The superb and well-documented and remarkable Second World War M.B.E., Great War M.C. and Bar, D.F.C. group of nine awarded to Wing Commander J. H. Norton, Royal Canadian Air Force, late Essex Yeomanry, Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force, whose published account of his experiences in the Palestine campaign 1917-18 include frequent mention of personal encounters with Lawrence of Arabia. With a large archive of original documents, including his original WW1 flying log book.
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, M.B.E. (Military) Member’s 2nd type breast badge; Military Cross, G.V.R., with Second Award Bar, the reverse privately engraved, ‘Capt. John Hamilton Norton, France 1917, Bar Palestine 1918’; Distinguished Flying Cross, G.V.R., the reverse privately engraved, ‘Flight Lieut. John Hamilton Norton, Palestine 1918’; British War and Victory Medals, M.I.D. oakleaf (Capt. J. H. Norton, R.A.F.); Territorial Force War Medal 1914-19 (1105 Pte. J. H. Norton, Essex Yeo.); Defence Medal 1939-45, silver; Canadian Voluntary Service Medal 1939-45, with overseas clasp; War Medal 1939-45, M.I.D. oakleaf, silver
M.B.E. London Gazette 1 January 1946.
M.C. London Gazette 26 May 1917:
‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He reconnoitred the enemy’s wire at the height of 300 feet, and brought back most valuable information. He has at all times displayed great courage and skill.’
Bar to M.C. London Gazette 22 April 1918:
‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. While he was carrying out observation for an important artillery shoot, two hostile aeroplanes endeavoured to interfere. These he at once attacked and drove off, afterwards continuing his observation for the shoot, during which two hostile emplacements were destroyed. His dash and determination contributed greatly to the success of the operation.’
D.F.C. London Gazette 8 February 1919:
‘On all occasions this officer displays gallantry and devotion to duty, notably on 29 July, when, in co-operation with our artillery, he carried out a shoot against two anti-aircraft pits. On approaching this target Captain Norton was wounded in the left foot; notwithstanding this, he continued the shoot, and succeeded in destroying both pits, thereby putting out of action two hostile guns.’
John Hamilton “Jocko” Norton was born in Southend, Essex in October 1896 and, after leaving school, was employed as an insurance broker at Lloyds of London. Enlisting in the Essex Yeomanry as a Trooper in August 1914, he was commissioned in the Reserve Regiment of Cavalry, via the Special List, that November, but remained employed in the U.K. until transferring to the Royal Flying Corps and gaining his Royal Aero Club Certificate in February 1916.
Posted to No. 12 Squadron out in France in July of the same year, he completed around 80 operational sorties before being transferred to No. 13 Squadron in March 1917, Army co-operation work that comprised bombing raids and spotting for the artillery, in addition to photography, and hazardous work, too, as evidenced by the following extracts taken from his Flying Log Book:
28 July 1916 – an attack on a bridge in the Sommeregion: ‘Bombs fell near railway track. A.A. very good. Lt. Watkins caught fire from direct hit. Own fuselage badly shot.’
29 August 1916: ‘Bombed Bois de Loupart. Attacked by hostile machine – two rounds through cockpit, one through coat. Forced landing. Ran into telephone pole. Crashed machine’s wings dismantled.’
15 September 1916: ‘Bombed Bapaume. Squadron came down to 500 feet. Tyson hit. Archie and Onions very bad. 20 hostile machines. Recrossed at 1000.’
17 September 1916: ‘Bombed Marcoing station. Blew up large ammunition dump on railway line. Formation attacked south of Cambrai by about 40 hostile machines. Honey and Patterson lost. Four F.Es lost from escort.’
In March 1917, Norton transferred to No. 13 Squadron as a Flight Commander, which appointment quickly led to the award of his first M.C. for gallant work during the battle of Arras in the following month, namely the above cited low-level mission of which his Flying Log Book states:
7 April 1917: ‘Wire reconnaissance. Examined wire from 200-400 feet four miles behind line. Engine and machine badly hit by M.G. fire – awarded Military Cross.’
