Gunner, Royal Field Artillery, 6th Ammunition Col.
Service No. 70166
Died as a prisoner of war on 24 September 1916, aged about 23
Remembered at Baghdad (North Gate) War Cemetery, Iraq
Chris Burge writes:
Henry (known as Harry) Norris was born in 1893 in Stepney, east London, the first child of parents of Thomas Henry and Edith (née Hollole) who had married the previous year at St Mark’s Church, Victoria Park in Tower Hamlets. Harry’s father was a serving Metropolitan Police Constable, born in Chelsea, and his mother Edith was originally from Cornwall. Harry’s younger brother Arthur was born in Chelsea in 1898 and in the 1901 census the Norris family were living in Stepney. Another child, Rose, was born in 1900 in Stepney but died as an infant and a second brother, Charles, born in 1901 and baptised at St Anne’s on South Lambeth Road on 5 August 1904, died in 1906. Henry’s third brother Albert was born Lambeth in 1905.
In 1904 the family’s address was 39 Coronation Buildings, opposite Vauxhall Park on South Lambeth Road (since demolished and replaced with offices). In the 1911 census, Thomas and Edith Norris were living with their three sons in four rooms at 26 Radnor Terrace, off South Lambeth Road, a property that also housed two other people in one other room. Henry’s father was now 44 and his mother 46; they had been married for 18 years. Thomas listed all their children on the census return including the deceased Rose and Charles. Harry was working as a waiter at the War Office.
Just a year later, Harry had decided to join the Army. His enlistment is recorded in the pages of the Surrey Recruitment Register. He had attested on 26 April 1912 at Kingston, Surrey, joining the Royal Horse Artillery. His stated age was 19 years 5 months and he was 5ft 9¾in in height, weighed 10st 6lb and had blue eyes. His occupation was described as ‘light porter’ and reference was made to Charles Dawes, a cheesemonger who lived with his family at 237 Wandsworth Road.
Harry was in India, serving in the Anglo-Indian Army at Kirkee (now known as Khadki) when war broke out. When the 6th (Poona) Division was mobilised in September 1914, Harry was posted to the 6th Ammunition Column of the Royal Field Artillery. On 16 October the division sailed from Bombay for Mesopotamia (an area encompassing present-day Iraq and Kuwait, and parts of Iran, Syria and Turkey), ostensibly to protect the Anglo-Persian oil pipeline and the refinery at Abadan in the Persian Gulf. Oil was vital to the British Navy. The Anglo-Indian force landed in the Shattl-Al Arab waterway in November 1914 and Harry Norris was recorded as disembarking on the 20th.
Beyond the marshlands of the lower Tigris was flat desert with no roads and no water, except in rivers. In an ill-fated advance to capture Baghdad, the Anglo-Indian forces were repulsed at Ctesiphon (Tusbun, or Taysafun) on 24 November 1915. Pursued by Ottoman forces, 6th (Poona) Division retreated to Kut-al-Amara but were surrounded and cut off after digging in on 7 December 1915. On 29 April 1916, after 147 days, the siege of Kut-al-Amara ended in a humiliating surrender. An estimated 10,061 troops and 3,248 followers were taken captive. Already weakened by hunger and disease, thousands of men were forced marched across the Syrian desert to the mountainous region of Anatolia. The survivors were mostly used as forced labour on railway construction and tunnelling work. According to the March 1916 returns taken at Kut before the surrender, the 6th Ammunition Column numbered two officers, 37 British and 96 Indian other ranks, a total of 135 men (see E.W.C. Sandes (Major E.W.C. Sandes M.C., R.E.), In Kut and Captivity: With the Sixth Indian Division, London, Murray, 1919, p.475).
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission database lists the names of 37 British servicemen who served in the 6th Ammunition Column and died as prisoners of war. Most of the men had been scattered among the camps that sprang up around the railway works in half a dozen different places in Anatolia, in both the Amanus and Tuarus Mountains. The majority perished at Baghtche and its associated camps. Among the identified deaths at the Tarsus camp was Harry Norris who died on 24 September 1916. He was not the only man from the 6th Ammunition Column at the Tarsus camp. Gunner 91160/26927, Henry Christopher Lovegrove died three days later, on 27 September 1916. Although recorded as a Gunner in the RFA by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, his entry in the Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects, 1901-1929, shows Lovegrove was in the 6th Ammunition Column and had died as a prisoner at Tarsus. Gunner Lovegrove was born in Wandsworth and his family lived near Clapham North at the time of the war, and later in Balham. His brother Harold Courtney Lovegrove was also killed in the war.
The date at which Harry’s parents were informed of their son’s death is unknown. An official report into the treatment of British Prisoners of War in Turkey presented to Parliament in 1918 and printed by HMSO led to newspaper articles that could only have brought great distress to the families of these men. More than 60 per cent of the British troops taken prisoner at Kut were known to have died as prisoners of war.
The Norris family had moved to 5 Meadow Road near Vauxhall Park during the war and remained there until at least 1930.