Charmed life

It’s very rare I find someone on a war memorial who did not die in the war. In fact, it’s so rare, today is the one and only instance I’ve found so far. To be fair, his family tried to have his name removed from both the Farnham and Hale memorials but to no avail. I’m rather glad they didn’t succeed because otherwise I’d never have known about him.

John Frederick Norris lived a pretty charmed life. He managed to see quite a lot of life while many of his generation saw nothing but the inside of a trench.

He was born in Hale in around 1881. He went to the local school and, I assume, was just like any normal kid growing up at the turn of the century. His father was probably a general labourer and his mother had too many kids. Like I say, just a normal family.

Early in his life, John’s father died and his mother remarried. Her new husband was a rather well to do market gardener called Ted Warner. Apart from the usual vegetables and flowers, he also had a field of strawberries around Nutshell Lane, Hale.

John, on the other hand, was destined for more manorial duties. On leaving school he managed to get a job as a groom in the Weybourne household of John Henry Knight.

(For those that don’t know, Mr Knight was an engineer and inventor. He built one of the first petrol driven motor vehicles in the UK. He notoriously drove it through Farnham and was subsequently prosecuted ‘…for using a locomotive with neither a licence nor a man walking in front with a red flag.‘ [Wikipedia, available at:, accessed December 1, 2018])

John Norris then moved north. I can only assume it was through his employment with Mr Knight that he came in contact with his next employer, Major General Sir Joseph Frederick Laycock, AKA Joe Laycock.

Joe lived at Wiseton Hall in Nottinghamshire and had been in the British Army most of his life. He’d served in the Second Boer War in South Africa as part of the Sherwood Rangers, for which he was awarded a DSO. (He was also an Olympic sailor but that does not appear to have any part in this story…)

Most importantly for our story, Joe Laycock funded and was first commanding officer of the Nottinghamshire Royal Horse Artillery in 1908. This regiment was part of the new Territorial Force and fought well and strong in the Great War to come…but back to John.

He found himself working in Joe Laycock’s house as a footman. In around 1904, he married Sarah Jessie Thompson and they had two kids, Frederick Thomas and Christina Lydia Rose, all living happily in Clayworth, Nottinghamshire for a while. In 1908, John joined the volunteer brigade along with most of the staff when Joe Laycock formed it. Then, in 1914, Sarah Jessie died.

Poor John, left with two kids to bring up and having to work as well as do his duty in the volunteer brigade. He did the only thing he could do and went overseas when the Great War kicked off. Not that he had a lot of choice.

Initially John Frederick was with the 1st Nottinghamshire Yeomanry Battery but, having been shipped off to the Middle East in 1915, he was co-opted into the Brigade Royal Horse Artillery Territorial Force.

His regiment was part of a big push up towards Baghdad. They headed along the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, then managed to take such places as Kut, Amara, Baghdad itself and then on towards Mosul.

Somewhere around that time John Frederick, by now a Sergeant, was blown up. He was then reported missing and had a loss of memory.

John Frederick did not die in the Middle East. His death came a long time later. While his life continued, his war was over. He was declared physically unfit for further active service and was shipped home to a convalescent place in Reading.

Finally fit enough to be discharged (and presumably with his memory returned) he headed back to Joe Laycock’s place and returned to his job. I’m sure everyone welcomed him back with open arms. He’d become quite a big part of the place I imagine and felt quite at home.

However happy he was, it wasn’t long before he suddenly started having chest problems associated with his time in the desert. His doctor recommended heading back south where the air was fresher and his breathing would be eased. Sadly (I assume) he waved goodbye to his old life and headed back to his older one.

Back in Hale, he must have felt a lot better as he was employed at a succession of different houses until he landed up at the Weybourne Post Office which he ran during the Second World War. During this time he also looked after the gardens at Winton House which, incidentally, is next door to the vets where we take the dogs.

Possibly in 1942 (and definitely around that time) his step-father Ted Warner, died. John Frederick took over the market garden business in Hale and was thereafter settled for life which lasted up until 1949.

John clearly didn’t like living alone. First he married Sarah Jessie but then there’s evidence that he married a further three times.

(A lot of the following information is unverified and comes from Harry Norris, John’s son. He spoke to the original researcher.)

His second wife was Emily Thompson but she died in the flu pandemic in 1918. He then married a woman called Laura who he’d met during his convalescence in Reading while she’d been working in a nearby household. Laura died of tuberculosis. They had two kids, Harry and John.

Finally he married a woman from Cornwall whose name is unknown (at the moment). The only information I presently have is that she and John had a son called Arthur and that her father was a lighthouse keeper.

So, rather than the sad end that visits all of my soldiers each Friday, old John Frederick Norris had an excellent and full life.

Surrey History Centre car park
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1 Response to Charmed life

  1. Josephine Cook says:

    Wow he had an interesting life after all what with all his kids’ you didn’t say what happen to the first two kids so apart from all of them and all his wife’s he had a very good life. love mum xxx


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