Just a couple of days later, on the 9th, his BE2e was hit by shellfire and he was compelled to make a crash-landing, though he and his Observer, Captain T. L. Tibbs, emerged unscathed from the wreckage. While on the 28th, during a contact patrol, his aircraft was attacked by five enemy machines, the resultant damage causing another rapid descent. But pilot and Observer once more emerged unscathed, Norton in fact going on to complete around 60 operational sorties before being ordered back to the U.K.to take up appointment as an instructor at the Central Flying School at Upavon in June.
A brief home appointment in No. 62 Squadron having followed in August-September 1917, Norton was next posted to the Middle East, where he joined No. 113 Squadron in Palestine, a component, in common with No. 14 Squadron, of 5th Corps Wing. Moreover, his name appeared on a list of pilots attached to the following Routine Order:
‘The following officers are detached for special duty and will proceed immediately to headquarters of the Arab forces near Akabah. All officers upon arrival will report to Colonel T. E. Lawrence, or his representatives in Akabah, attached to the headquarters of Shereef Feisal, and will remain under their orders during forthcoming operations.’
Thus ensued a memorable chapter in his active service career, a chapter described at length in a series of articles that were subsequently published in The Liberty magazine in America in 1934 – ‘I Flew Lawrence in War-Crazed Arabia, by Captain John H. Norton, as told by J. B. L. Lawrence’.
As a result of lacking dates it is difficult to corroborate these articles against his Flying Log Book, and no reference to them is made by Lawrence, but the following extracts are taken from Nortons own accounts:
On arrival at Lawrence’s Headquarters near Akabah
‘Lawrence came among us and greeted us heartily. I was to learn later that he never shook hands and hated to be touched in any way. Another amazing thing about the man that I noted from the first was that he never looked any one in the face. Instead he stared at one’s shoes intently …. I watched Lawrence carefully. His face interested me. It seemed to change with every word he spoke. It was the most mobile face I have ever seen. He couldn’t have been more than 27 or 28, yet I felt the force and strength of personality that I was to see accomplish so much later. His bluish-grey eyes, rather deeply set, reflected humour and at the same time were strangely hard. They seemed almost held in place by his unusually high cheek bones.’
Under Lawrence’s watchful eye at a formal dinner with Feisal
‘The sheik beside me suddenly turned to me and grunted happily. Then he thrust in his fist and brought out the smoking liver. He handed it to me. I had my hands full. But a quick glance from Lawrence and a slight nod told me that I must not refuse. It was a gesture of friendliness. I took the liver and jammed it down my throat. It was no hard task – I was so hungry! Lawrence kept looking at me and signified by smacking his lips that I was to show pleasure at the gift. I smacked my lips and grunted. It pleased the sheikh so much that he offered me another bit and another ….’
Piloting Lawrence and a “Train Wrecking” Mission
‘I was ready and waiting at dawn the next morning. During the night an army lorry had brought two little wooden boxes from the railway station for Lawrence, and he had these carted out to the machine when he came to join me. He was dressed in the same khaki tunic and slacks and still carried his grip. He personally superintended the stowing of the two mysterious boxes in the rear cockpit where he was to sit.
“You don’t mind taking these boxes too, do you?”
“Not at all, sir. May I ask what they contain?”
“Flowers,” he said with a quiet chuckle. “Tulips.”
I nodded. We all had heard of the man’s eccentricities. If he wanted to bring tulips, it was all right with us.
We pulled up quickly, circled the airdrome once, and then headed south-east toward the Pilgrim Railway beyond which lay Azrak, Lawrence’s destination. I was careful to parallel the Turkish lines rather than to fly over them, because I feared enemy machines – not so much for myself as because I had so valuable a passenger.
Soon we were over Ramieh, with its Crusaders’ Tower. We passed on over Ludd. Here Lawrence tapped my shoulder. I turned in my seat to receive a pencilled note.
