Lost memorials of a fallen soldier – The Dublin GPO 1916.

Frederick Hamilton NorwayA young officer. Just 19 years of age. Photographed at Sandhurst. in April 1915, on the occasion of receiving his commission. He was commissioned into the 2nd Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. He wears his 1914 pattern officer’s tunic with its distinctive hip pockets, and appropriately, as he had just completed the sovereigns’ passing out parade, a particularly highly polished Sam Browne Belt.  On the battlefield the belt would be completed with a  leather holster, containing a Webley revolver. It is possible that the young officer would have purchased his revolver privately in advance of him joining his battalion, a fairly common practice in the early days of the war,  with the Army and Navy Cooperative Society providing private sales of standard military sidearms.
He sailed almost immediately for France to join the 2nd Battalion who were heavily engaged in fierce fighting in the second battle of Ypres, fighting alongside the Leinster Regiment and the Royal Irish Rifles. He was mortally wounded in June 1915 and carried to a military hospital at Wimereux where, on the 4th day of July 1915, he died of his wounds.

His parents had traveled to Wimereux and were beside his bed in the Austrailian military hospital when he died.    They took his blood stained officers tunic, probably the one he is wearing in the photograph, and  his Sam Browne belt and leather holster, still containing his personal Webly revolver, his letters and books together with a lock of his fair hair.  They became treasured family memorials of his short life and tragic death. They were valued more than anything else in the world

The officer’s name was Frederick Hamilton Norway and his parents, were living in a suite of rooms at the Hibernian Hotel in Dawson Street, Dublin which was only a few minutes’ walk from the General Post Office on Sackville Street. His father was the Secretary to the Post Office and in addition to their rooms in the Hibernian he maintained a family sitting room in the GPO itself in which he had stored many family valuables and effects including, in, a small press, the treasured memorials of their dear son.

In Easter 1916 the young officer’s brother Neville, aged just seventeen, came to visit his parents. He stayed with them at the Hibernian hotel.

During his stay, rebellion erupted in Dublin and Irish Republican volunteers, under the military command of the radical trade unionist James Connolly seized the General Post Office and proclaimed the building to be the headquarters of a provisional government, striking out for the freedom and the independence of Ireland.
Connolly’s volunteers barricaded themselves into the GPO, setting up firing positions and arranging their affairs for an anticipated long and violent siege by crown forces. The building was ransacked in a search for materials to add to the barricading, and for any weapons.

Volunteers Patrick Colgan and Joesph O’Duffy were directed to search the rooms of the Secretary to the Post Office, Arthur Hamilton Norway and discovered, in the small press, the treasured memorials to his fallen soldier son. The revolver was taken by O’Duffy and subsequently used in the ferocious fighting against crown forces seeking to assault the GPO and crush the Rising. The tunic, letters and other effects were left in the press.

The revolver was never recovered. The tunic and other treasured memories of 2nd Lt. Frederick Hamilton Norway would have been consumed in the great fires which followed the British shelling of the GPO with incendiary ammunition reducing the temporary headquarters of the provisional Irish republic, to a shattered burnt out shell.

In the days that followed the end of the Rising the burnt remains within the GPO were carefully excavated. Some silver spoons and a fork together with a number of brooches that the young Frederick had bought for his mother were recovered from the ashes. But no traces of the Officer’s tunic, his letters from the front, his lock of hair of of his other possessions were ever found. All that remains of the 2nd Lt of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry is his grave at Wimereux.Frederick grave

Note: 2nd Lt. Hamilton Norway’s mother, Mary Hamilton Norway wrote a series of letters describing her experiences of the rebellion while staying at the Hibernian Hotel. The letters were published in late 1916 under the title “The Sinn Fein Rebellion as I saw it” and they remain a valuable contemporary source for what was happing in Dublin in those violent days of rebellion.
His younger brother Nevil, aged 17 years who was visiting his parents at the time of the Rising joined the Red Cross as a volunteer and served on ambulances recovering wounded civilians, soldiers and rebel volunteers and conveying them to first aid posts and local hospitals. It is quite conceivable that he carried injured men shot by his brother’s revolver. He subsequently, under the name of Neville Shute became a distinguished author and wrote 24 novels including “On the Beach” and “A Town like Alice”