the next six months, but if they fell foul of the law again then the consequences for the boys would not be good.  The following year the Thetford & Watton Times printed a news story about a Brandon labourer named Walter Norton who had been summoned for not paying arrears of 13 shillings to cover the maintenance of his son who was being held in an industrial (reform) school.  This is likely proof that Bertie had not behaved too well after the railway station incident.  Walter had not appeared in person but instead had sent one of his sons with the payment and Inspector Mobbs was less than complimentary about Walter and suggested Walter “would never pay (his son’s maintenance) unless he was forced”.

Bertie was in fact in Thorndon Reform School, Suffolk.  His daily routine would have been to wake up early, say prayers, a few hours of reading and writing, then off to work in the garden until evening where upon he was given more reading and writing instruction.  This would have only been broken up by the intervention of meal times.  Sundays were reserved for wearing their Sunday best and attending church, sometimes twice that day.  Just a few days after reaching his 18th birthday he left the school and enlisted in Ipswich.  He was given the service number of 129342 and placed into the 53rd Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment.  At this time he informed the military that his next of kin was Private Walter Norton, so it appears his father was also serving in the army.

On 13th January 1918 Bertie married Mary Payne but according to his service record he did not give his marriage certificate as proof.  Then, on 15th May 1918, he embarked on a ship at Folkestone and sailed over to France and his place in the war.  Two days later he was posted to the 1st/7th Battalion, West Riding Regiment and given a new service number, 33739.

On 11 October 1918 Bertie’s battalion was in an area near Escadoeuvres when they received an order to attack.  At 2am they moved to an assembly point just east of Naves and were in position by 5am.  At 9am they advanced and moved forward 1,000 yards, passing through some Canadians who were holding the line.  At around midday the enemy counter-attacked with tanks and forced the British to withdraw 500 yards before they contained the enemy.  Late in the evening, toward midnight, the enemy realising they could not gain any further ground withdrew back to their own positions.  The battalion’s casualties for that day were 59 men killed, 244 wounded and 7 missing.

Bertie had only been on active service for five months when his parents received a letter stating he had been killed in action.  In November 1918, the Thetford and Watton Times reported that an officer from Bertie’s unit had given his parents an account of him having an “excellent character” and that “sympathy is felt for his parents”.  In March 1919, his mother was sent his personal effects which included a wallet, knife, metal mirror, a purse with two coins, a pipe and pouch, cards, letters and a chain with a pendant attached.  Perhaps it contained a photo of his Mary?  Bertie would have been 19 years old on Armistice Day had he survived another month of war.