Cyril Norman Norris

Born: 3 December 1887

Died: 19 August 1917

Studied at the RCA: October 1909–July 1914, ARCA Diploma 1913

One of four sons (and a daughter) of London County Council art master William and his wife Amelia, Cyril appears to have been, or become, a part-time student at the College, teaching at the same time as studying painting. Showing promise, he had won a travelling scholarship in 1914 to Italy, an opportunity that he was unable to take up due to the outbreak of war.

All the Norris brothers were of serving age, three volunteering for the army and the other, a chemist, to work in munitions. In September 1914, Cyril enlisted with his youngest brother, Leslie, who was also studying at the College. Initially they were both with the 17th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers (Empires), but while Leslie moved on to the Royal Engineers, Cyril worked his way up the ranks of the 17th battalion during 1915, departing for France in November of that year. The battalion belonged to the 5th Brigade (2nd Division) that took part in various actions that formed the Battle of the Somme the following year. It was partly in response to the huge losses during this time that a new system for training officers began. It was under this that Sergeant Norris applied for a commission, describing his former occupation as ‘artist & portrait painter’, with references supplied by Augustus Spencer, Principal of the College, and the Principal’s brother, Beckwith, a ‘literary instructor’. Having returned to England on Christmas Eve 1916, by February 1917 Cyril had begun his training. At the end of March, while Cyril was at No.8 Officer Cadet Battalion, Lichfield, his brother, Leslie, was killed in action.

Why Cyril was moved to a home battalion at the end of May is not clear. His commission application made clear he wanted to join an infantry unit, and later records and correspondence show that in July he was doing this – back in France, serving as a Second Lieutenant with the 26th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers: the fact that Cyril joined ‘The Bankers’, as the battalion was known, is an indication that profession-based battalions were unable to recruit in sufficient numbers as the war continued. The battalion came under the command of 124th Brigade (41st Division) operating close to Bailleul, near the Belgian border. In July they were among troops preparing for the Third Battle of Ypres, with unseasonal rain already beginning to cause frustration, and eventually adding to the dangers of bullets, shells and gas.

On 17 August the 26th Battalion, now based at Thieushouck, were inspected by a general who had taken part in the successful Battle of Messines earlier in the summer. The following morning there was an even greater honour when the renowned commander, who had planned the battle and the famous mining of Messine Ridge, ‘General Sir Herbert C O Plumber [sic] GCMG KCB ADC’ paid a visit. The only other event reported that day in the battalion war diary came at 9.30 pm, when German aircraft dropped four bombs on their camp. Although none of the casualties are named in the diary – one general’s name and his military decorations perhaps proving enough for the diarist – only one officer is noted as wounded. This must have been Cyril. The officer was evacuated to No.138 Field Ambulance (a mobile unit, not a vehicle) but died the next day.

Cyril was buried at the time ‘in a farm about 800 yards north of Thieushouck, on the west side of the Fletre – Godewaersvelde Road.’ After the war his body was found and reburied in Bertenacre Military Cemetery, Fletre, Nord, France.

Only one of the Norris soldier brothers survived the war, while the chemist was left ‘maimed’. The family battled against paying death duties on Cyril’s estate for twenty years. They were successful in 1937.

Student file – Royal College of Art Archive
Student file, Form 16 – Royal College of Art Archive


Student file, report – Royal College of Art Archive
Student file – Royal College of Art Archive