Very little is known of Norman’s life before the War. He is believed to have grown up in Stockport where his father, Edward, is known to have lived at 11 Woodstock Avenue, South Reddish at some point. He was married to Ethel who, in 1917 was living at 104 Cross lane, Gorton (and, by the early 1920s, at 29 Cromwell Grove, Levenshulme).
There is much more information available about him from the time he enlisted on 25 January 1915. He was assigned to the 3rd Field Ambulance of the Royal Naval Division. The Division had been formed just after War was declared the previous August and its original members were the pre-War Royal Marines and reservist naval personnel for whom no ships could be found at the time. The Division would fight on land for whole of the War and would proudly retain its naval traditions and ranks. Replacement troops would, of course, come from the normal pool of those enlisting.
A Field Ambulance was not simply a means of transport as we might think today. It played a vital role in the treatment and evacuation of casualties. Situated some way behind the front line would be Advanced Dressing Stations and a Main Dressing Station. These were staffed by doctors and orderlies of the Ambulance and they would patch up a man sufficiently for him to be evacuated to a field hospital perhaps 20 miles behind the front line. The Ambulance would also maintain a series of stretcher bearer relay posts carrying men from the front line back to the rear areas. Norman found himself assigned to one of the stretcher bearer sections on 1 March 1915. The previous month he had been promoted first to Corporal, and then to Sergeant.
Norman and his comrades went into action at Gallipoli in late April 1915. Over the following days, the British troops advanced but the inevitable Turkish counter-attack in defence of their homeland came in the late evening of 1 May. The fighting overnight was exceptionally fierce and Norman was in the thick of it. His acts of courage earned him the award of the Distinguished Service Medal. The citation, published in the London Gazette on 3 June 1915 reads “Sergeant N Roberts, 3rd RN Field Ambulance “C” Bearer Sub-Division. During the action of 2nd May 1915, this NCO showed great coolness under fire and gallantry in carrying men out of fire when stretcher bearers were scarce and retirement seemed imminent. On 6th May, this same Sergeant worked indefatigably at the Regimental Aid Post doing valuable work in sending accurate information to the Dressing Station of the number of wounded and number of stretchers required”
Later in the year, he was “Mentioned in Despatches” for further good work. Just before the evacuation from the failed campaign in late December/early January, Norman received a shrapnel wound to the wrist and was eventually evacuated back to the UK. Whilst home, he was selected to become an officer and undertook his training once he was fully fit. On 1 March 1917, he was commissioned as Sub-Lieutenant and joined the Hood Battalion in France on 6 May. The Hood Battalion was one of those originally formed from naval reservists but, by 1917, few original members would still remain.
Three weeks later, he was detached from the Battalion and spent some time at the Brigade Dump (the stores) and then at the training camp for newly arrived troops. He rejoined Hood on 8 July.
The Third Battle of Ypres had started on 31 July and the Hood Battalion had been in the thick of it. On 26 October, British troops would mount another attack which would later be designated the Second Battle of Passchendaele. In the Royal Naval Division’s sector, other battalions would lead the attack on the German positions at Wallemolen. Howe Battalion would be held in reserve. The attack was delivered at 5.40am and, by about 8am, the objectives had been secured.
However, there was heavy German shelling and Norman’s Company lost about 25% of its men, including the Company Commander. Norman had to take command and is recorded in Battalion records as setting a ”fine example of steadiness and courage. On many occasions he helped to bring into cover, at great personal risk, wounded who would otherwise have been blown to pieces or died of exposure.” On the night of the 26/27th, Norman took his troops forward to relieve the garrison at the captured position of Varlet Farm. He is again recorded as infusing “much offensive spirit into its defence and drove off the enemy who had been harassing the defenders.”
For these actions, Norman was awarded the Military Cross. The citation published in the London Gazette on 18 January 1918 is based on the Howe Battalion record and reads “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in command of his company after his company commander and more than one-fourth of the company had become casualties. On many occasions he helped to bring in wounded at great personal risk. After relieving the garrison of forward posts, he infused much offensive spirit into its defence and drove off the enemy who had been harassing the defenders.”
Two months later, Norman was serving in France on the old 1916 Somme Battlefield. The Divisional History records that “At dawn on December 30th, the enemy launched a not unexpected attack against our whole front. Every effort was made to effect surprise, the enemy even going so far as to dress the leading waves in white to match the snow; nevertheless the measure of success which the attack met with was due rather to a stroke of singular misfortune than to any display of cunning on the part of the enemy.”
The brunt of the German attack had fallen on the units on either side of the Hood Battalion. The German had got into the British trenches and there was fierce hand-to-hand fighting. Hood had two companies holding the front line but the men in support now came rushing down the communication trenches towards the German engaging them with grenades. Other men from the support companies dashed into battle across the open ground. By 8.25, the situation was restored but they had suffered severe losses amongst the companies in the front line. Most were only wounded but three were dead including Norman.
The official history is clear that Norman was killed during this fighting on the 30th, although his official date of death is recorded as being the 31st. It is probably when the official documents were submitted.