Sergeant Alfred Norton, 1311697, Wireless Operator/Air Gunner, 12 Squadron, Royal Air Force.
Alfred Norton was born in Ossett on the 28th October 1914, the son of Leeds born miner, Fred Norton and Hanging Heaton born, miner’s daughter, Bertha Almond, who married at Ossett Holy Trinity Church on the 25th July 1914. Fred’s parents had moved to Ossett shortly after his birth and at the time of his marriage he was living with his parents at 48, Ryecroft Street, Ossett and Bertha’s home was at 60, Wakefield Road, Ossett. Alfred had a younger brother, Edwin Norton, born in 1918, who also served in WW2 and was wounded. Edwin Norton went to live in South Africa at the end of the war with his South African wife.
In 1939, Fred, Bertha and Alfred Norton were living at 35, Cross Ryecroft Street, Ossett. Fred, born 4th November 1888, was a self-employed taxi driver, while Bertha, born on the 4th April 1894, looked after the house and ran a fish and chip shop. Fred also undertook ambulance driving and ARP duties for the West Riding County Council.
Alfred Norton, who had been educated at Ossett Grammar School was an uncertificated school master. A fourth person was also in the household and it is likely that this was the couple’s other son, Edwin, born in 1918. Alfred’s death was perhaps much too much for his parents. Less than six months after the death of his son, Alfred, Fred Norton died and was buried at Ossett Holy Trinity Church on the 25 February 1943, aged 54 years. Bertha Norton died three years later on the 27th March 1946, aged 51 years.
RAF Binbrook opened in early 1940, base to 142 Bomber Squadron, with 12 Squadron from Finningley moving there in early July 1940. The station closed in September 1942 to allow the construction of concrete runways. 12 Squadron moved to Wickenby and converted to Lancasters and returned on the 24th September 1945.
At 20:18 hours on the 27th August 1942, Vickers Wellington Mk III bomber X3988, piloted by 21 year-old Pilot Officer Douglas Henry MacNaughton took off from RAF Binbrook, Lincolnshire on a bombing raid to Kassel in Germany. The 21 Wellingtons that left Binbrook that Thursday evening were part of a 305 bomber raid on Kassel, in the Ruhr industrial heartland. The city contained some important industrial targets. The Fieseler aircraft plant, which built the Messerschmidt Bf109 and Focke-Wulf Fw190, was based in Kassel. Besides that, Dornier Do17 bombers as well as Tiger and Panzer tanks were built at the Henschel armaments works. The city also contained locomotive, engine and motor transport plants. The military headquarters (Wehrkreis IX) were located in Kassel and because of its location in central Germany it was an important interchange for railways and roads.
This was the first operational mission for Douglas MacNaughton's crew, which included Wireless Operator/Air Gunner Alfred Norton. They had just been posted to 12 Squadron at RAF Binbrook on the 17th August 1942 from 27 OTU at Lichfield, where they received their training. It was also to be their last operational mission and proved to be a baptism of fire. Nothing was heard from the aircraft after take off and it failed to return to base. It was later reported that X3988 crashed in the vicinity of Gladbeck on the north-west fringes of the Ruhr and all five crew members were killed.
Many bombers were shot down by the heavy flak or were so badly damaged that they crashed on the homeward journey. Besides that, the German night-fighters also had the advantage of the clear sky that night. No less than thirteen aircraft were intercepted and shot down. Of the 21 aircraft that left RAF Binbrook, four failed to return. Of the 305 bombers who took part in the raid on Kassel, 31, more than 10%, failed to return.
Widespread damage was caused in Kassel, although reports also state that many bombs fell outside the town, in fields and woods. Particularly the south-western part of the city was hit badly. All three factory buildings of the Henschel armaments works were among the severely damaged buildings.
The Anglo-Australian crew of Wellington X3988 who all died on the 28th August 1942 are as follows:
- Pilot Officer Douglas Henry MacNaughton, 117953, Pilot, RAF, 21 years.
- Sergeant Robert Hugh Ashwell, 1214846, Navigator/Observer, RAF, 21 years.
- Sergeant Alfred Norton, 1311697, Wireless Operator/Air Gunner, RAF, 27 years.
- Sergeant Francis Rodney Cummins, 403848, Bomb Aimer, RAAF, 24 years.
- Sergeant James Edward Dalton, 402320, Rear Gunner, RAAF, 22 years.
The "Ossett Observer" had this obituary for Sergeant Alfred Norton:1
"Ossett Airman Reported Killed - Sergeant Alfred Norton - Mr. and Mrs. Fred Norton, 35, Cross Ryecroft Street, Ossett, have received a letter from R.A.F. Records Office informing them that, according to the International Red Cross, their son, Sergeant Alfred Norton, previously reported missing is now 'Believed killed in action."
The letter adds: 'Although, there is, we fear, little reason to doubt the accuracy of this report that your son was killed in action, it will be necessary to record the casualty for official purposes as 'missing, believed killed in action,' until his death is confirmed by written evidence, or, in the absence of such confirmation, it becomes necessary to presume his death owing to the lapse of time.'
It appears from other messages that he was engaged in an operational flight over Germany with Bomber Command as a wireless operator on August 28th; neither the aeroplane nor any of its crew returned. One letter expressing deep regret at the occurrence, adds: 'Your son was extremely popular with everyone in the squadron, and he will be sadly missed. All the officers with whom your son was associated wish to add their sympathy.'
In The Teaching Profession - Sergeant Norton, who was twenty-eight years of age, was educated at Holy Trinity and Ossett Grammar Schools. He entered the teaching profession, and, whilst at the uncertified stage, assisted in Ossett and Horbury, and various West Riding schools as a supply teacher. He afterwards entered St. John's College, York and obtained his certificate just a fortnight before being called up in September 1940. He joined the R.A.F., and, following his preliminary training at Blackpool, served at various other stations in this country, becoming a sergeant air bomber, as well as a wireless operator. He had taken part in several operational flights over Germany.
He was a member of the Central Baptist Church, Ossett, and a member of Toc H. Whilst at the grammar school, he played regularly with the football team, and also played for Eastborough Council School, Dewsbury, when they won the championship, being the possessor of two miniature cups. He was unmarried and lived with his parents. He was very highly respected, and his many friends will learn of his death with sincere regret."
Above: Vickers Wellington Mk.III like X3988 that cost Sergeant Alfred Norton his life.
Sergeant Alfred Norton died on the 28th August 1942 and is buried at grave 30. B. 10 in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Kieve, Germany with the rest of his crew. The town of Kleve lies in the west of Germany close to the Dutch border, approx 130kms to the north west of Koln.
Reichswald Forest War Cemetery was created after the Second World War when burials were brought in from all over western Germany and is the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the country.
Some of those members of the land forces buried there died in the advance through Reichswald Forest in February 1945. Others died crossing the Rhine, among them members of the airborne forces whose bodies were brought from Hamminkeln, where landings were made by the 6th Airborne Division from bases in England.
Some of the airmen buried in the cemetery lost their lives in supporting the advance into Germany, but most died earlier in the war in the intensive air attacks over Germany. Their graves were brought in from cemeteries and isolated sites in the surrounding area.
There are now 7,594 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War buried or commemorated in the cemetery. 176 of the burials are unidentified. There are also 78 war graves of other nationalities, most of them Polish.
Special Memorials to 9 airmen are located at the East boundary wall, near Plot 10. Further Special Memorials to 7 airmen are located within Plot 31, near the Cross of Sacrifice.2
1. "Ossett Observer", October 10th 1942.