Remembering William Forbes Norris


William Forbes Norris was born on the 13th April 1894, the eldest of three children and only son of William Edward and Annie Norris.  He was baptised on the 13th May 1894 at St Mary, Kilburn (Middlesex), by his uncle, Edward Forbes, curate of St Andrew, Peckham (see Figure 1).

baptisms register

Figure 1: From the Baptisms Register, St Mary, Kilburn, 1894

William attended Shrewsbury School between 1907 and 1912.  The School notes on its Old Salopians in WW1 website that William was in Chance’s House, 1st House Rowing, and editor of the Salopian (the School’s magazine); his editorial successor commented that he was “a boy of decided literary tastes, and had a charming disposition which won him many friends here”.[1]  Shrewsbury School has linked with St Chad’s Church, Shrewsbury, to commemorate all the former boys and masters who gave their lives in WW1, and in the Church’s weekly remembrance service for Wednesday 26th August 2015, William Forbes Norris was amongst those commemorated.  After leaving Shrewsbury School in 1912, William attended Trinity College, Cambridge, being admitted as a pensioner (i.e. someone who pays out of his or her own income at Cambridge University) on the 25th June 1912 and achieving a BA in 1915.  William’s name appears on the Trinity College Chapel Roll of Honour (1914-1918), where the names of the 618 men who died (fellows, students and staff) are engraved on oak panels at the east end of the Chapel.[2]

The WW1 service records for officers such as William are held by The National Archives, and the extant papers for William Forbes Norris note that he was aged 20 years and 4 months at enlistment, 5’ 11” tall, with a chest measurement of 37”.  His application for a Candidate for a Commission in Territorial Force records his wish to join the Infantry and that he was an undergraduate of Trinity College, Cambridge.  He gives his previous military experience as three years’ service in the Officer Training Corps.  The question ‘whether he is in all respects suitable to hold His Majesty’s Commission in the Territorial Force’ was signed in the affirmative by William’s father, William Edward Norris, as JP (Justice of the Peace), and he noted that he was also the father of the applicant.[3]

William’s service record also notes that he was a Private in the 28th Battalion, the London Regiment (formerly the Artists Rifles) prior to being commissioned in the 1/5th Battalion, the Norfolk Regiment in August 1914.[4]  The Artists Rifles was one of twenty-eight volunteer battalions in the London and Middlesex area that combined to form the new London Regiment and became the 28th Battalion of the London Regiment on 1 April 1908.  It particularly attracted recruits from public schools and universities, and following the outbreak of WW1 a number of enlisted members of the Artists Rifles were selected to be officers in other units.[5]

William was attached to the 54th East Anglian Divisional Cyclist Company.[6]  The Mediterranean Expeditionary Force War Diary of the 54th East Anglian Divisional Cyclist Company[7] records that it left St Albans for foreign service on the 29th July 1915, proceeding to Keyham Docks, Davenport.  Officers of the Cyclist Company who sailed on HMT Royal George on the 30th July 1915 are listed in the diary, including Lt. W.F. Norris.  They arrived (via Malta, Alexandria and Lemnos) at Suvla Bay on the 16th August 1915.  At 0630 hours No. 1 Platoon, under Lieut Norris, unloaded the lighters, and at 2100 hours the camp moved to point (approx) 116.J.5 Anafarta Saghir (see Figure 2).

anafarta sagir

Figure 2: Extract, map of Anafarta Sagir (Australia War Memorial)

William was killed on the 25th August 1915.  He was 21 years old.  His death is recorded in the entry in the War Diary for Suvla for the 17th August – 27th August, as follows:

The Company, being unable owing to the nature of the Country to carry out its usual functions, finds fatigues; principally consisting of making roads, the principal one being over and along north side of Karakel Dagh also assis[ting] the R.A. in moving guns (twice).  During this period Lieut. W.F. Norris was killed by shrapnel (25th August 1915, 0630 o’clock).

William’s service record notes that he made a will, dated 20th July 1915 (just prior to the Regiment embarking for Gallipoli), naming his father, William Edward, as sole executor.  Forming part of the Probate (and recorded in the Record of Officer’s Effects, 1916) is an amount of £77 12s 6d, in respect of outstanding pay and war gratuity.[8]  Probate on William’s estate was granted at Norwich on the 9th May 1916 in the amount of £24,173 5s 11d.[9]  William’s name appears on the Helles Memorial (Panel 42A), on the tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula. The Helles Memorial serves as the Commonwealth memorial for the Gallipoli campaign and commemorates the servicemen who died there and have no known grave; the memorial bears more than 21,000 names.[10]

The eight month campaign in Gallipoli was fought by Commonwealth and French forces, allied forces having landed on the peninsula in April 1915 (the 29th Division at Cape Helles in the south and the Australian and New Zealand Corps north of Gaba Tepe on the west coast).  Further landings were made at Suvla, just north of Anzac Cove, in early August, with the climax of the campaign seeing simultaneous assaults launched on all three fronts.  However, the difficult terrain and stiff Turkish resistance soon led to the stalemate of trench warfare.  From the end of August, no further serious action was fought and the lines remained unchanged.  The peninsula was successfully evacuated in December 1915 and early January 1916.[11]

William is commemorated in All Saints Church, Wood Norton, on a brass plaque (see Figure 3) where it is recorded that he was a Lieutenant in the 1/5th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment and attached to the 54th Division Cyclists Company (cyclists were used for reconnaissance or as messengers).  His plaque in located beneath memorial tablets to his father and mother, who are buried in the Wood Norton churchyard.

