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Sir Henry Norris promoted to Lt Colonel in recognition of his work in the War Office

By Tony Attwood

In recent articles we have noted that Henry Norris has been given a knighthood in recognition of his work in forming and paying for the Footballers Battalion, plus his exemplary work in running his recruitment office in a way that few other local authorities were able to do.

We have also noted that having been appointed to a job at the War Office in Worthing, during which time he was given the rank first of Lieutenant and then later Captain), Norris had returned to London, been appointed to the London County Council (London’s most senior local authority) but then in a most un-Norris-like way had started missing meetings.

I’ve also noted that the records of the War Office for this period were destroyed in the Second World War but raised the suspicion that the missing of meetings was so unusual for Norris that it was more likely that he was working again at the War Office.

Now we come to the month where such questions were to answered.

In terms of the war we must mention that on 7 June the Battle of Messines in Flanders began.  The British army detonated 19 ammonal mines (an alternative to TNT) which had been placed under the German lines.   10,000 enemy soldiers were killed in what is said to have been the deadliest deliberate non-nuclear man-made explosion in history.

Then by chance, back in Fulham, the local newspaper now got hold of a story through which it really could attack the newly knighted Henry Norris.  It appeared that a shortage of manpower had meant that the Council had not been carrying out its statutory obligation to clean the borough’s sewers, and on 16 June they started flooding.  It was just what the newspaper needed, and Sir Henry was held personally to blame.  The fact that the Borough simply had no one available to do the work was not mentioned.

From here on personal attacks on Sir Henry Norris became more common in the local press, which was of course forbidden from writing virtually any commentary on any war matters at all.  In taking this line the Fulham Chronicle was doing what many other local newspapers did – finding any story they could run and running it in order to fill up the space.

And despite the reduction in the size of the papers there was space a plenty because what the papers could not cover were events such as the blowing up of HMS Vanguard with the loss of its entire crew of over 800 on 9 July.   But they did get to cover the proclamation on 14 July by King George V that male descendants of the royal line would from hence forth be called Windsor instead of being noted as part of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.  On the same day, Winston Churchill became Minister of Munitions – a positive step given that it was the failure to get enough munitions to the soldiers in France that was partly responsible for the fall of the previous government.

Meanwhile at the end of July the Battle of Passchendaele in Flanders began.  It lasted until 10 November and the war moved into its fourth year.

During July Highbury housed perhaps one of the more unusual events in its thus far short history, as on 7 July the final event of Islington’s Baby Week – the Baby Show – was held there.  These “Weeks” were held across the country to encourage mothers to work harder to protect the health of their children despite the hardships of wartime, as there was a growing concern about the rise in infant mortality in the capital not least from malnutrition and the continuing measles epidemic.

There is nothing to say that Sir Henry was at the event, and it appears he was not at the LCC Education Committee meeting on 11 July and he also missed the meeting of the full council one week later, just as he had missed most meetings in April, May and June.  Certainly someone on the LCC would have raised questions and had a knowing answer from the relevant government circles that matters would be revealed shortly.   

Back with the football, on 16 July 1917 the London Combination reported how it would run football for clubs in the capital in the season to come.

The announcement showed a notable change from the 1916/17 season, as the league was reduced to 10 clubs from the 14 of last season, removing the four non-London clubs: Watford, Luton, Southampton and Portsmouth, and leaving them to fend for themselves.

It looks like a harsh decision, but one that was presumably caused by the shortage of coal and thus the lack of trains to take players out of London for matches.

All the clubs would play each other four times (twice home, twice away, naturally) with   Tottenham continuing for a second season to play their home games at Highbury or Clapton, (Clapton being used particularly for “home” games against Arsenal).

Four extra games were later added in what was designated the National War Fund Cup.  These were played at the very end of the campaign to take the season up to 4 May 1918.  In Arsenal’s case the games involved home and away games against Millwall Athletic and then two against Brentford.  Meanwhile other pairings took place.   Chelsea played Tottenham and then West Ham over the four Saturdays, and I imagine the other London teams played each other at the same time, although I have no details.

