William Henry Norman


About William Henry

  • Name
    William Henry
  • Initials
  • Surname
  • Date of Birth
  • Birth town
    Norwich, Norfolk
  • Resided town
    Norwich and Glasgow
  • Commemorated
    Savona Memorial Italy
  • Nationality
  • Place of death
    At Sea
  • Date of death
    4 May 1917
  • Married
  • Occupation

Service Information

  • Army

  • Service Number
  • Rank
  • Regiment
    Royal Army Medical Corps


William Henry Norman was born in 1880 at Norwich to parents William and Ann.  His father was a silk throwster, (twisting silk into yarn or thread).  The family lived in Green Hills Road, Norwich.  In 1901, he worked as an ironmonger but by 1907 he had become a mature student studying for an MA at Fitzwilliam Hall, Canterbury.

After completing his studies, William became a methodist preacher at Wardlaw Congregational Church in Glasgow, and had also preached in Belfast.  He enlisted in to the Royal Army Medical Corps at Glasgow and embarked for France in September 1915.

William’s service record could not be located but it is known he was at Burghley House, Stamford in December 1916, suffering from severe muscle strain.  Burghley House was a convalesence home for soldiers who typically spent four to six weeks there before returning to active service.  Whilst at Burghley he gave a sermon at Star Lane Chapel, Stamford, which was attended by many of his fellow soldiers.  He passed through Peterborough East Station and signed the visitors’ book on 13 January 1917. It is possible he may have been returning to his unit on release from Burghley House.

On 4 May 1917, William was aboard the troop ship SS Transylvania sailing from Marseille to Alexandria, Egypt.  The ship, loaded with 3,000 troops and 60 Red Cross nurses passed the island of Bergeggi off Servona, Italy and a German submarine U-63 struck the ship with a torpedo.  As an evacuation to the escort ships was under way a second torpedo struck and the ship rapidly went down taking 412 lives with it.  In a letter written to William’s sister, a survivor of the tragic event describes William’s heroism in saving fellow passengers, declining the opportunity to leave the ship for safety until all were saved.

Extract from Staff Sergeant Toothill’s letter: About thirty minutes before the end Sergeant Norman saved a man from drowning by going down a rope ladder into the water, getting the man to it, and fastening him to it so that he could be pulled back to the ship’s side…he could have got away himself by means of the destroyer, but whilst there were others to be saved he elected to remain behind…’  

For more information on the sinking of SS Transylvania please see

Savona Town Cemetery contains 83 burials from the ‘Transylvania’, with an additional 275 names of those who died but whose graves are not known.  Sergeant William Henry Norman is one of those names.  William was awarded the 15 Star, British War and Allied Victory medals.

With grateful thanks to Burghley House, Stamford for sharing their information.

Please get in touch if you can help with any further information about William.


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