brass plaque

Figure 3: Brass memorial to William Forbes Norris, All Saints, Wood Norton

His death was reported in the Dereham and Fakenham Times on September 4th 1915 (see Figure 4).[12]


Figure 4: Extract, the Dereham and Fakenham Times, Saturday 4th September, 1915

William was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, and the Victory Medal (see Figure 5).[13]

medal rolls index

Figure 5: British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Card for William Forbes Norris

Further research into William’s family reveals that William’s father, William Edward Norris, was born on the 1st January 1866 in Wood Dalling, Norfolk, the eldest son of the Reverend George and Diana Jane Norris.  The 1871 census for Wood Dalling records George Norris as the curate, living with his family in the vicarage.  William Edward Norris attended Shrewsbury School and was an alumnus of Pembroke College, Cambridge, achieving a BA in 1889.  He was a Captain in the Shropshire Light Infantry and succeeded his great uncle, William Norris, at Wood Norton Hall in 1875[14] (and it is to this William Norris that the East window in All Saints Church, Wood Norton, is dedicated).  William Edward was a landowner, Justice of the Peace, and for 45 years a Churchwarden of All Saints.  He had been a member of the Wood Norton Parish Council since its inception in 1895, and was elected Chairman to the Parish Council in 1911, a post which he held until his death on the 21st September 1934, at Wood Norton Hall.  The Norris family did not always reside at the Hall – Kelly’s Directory of Norfolk records that it was rented out for some time up to the 1920s.[15]  The 1911 census for Wood Norton indicates that the Norris family were living in a private house with 12 rooms, probably Cromes Farm, whilst Wood Norton Hall was lived in by the family and the servants of the Hon Robert N.D Ryder.[16]

Following the war, William Edward Norris provided a piece of land in the village on which a village hall could be built, in memory of all those men who lost their lives in the conflict.  An army billet (hut Number 101) was purchased in May 1920 from the former army camp at Weybourne, and converted for use as a Parish Room.[17]  The former army billet served as the village hall for the following 78 years, being replaced by a new village hall on a different site in 1998.

William Forbes Norris’ mother, Annie Forbes, was the daughter of Thomas Lawrence and Charlotte Ann Forbes.  She was born in Hampstead and baptised on the 26th May 1872 in St Paul’s, Hampstead.[18]   Thomas Forbes’ occupation is given on the Baptism Register as an insurance broker and in the 1881 Census for Hampstead as a marine broker with Lloyds.  Annie Forbes married William Edward Norris on 15th June 1893 in St Mary’s Church Kilburn (see Figure 6).[19]

marriage register

Figure 6: Extract from the Marriage Register for 1893, St. Mary, Kilburn

Annie died on the 22nd November 1966, aged 94, in Canterbury, Kent.  Probate was granted to her two daughters, Marjorie France (widow) and Marion Joyce Norris (spinster) on 24th July 1967, in the amount of £13,326.[20]  Following Annie’s death, the Norris Memorial Trust was established to perpetuate the memory of her husband and only son, ‘for the benefit of this church’.[21]

William had two sisters, born in Hampstead and baptised by Edward Forbes at St Mary, Kilburn – Marjorie (born on the 17th October 1895) and Marion Joyce (born on the 22nd March 1898, baptised on the 16th April 1898).[22]  Marjorie died on the 8th October 1972, in Canterbury, Kent, aged 77.  Marion spent many years abroad from the 1930s to 1950s, as a nurse, midwife and missionary in Uganda and Nigeria.  She died on the 7th July 1977 aged 79, in Canterbury, Kent, and her ashes were interred at All Saints Church Wood, Norton, on the 24th July 1977.


With many thanks to the Wood Norton Heritage Project and Joanne Burd for sending us this article. 


[1] Shrewsbury School, The News 100 years ago – Old Salopians in WW1 (

[2] Trinity College Chapel Roll of Honour 1914-1918 (

[3] The National Archives, WO 374 – War Office: Officers’ Services, First World War; WO 374/50857 – Norris, 2/Lieut W F

[4] The London Gazette, 18th September 1914, p7405

[5] Forces War Records (

[6] War Diary, 54th East Anglian Divisional Cyclist Company, August 1915 (

[7] War Diary (

[8] See WO 374/50857 – Norris, 2/Lieut W F; Record of Soldier’s Effects (

[9] National Probate Calendar, Index of Wills and Administrations, 1916

[10] CWGC commemoration (

[11] CWGC information for Helles Memorial (

[12] Norfolk Heritage Centre, Dereham and Fakenham Times 1915

[13] British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920 (

[14] Cambridge University Alumni, 1261-1900 (

[15] Entries in Kelly’s Directory of Norfolk for Wood Norton 1908, 1916 and 1933

[16] 1911 census, Wood Norton (Schedules 153 and 146) (

[17] The Hut, Wood Norton – A Brief History (The Millennium Working Group)

[18] Baptism Register, St Paul’s, Hampstead (

[19] Marriage Register, St Mary, Kilburn (

[20] Probate Records 1967 (Find a will –

[21] Memorial to William Edward Norris in All Saints Church, Wood Norton, Norfolk

[22] Baptism Register, St. Mary, Kilburn for 1895 and 1898 (; also FreeBMD for the birth of Marion Joyce Norris ( : Quarter to March 1898, Hampstead Vol 1a, p595)


2 thoughts on “Remembering William Forbes Norris

  1. Thanks for this fascinating history about William Norris and his family. William was my great uncle. His sister Marjorie was my mother’s mother.

    We still have family papers in our possession if you are interested.

  2. Pingback: Remembering William Forbes Norris – Your Ancestor Search

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