yeovil at War

John William Norris

Killed in action during the Attack on the Hindenburg Line

 

John William Norris was born in Yeovil in 1888, the youngest child of outdoor servant and boots Samuel Deavin Norris (1835-1889) and Louisa née Edwards (1849-1925). Samuel and louisa had five children; Christopher (b1874), Ernest Bruce, known as Berty (1882-1940), Percy E (b1884), Alma Frances (b1886) and John. John's father, Samuel, died the year after he was born and in the 1891 census his widowed mother was listed as a glover, bringing up all her children at 4 Bee Hive Terrace, situated behind the Beehive Inn in Huish.

By 1901 Louisa had moved her family to one of the cottages in Spring Gardens in Salthouse Lane (see Gallery). In the census she gave her occupation as a charwoman while Ernest was a blacksmith, Berty was a baker, Frances was a general domestic servant and 13-year old John was a butcher's assistant.

On 12 September 1909, at Sherborne, Dorset, John married Ethel Gosney (1886-1967). They set up home at 43 Wellington Street where their daughter Ethel was born in 1910. In the 1911 census John gave his occupation as a bricklayer's labourer and living with him and Ethel was his mother Louisa.

John enlisted at Sherborne around February 1916. Initially he enlisted in the Dorsetshire Regiment, Service Number 17715, and was then transferred to the 2nd Battalion (Duke of Edinburgh's), Wiltshire Regiment with the Service Number 26732 - just four numbers away from another Yeovil man, Henry Adams, with the Service Number 26736.

The 2nd Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment had been stationed at Gibraltar before the war but returned to England in September 1914 where it came under command of 21st Brigade in 7th Division. The following month landed at Zeebrugge, Belgium. John joined his new Regiment around May 1916. The beginning of 1916 saw the 2nd Battalion in the area of Amiens. They remained in this general area, relieving units in trenches and training for an offensive that was going to take place in July. On 1 July they were in support in the area of Montauban, followed by two days of attacks. They remained in this area for most of July. On the 8th July they played a leading part in the attack on Trones Wood and at one point bayoneted their way through what remained of the German defenders in the wood. They suffered 240 casualties in this action but were awarded 23 decorations for gallantry. Further attacks followed in the Somme and Flers areas and they ended the year just South of Arras.

The 2nd Battalion spent the first three months of 1917 around Arras. On 9 April 1917 they took part in the attack on the Hindenburg Line. Very few men reached the objective and those that did found that the German wire was undamaged. On 11 April the battalion came out of the line weaker by 16 officers and 363 other ranks, including John Norris who was wounded in action on 9 April 1917 and died two days later. He was 29 years old.

The Western Gazette reported "Mrs Norris of Newlands, Sherborne, has received information that her husband, Private J W Norris of the Wiltshire Regiment, has died of wounds received in action in France on April 9th. The sad news was conveyed in a letter from his commanding officer, which stated that he was wounded on April 9th and died about two days later. Deceased, who enlisted at Sherborne about ten months ago, was well known in Yeovil, being at one time employed by Messrs Childs, builders of Kingston. Private Norris had been in France for about seven months, and had seen considerable fighting. He was, prior to enlisting, employed at Sherborne, where he was well known and much respected. Much sympathy is felt for his widow and family, and also his mother who resides in Yeovil, in their sad loss."

John Norris was buried at the Neuville-Vitasse Road Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France, Grave D.4. His name is recorded on the Sherborne War memorial but not on the War Memorial in the Borough.

 

gallery

 

The salt-house, at left, from where the name Salthouse Lane derives, with the cottages of Spring Gardens at right, the home of the Norris family. Photographed after 1886 and seen from Huish with Salthouse Lane running off to the right.

 

John William Norris - a photograph taken from the newspaper report of his death.

 

Men of the Wiltshire Regiment waving their helmets as they march along the Acheux road to the trenches during the 1916 Battle of the Somme.

 

British troops in a trench near the Hindenburg Line, March / April 1917.

 

The Sherborne War Memorial stands in front of Sherborne Abbey.

 

The panel on the Sherborne War Memorial with John Norris' name at top right.

 

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate in memory of John Norris.

 

John Norris' Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone at Neuville-Vitasse Road Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.

 

Neuville-Vitasse Road Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.

The village of Neuville-Vitasse was captured by the 56th (London) Division on 9 April 1917, almost entirely lost at the end of March 1918, and cleared at the end of the following August. The cemetery was made by units of the 33rd Division after the first capture of the village, and two other burials were added in June 1917. Neuville-Vitasse Road Cemetery now contains 86 First World War burials, 11 of them unidentified. The cemetery was designed by G H Goldsmith.

Another Yeovil-born lad, Bernard Jeans, is also buried here.