“That is where St George, patron saint of England, lies buried,” it stated. Soon we could see Jerusalem with its mosques and spires, and beyond, the valley of the Jordan, with the Dead Sea shimmering in the early-morning haze.
I saw an airplane in the distance. Fearing a battle at this time, I swung far to the right and gave it full gun. Fortunately the other pilot did not see us. Now we were over Jericho – the River Jordan twisting below like a wriggling caterpillar. Es Salt – funny name, what? Amman, still in Turkish hands. The Pilgrim Railway.
A short distance beyond the railway, Lawrence again tapped my shoulder and pointed downward, indicating that I was to land. As always, we were immediately surrounded by hordes of gesticulating tribesmen. I was too busy to pay much attention to Lawrence. When I turned to help him alight, I was astounded. Instead of the insignificant-looking individual who had climbed in with me two hours before, a resplendent figure in pure white silken robes, with headcloth of gold and red and a magnificent curved dagger at his belt, stood up in the cockpit. The Arabs hailed him as a brother.
Two soldiers in khaki shorts and tunic appeared from among the crowd of Bedouins. Lawrence introduced them to me smilingly as “Lewis, Australian,” and “Stokes, British.” They were nicknamed, it seemed, after the particular machine guns they were nursing. “Will you please help them with my boxes, Captain?” Lawrence asked me as he started for Ali’s tent. I hopped to the rear cockpit and grabbed one of the two little wooden boxes. I was about to toss it to Lewis and Stokes when the latter yelled aloud in horror.
“What’s the matter?” I asked. “They’re only flowers!”
“Flowers! Excuse me, sir, but who told you that?”
“Colonel Lawrence himself.”
Both Lewis and Stokes began to roar with laughter. I grew a bit annoyed. “Well?” Stokes explained: “You see, sir, Colonel Lawrence calls ‘em tulips because he plants ‘em under the railway. But most people call ‘em sticks of dynamite!”
I leaned weakly against the side of the machine. Dynamite! If my landing had been a little rougher I might have – I hated to think of it. But it struck me that the whole thing was characteristic of Lawrence. He had his own little manner of joking.
According to my orders I was to return to Jaffa at once. So I began to refuel. Suddenly I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to miss all the fun! I hurried after Lawrence.
“Excuse me, colonel. Is there any excitement coming?”
“Yes, we have a small job to do over on the railway. Why?”
“I thought that perhaps I might be of assistance with my machine in scouting in the air and – ”
Lawrence laughed. “Good idea, Norton. Stay on.”
The Pilgrim Railway was one day’s distance by camel, about thirty five miles. I was to stay in camp, permit them to reach their objective on the ground, and then join them from the air. Early the next morning Lawrence and about three hundred of his raiders set out on their camels. I was away as early as possible the morning after that. I set a course straight for the objective Lawrence had designated, and was happy to see them working busily on the railway when I reached it. I flew on down the line.
What was that body of horsemen there? I swooped down. A Turkish patrol – fifteen or twenty men on horseback. I dropped lower to make sure that they were enemy, and then hurried back to warn the raiders. They waved gratefully to me and then ran to hide among the hills. Lawrence remained behind a moment to drag his cloak over the disturbed earth in an effort to disguise the “tulip planting,” and then ran to join the others.
The Turkish patrol came along, but they were paying so much attention to my plane that they rode right over the “plant” and never noticed it. The Arabs and Lawrence went back to work. I dashed down the line again. Lawrence had told me that trains were infrequent, but I had hopes. Suddenly I thought I saw smoke in the distance. Oh, no such luck. Yes, there it was again! I speeded up and soon was over a long groaning train. It was being hauled by two snorting engines. I saw men atop the coaches. They were Turkish machine-gunners keeping lookout, barricaded with sandbags on the train roof. I gave them a burst from my gun for luck, and laughed as they tried to pot me in return. Then I wheeled and hurried back to Lawrence.