Away from football although Sir Henry did attend the Fulham Council meeting in the evening of 18 July but  he again missed the LCC Education Committee on 25 July, which was held in the afternoon.  He was also at this time missing other events which as Mayor of Fulham, and of course now a dignitary recognised by the crowd following his knighthood, he might have been expected to attend, such as the Fulham Flower Show.  Such events may seem trivial to us now, considering the horrors of the war, but at the time were seen as a vital way of showing people that British life could continue as normal and maintaining public morale

Elsewhere, on 2 August  Squadron Commander E. H. Dunning became the first pilot to land his aircraft on a ship although he died five days later undertaking the task again.

And then, on 8 August, the factor that had been keeping Sir Henry Norris away from his duties at the London County Council was revealed as it was formally announced that Captain Sir Henry Norris had been promoted to Lt Colonel in the British Army, and had been made a Deputy Director of Recruiting.  This promotion reveals the level of service he delivered to his country during his stint in working for the War Office in recruitment in Worthing and the efficiency of that work was recognised.

Indeed I think we might pause for a moment, as the leap in his status within the army is something to behold.  From holding no rank at all, and having no military experience, and indeed having been turned down for active duty on account of his age and eyesight at the start of the war, he had in the space of three years become first a Lieutenant, and then a Captain.  He had then by-passed the rank of Major completely and become now a Lieutenant Colonel (and would henceforth have been generally addressed as Colonel).   Officers of such rank would normally be commanding battalions of between 300 and 1000 men, although it is a rank used for task force Executive Officers, and for administrators of army matters of the highest rank, who had not served in battle, which is exactly what Sir Henry now was.

All told there were eight Deputy Directors of Recruiting in the country, each controlling a different region: Lt Colonel Sir Henry Norris was in charge of the South-East of England including Kent, Hampshire, Sussex and parts of Surrey.  It was a position of great responsibility, given as a result of the way he had, at great personal cost, conducted himself and served his country thus far.

Clearly Norris’ experience and ability in this specific field had been recognised.  He had responded to the outbreak of war by using football matches as a recruitment ground for what became known as the Volunteer Army.  He had then organised the Derby Scheme in the autumn of 1915 in a way that completed the gathering of data and the analysis in a far faster way that was achieved anywhere else (the aim being through a series of interviews to determine whether British manpower goals could be met by volunteers or if conscription was necessary.)

He had then organised Fulham’s response to the  Military Service Bill which was introduced in January 1916 and effectively introduced conscription and then following that was posted to Worthing to organise conscription in Sussex.

And now he had been put in charge of conscription and recruitment over a significant part of the south east of England.  During this period he had risen from Mr Norris to Lt Col Sir Henry Norris.

But now, away from both the life of Lt Colonel Sir Henry Norris, football, and the war, perhaps I may interject one other event: that on 17 August one of the most extraordinary meetings of literary geniuses occurred at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh when Wilfred Owen introduced himself to Siegfried Sassoon.

Owen had been sent to the Edinburgh hospital to recover from shell-shock, while Sassoon had been placed there by the authorities to avoid imprisoning him, following his public anti-war protest. Owen, was transformed as a poet by the encounter and his Sassoon was haunted by the meeting for the rest of his life.

But now jumping, as we always must do in these accounts to other matters, on 21 August the Corn Production Act 1917 became law, guaranteeing minimum prices for wheat and oats and a minimum wage for agricultural workers.  Almost a socialist bill!

Football returned to London on 25 August with various friendly matches played as a preliminary to the opening of the new season one week later on 1 September.   I regret I have no details of the Arsenal game for the day – it may well have been a game between such players as were available at the time, although we know that the Navy played the Army (and won 5-1) in a charity match at Craven Cottage.

At Highbury Punch McEwan returned once more as the coach and manager as he was throughout the war and it became clear that most of last season’s men were back: Williamson, Bradshaw, Hutchins, Cockerill, Rutherford, Groves and Chipperfield, who had all played in the final game in April, were in the line up for the start of the new season.

We’ll pick up the football once more in the next instalment.  Here is a list of the story thus far…

The Henry Norris Files Section 1 – 1910.

Section 2 – 1911

Section 3 – 1912

Section 4 – 1913

Section 5 – 1914

Section 6 – 1915

Section 7: – 1916

Section 8: 1917

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