Cecil Ralph Norman

Private Cecil Ralph Norman died 6 June 1943 aged 27

 

Readers may recall the Parish commemorating the Centenary of the First World War by identifying the 11 soldiers and sailors of this Parish who died in that war 1914-1919.   Parishioners volunteered to adopt one of the deceased and tell his story, where he lived in the Parish, family details, his Unit or Ship and where he died.   After publication of A Dorset Parish Remembers 1914-1919 attention turned to repeating the process.   Of the four killed in action in the Second World War, two were sailors, one a soldier and one who served in the Royal Air Force.

Of those who died in the First World War, half were killed in action, the others died from disease or accident, including one soldier who tumbled over a Pembrokeshire cliff whilst on duty.   The policy for this and the following Second World War was no repatriation of remains.   Bodies of those who fell and were recovered were buried in the immediate vicinity of where they died.

The body of Gunner Fred Symes who died in Pembrokeshire is buried in the county where he died, in the town of Angle.   There was never any doubt Gunner Symes would be honoured no less equally than others of the village who died in combat, through disease or accident.

The four who died in the Second World War were all killed in action.   Arthur Samuel Riglar died aboard HMS Exeter in an engagement with the Graf Spee during the Battle of the River Plate.   He was buried at sea.   Richard Patrick Warre was killed in action and is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, Calais.   John Henry Brabant was killed aboard HMS Repulse off the Malayan coast and went down with his ship.   George Leonard Arthur Neale died when his Stirling Bomber was shot down over the Baltic.   The story of their lives and deaths can be found in A Dorset Parish Remembers 1939-1945.

Those from the village associated with the Remembrance Community Project who had researched or been involved in the administration of the production of the two volumes were reasonably content to believe they had been involved in a job well done.   However, there was an event which questioned just how good their research had been.

Precisely who to include was determined by reference to all those whose names appeared on the Parish’s First and Second World War Memorials.   In mid-2019, a notice was fixed to the south gate of Powerstock’s churchyard.   It originated from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) and told all and sundry that within the Powerstock churchyard there is a CWGC grave.   If that were true, we had failed to account for this unknown soldier.

We found the grave in question.   There was no traditional CWGC headstone but a private kerbstone border along which appears the name of the deceased serviceman:  Cecil Ralph Norman, beloved husband of Gladys, son of Samuel and Alice Norman, who died June 6 1943 aged 27 years and also Gladys his wife 1916-2000.

Gladys had been a Studley, a Powerstock resident whose parents ran The Three Horseshoes.   Gladys and Cecil’s marriage followed the convention vis-à-vis the wedding being held in the bride’s church, hence the St Mary’s Powerstock connection.

Cecil Ralph Norman (known as Ralph) served in the Bridport-based 1st Dorsets Home Guard, originally the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV) unit re-designated the Home Guard by Churchill in July 1940.   There was a mounted Home Guard unit in Beaminster.   There was also a District Mounted Home Guard comprising a score of local farmers and grooms whose role was to run messages and provide communications across country which they knew like the backs of their hands.

Trooper Gilbert Guppy, resident of 3 Fishweir Terrace, Bradpole told how at 10.15 on Sunday morning he met Ralph as arranged, outside Home Farm.   They proceeded on horseback with the intention of making rendezvous with the rest of the patrol.   They rode through Loscombe and Cotley to Dirty Gate at the top of Hackthorne Hill.   About a quarter of a mile from the meeting point they came across a field where some slip rails required moving in order to give them access to the lane.   Ralph took down the rails.   Once through, he replaced them.

Guppy saw him put his left foot in the stirrup, attempt to pull himself up with both hands but before he could get his right leg over the saddle the horse bolted down the lane.   After going about 30 yards, the horse bucked several times and threw him off.   ‘He seemed to pitch on his feet, turned a half circle and fell on his back, his head hitting the ground in the middle of the road.’[1]   Guppy procured a car and took Ralph back to his parents’ home at Bradpole.   They called Dr Geoffrey Oliphant who came directly from Bridport.   He found him unconscious and suffering severe head injuries.   He was admitted to Bridport Hospital where he died at 2.30pm.

Ralph and Gladys lived in Crock Lane, Bridport.   A fortnight prior to his death, Ralph and horse had competed in a Mounted Gymkhana organised by the Powerstock Committee of the Wings for Victory Fund.   He won the Driving for horses, cobs and ponies class and was placed second in the Trotting Race.   Among the competitors was Mrs (later Lady) Crutchley of Mappercombe, who won the 17 years and over class.[2]   The unanswered question was to determine where Ralph Norman belonged.   He lived in Bridport and was buried in Powerstock.   Norman is a name associated with Bradpole.   The village was the first place to be investigated.   It was in the churchyard where confirmation was found on Bradpole’s Second World War memorial where Ralph’s name appears.

Ralph and Gladys had a son, Edward Ralph, who is also buried in Powerstock (he died of cancer) in a double grave reserved for Edward Ralph’s wife Sue who together with her two daughters currently lives in New Zealand.   Ralph’s family feel a strong connection to the resting place of their beloved family members and with the assistance of local family try to keep the graves tidy.   Samantha, daughter of Ralph Norman and granddaughter of Cecil Ralph Norman mentioned how, prior to emigration, she and her husband (then serving in the Army Air Corps) accompanied by her nieces, attended the Remembrance Sunday Service in St Mary’s Powerstock.   ‘Powerstock means a lot to my family, and even though we are so far away, we think of it often’, she said.

Fortunately, no remedial work was required other than to recommend the grave would be beneficially marked by a traditional CWGC headstone.

Cecil Ralph Norman on his Wedding Day, as seen in front of Powerstock’s ‘Hut’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(This article requires no attribution)

[1]                Bridport News, 11 June 1943.

[2]                Bridport News, 16 April 1943.