Private Sidney NORTON


Regiment/Service:
Devonshire Regiment
Unit:
9th Battalion
Service Number:
15313
Date of Death:
1 July 1916 - Killed in Action
Age:
20
Cemetery / Memorial:
Cemetery Reference:
B. 2.

Personal History:
Sidney was born in the December quarter 1895, the son of George Francis (Blacksmith) and Hannah Norton, He had five older brothers and sisters, William Arthur, Alice, Marian, Ida Mary and Lizzie. (George had married Elizabeth Edge in the December quarter 1880, but by 1891 his wife is named as 'Hannah', so undoubtedly she was Sidney's mother.) There is not obvious record, however, of either Elizabeth's death, or George and Hannah's subsequent marriage.

In 1901 (Census RG 13/3271) the family were living at 36 Grin Row, Burbage, Buxton, when George was shown as a 'Widower', as Hannah had also died, just before the Census, in the March quarter 1901.
Ten years later (1911 Census RG 14/21237) Sidney was living in the new family home at 93 Macclesfield Road, Burbage, Buxton, and employed as a 'Painter's Assistant' at a 'Lime Works'. The CWGC records show that after the War Sidney's father had moved again to 115 Green Lane, Burbage, Buxton.

When reporting Sidney's death on the 22nd July 1916, 'The Buxton Advertiser' called him "... a bright and promising young man ... very popular and well known, and was in civil life employed as a blacksmith's striker for Buxton Lime Firm Co. Ltd. Deep sympathy is extended to the family in their sorrow, which is, however, tempered by the thought that he has laid down his life in the great cause of Christendom."

Military History:
Unfortunately, Sidney's Service Records have not survived, but it is known that he enlisted into the Devonshire Regiment at Buxton. By comparing his Service Number with that of others in his Regiment it seems fairly certain he enlisted on the 10th/11th January 1915. His Medal Index Card shows that he entered France on the 6th October 1915.

The 9th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment was originally formed at Exeter on 15th September 1914 as part of ‘K2’, the second hundred thousand men who volunteered for Kitchener’s New Army, and attached as Divisional Troops to the 20th (Light) Division. In April 1915 the Battalion left the Division and landed at Le Havre on the 28th July 1915 and on the 8th August 1915 was attached to the 20th Brigade, 7th Division. Both the 8th and the 9th Battalions of the Devonshires had been completely shattered at the Battle of Loos, September 25th 1915, after which both were in various stages of recovery. Sidney must have joined his Battalion as a reinforcement on the 6th October.

However, by the end of February 1916 they were back in the trenches opposite Fricourt, then a quiet sector on what was later to become a major area in the Battle of the Somme. It was a period of unending toil, mining, patrolling, improving the trenches, wiring and trench raids, but it was also a period of relatively few casualties. Between the 1st October 1915 and 30th June 1916 1 Officer and 16 men were killed, 6 officers and 96 men wounded, and one man missing.

On July 1st, the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, the 20th Brigade including the 9th Battalion, led the attack on Mametz. Prior to the battle, counter-battery fire by the Germans had destroyed the Devonshire's front line and support trenches and new ones had been dug 250 yards further back. The 9th crossed 'No Man’s Land' and took the German front trench and a short stretch of trench beyond it but could do no more.

The 8th and 9th Battalions of the Regiment, which were part of the 7th Division, attacked from a point on the south-west side of Albert-Maricourt road, due south of Mametz village, by a plantation called Mansel Copse. (On the 4th July 1916, three days after the first day of the Battle, a ceremony was held at the burial site of the 161 Devonshire Regiment men. A wooden cross was put up at the time by the survivors of the 9th and 8th Battalions of the Devonshire Regiment. The following words were carved on the wooden cross: “The Devonshires held this trench, the Devonshires hold it still.”) - see below

In the 9th Battalion only one of the 18 officers who had gone over the top survived, eight of them killed. Of the men 141 were killed, 55 were missing, 267 wounded - 463 out of the 775 who had gone into action. Those that had survived remained in the line for several days, consolidating the limited gain, assisting in taking Fricourt.

CWGC records show that 165 Officers and men of the 9th Battalion were killed on the First Day of the Battle of the Somme and 42 of the 8th Battalion. 150 are buried together, with Sidney, in the Devonshire Trench Cemetery. The others have no known grave and are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

"The Buxton Advertiser" of the 29th July 1916 printed a letter received by Sidney's father, George, from the Battalion Chaplain, Rev. E. G. Crosse, which read:

"Dear Sir

I write to express my deepest sympathy with you in the loss of Private S. Norton (15313), who was killed in action n the battle of July 1st.

He died nobly doing his duty for King and Country, and it was mainly due to the willing sacrifice of him, and those who fought with him, that the troops in this command succeeded in winning the great victory that they did on that day.

Though you must feel the loss most bitterly, one cannot but be proud of those who laid down their lives in such a cause. He has entered into his well earned rest, and I pray that God will comfort you in your loss."


N.B. In the 1980s Lieutenant-Colonel Graham Parker was leading a tour of British Army soldiers and
Officers to the Somme battlefields, some of whom were officers from the Devonshire Regiment. He
told them the story of the wooden cross with its famous motto, and that it was presumed that it had
been stolen as it had disappeared after remaining at the entrance to the cemetery for many years after
the First World War.

The Devonshire Regiment officers decided to do something about this and immediately they returned
home they started a collection to pay for a permanent monument to be put in the place of the missing
cross. The stone memorial which now stands at the entrance to the cemetery was placed there soon
after.

Another Buxton soldier, Spr. John Thomas Dugmore, Royal Engineers, of Grin Crossings, Burbage,
married to Ethel, with three children. (1911 Census RG 14/21238), who according to his Medal Index
Card, was posted to France on the 19th July 1915, wrote to 'The Buxton Advertiser' on the 23rd
September 1916, about "The Big Battle". In his account he briefly mentioned Sydney being killed in
a nearby sector, but also gives a flavour of this momentous day:

"I will tell you as far as I know how we managed to pull through the big offensive. On Friday, June 30th, we carried full equipment and 25 sandbags for 5 miles to the assembly trenches; landed them midnight. July 1st, 5.00 a.m., on the move up to the line. Bang, bang, bang!!! Nothing else. The big game had commenced. About the most anxious time I ever experienced. Our chaps were in the centre. We were waiting to move up to consolidate; could not get up Sunday night.

Poor Sydney Norton was on the left, I believe with another Division. Monday morning: nothing else but boom, boom, boom. Prisoners began to come in; they looked worried; 29, then 200, and so on. At night (Monday) we were between the two lines putting up barbed wire entanglements and consolidating the line we had captured. They (the Germans) made a slight counter-attack, and we had to fix bayonets and stand to for a time until things had cooled down. They would have had a warm time, I can tell you - our infantry were just up to fighting form."


                              

Sources:
· 'The Buxton Advertiser' 22 & 29 July and 23 September 1916
· "Private Thomas Harris" (Explore North Devon) - Pt. Thomas Harris was wounded on the 7th May 1917 at Bullecourt, and died in Hospital at
   Le Treport 9 days later. He is buried in Mount Huron Commonwealth War Cemetery. [Read his story from His Diary ]
· Western Front Association - Stand To! No 88 April - May 2010

Link to CWGC Record
Sidney Norton's Grave
Devonshire Regiment Memorial
Private Sidney Norton
poppy
.... a full account of the 9th Battalion's action on 1 July 1916