Looking over the ground well, I found a bare space behind one of the hills and came in for a landing. I ran to tell Lawrence of the train, and the Arabs whooped with joy. Lawrence stationed Lewis and Stokes with their machine guns on a hill commanding the tracks, and the Arabs hid along the top too, with their long rifles trained on the place where the dynamite was planted. “You might keep them busy so that they won’t notice us,” Lawrence suggested, and away I went.
The train was coming closer. The coaches were crowded with soldiers. I could see that when I dropped to about fifty feet and ran the length of the train. I could hear the machine guns popping at me, but I knew I was safe unless someone was lucky enough to hit my tanks. No one did and I rose to a point of vantage again. Now they were almost at the curve – and around it was disaster for them and victory for us.
This was my chance. I came down at them, firing my gun at the crews on top. They were so busy trying to dodge my bullets and to hit me that they paid no attention to what might be hidden around that curve. All at once there was pandemonium. The two engines seemed to stop short, stand still, and then rise right up in the air. They rose and toppled over into the culvert. The coaches too seemed to be coming up at me. I felt my machine shake and quiver. Making a quick survey both ways to guard against possible approaching patrols, I turned back to my previous landing place and rushed over to the hill to get into the action if I could. Rifles and machine guns were cracking wildly. Lewis and Stokes were mowing down those Turks who had escaped the wreck. The Arabs were screaming at the tops of their voices and firing in a steady stream. Lawrence was just an observer now. He had “planted his tulip” and it had burst into flower.
Lawrence knew that the Arabs would take no prisoners. They hated the Turks too much; and then, having prisoners meant sharing the sparse supply of water and rations. He was right. No prisoners were taken, and soon the cries of the wounded were stilled. But the shouts of the victorious Arabs had increased. They ran in and out among the fallen enemy, looting, tearing off clothing, screaming with delight. One box car was on its side. They tore into it. This was a find! Rare carpets, rich brocades, silks and satins. Every camel was loaded with loot. Lawrence also came forward for his share. But all he took were the two engine bells. “Just mementoes for my friends,” he said. Suddenly an ominous sound caught my ear. “Listen!” I shouted. “Airplanes!” Lawrence spoke sharply to the Arabs. There was a mad scramble for the camels. I started to run for my machine in the field half a mile off.
Lawrence was the last to leave, making certain that all his men had got under way. Just as he too started to run, I heard the screaming shriek of vibrating wires as an airplane – a plane with big black crosses on its wings- began to dive directly at him! “Look out!” I yelled to Lawrence. He just made the top of a range and dropped behind it as the plane started firing a stream of machine-gun bullets. Unable to see him any longer, it made a quick turn and started in my direction. I was running for my own machine, but I realised I would never make it.
Just at that moment the noise of another airplane broke into the scene. Its shadow fell alongside that of the Boche plane as it came toward the other in a terrific dive. I threw myself flat on my face behind a rock and managed to look back over my shoulder. Thank Heaven! There were red, white and blue circles on the wing of the new ship. I recognised it as one from my own squadron at Jaffa.
The Boche suddenly realised his danger. He immediately forgot us on the ground and began to fight for altitude. Climbing rapidly, he looked like a frightened chicken trying to run from a hungry hawk. The British plane, having the advantage of the speed of its dive, rapidly overtook the enemy. And at about only fifteen hundred feet in the air the enemy plane, realising that flight was futile, turned to stand battle.
I stood up. I was safe enough now. I could see Lawrence and his Arabs, now all mounted on their camels, standing on the other side of the ridges also watching the battle in the skies … ’
Norton’s Flying Log Book for this period reveals around 80 operational sorties, the Bar to his M.C. being awarded for the above cited deeds near Jaffa on 10 January 1918, although his award of the D.F.C. may have been won for later services as C.O. of ‘C’ advanced Flight, No. 142 Squadron, in which capacity he remained employed until returning to the Home Establishment in September 1918. In August 1919, however, he returned to the Middle East, this time as Staff Captain (S.O. 3, Air) at the Palestine Brigade’s H.Q. in Ismalia and his final appointment, prior to resigning his commission in September 1920, was as a Flight Lieutenant in No. 111 Squadron.
Settling in California in the 1920s, where he worked for Canada Life insurance – and was a member of the Hollywood Cricket Team – Norton moved to Vancouver in the mid-1930s and, on the renewal of hostilities, joined the R.C.A.F., rising to the rank of Wing Commander in Training Command, in addition to serving as a Liaison Officer in Washington D.C. He was awarded the M.B.E. The Wing Commander eventually retired to Spain, where he died at Gerona in January 1975.
To be sold with the following original documentation and photographs:
(i) Three educational certificates, all in the recipient’s name, two of them issued by Cambridge University in 1911 and 1912.
(ii) The recipient’s Federation Areonautique Internationale / British Empire Aviator’s Certificate (No. 2456), with portrait photograph, dated 10 February 1916, and his Royal Flying Corps (Officers) Graduation Certificate (No. 1516), issued at the Central Flying School, Upavon on 23 June 1916.
(iii) The recipient’s Mention in Despatches Certificate (Douglas Haig’s Despatch dated 9 April 1917).
(iv) Letters to the recipient from his mother and sister, congratulating him on the award of his M.C. in April 1917.
(v) The recipient’s Pilot’s Flying Log Book, the front cover inscribed, ‘J. N. Norton, 2 Lt., 7th Res. Cav. Regt.’, with entries covering the period January 1916 to December 1919, though the period from July 1918, when he was appointed to the command of ‘C’ advanced Flight, No. 142 Squadron, in Jerusalem, more by way of a summary of appointments than individual flight entries.
(vi) A particularly fine array of Great War photographs, approximately 200 images, a few covering the recipient’s time in France, including target photographs, but the vast majority his period of active service in Palestine 1917-18, including aircraft, fellow pilots, air-to-air and air-to-ground images, and much besides: in all an important photographic archive of air operations in this theatre of war.
(vii) The recipient’s Commission Warrants for the ranks of Captain in the R.A.F., w.e.f. 1 April 1918, and dated 1 December 1918, and Flying Officer, dated 2 August 1919.
(viii) An Air Ministry letter dated 23 January 1925, addressed to the recipient in Santa Monica, California, forwarding a copy of his service record, the latter stating ‘At the close of hostilities this officer was officially credited with eight victories in aerial combat’, though no mention of Norton in standard “Air Ace” references has been found.
(ix) Relevant front covers and pages from The Liberty magazine – ‘I Flew Lawrence in War-Crazed Arabia, by Captain John H. Norton, as told by J. B. L. Lawrence’, 20 and 27 January, and 3 and 10 February 1934 editions.
(x) The recipient’s Commission Warrant for the rank of Pilot Officer in the R.C.A.F. (Special Reserve), w.e.f. 8 November 1939, and dated 20 March 1944.
(xi) A letter to the recipient from his aunt, dated 29 September 1940, addressed to him at No. 3 Traning Command, Montreal, in which she relates family news and the air battles going on over Sussex.
(xii) A scrap album, 25pp., containing numerous press cuttings and photographs relevant to the recipient’s service in the R.C.A.F. in the 1939-45 War, together with other memorabilia, including a Laisser Passer for a return trip to Ottawa from the Canadian Legation in Washington D.C. in March 1942 (’He will be carrying with him certain very confidential documents which on no account should be disturbed … ’); together with another scrap album covering the inter-war years, with a mass of newpaper cuttings, invitations and letters, etc.
(xiii) The recipient’s M.B.E. Warrant, in the name of ‘Wing Commander John Hamilton Norton, M.C., D.F.C., R.C.A.F.’ and dated 1 January 1946, together with related Central Chancery forwarding letter.
(xiv) R.C.A.F. Active Service Certificate, dated 6 February 1946, confirming the recipient’s entitlement to the overseas clasp on his Canadian Voluntary Service Medal, and honourable discharge in the rank of Wing Commander.
,Generally good very fine