Norman Thomas Clarkson was born in Surrey and came to Chelmsford in 1902 when his father set up a steam-powered bus factory in the town. He joined the Royal Flying Corps ten days after the outbreak of the war and married in 1915. He was killed in when his aircraft was shot down in August 1916. His father and step-mother lived in Galleywood Road.
Norman was born in Sutton, Surrey on 20th July 1894 (at the time his forenames were recorded as ‘Thomas Norman’), the younger son of Thomas Clarkson and Alice Catherine Clarkson (nee Wakeford). Thomas’ father had been born in Salford, Lancashire on 2nd September 1864; his mother in London in 1868. The couple had married in London in the summer of 1891.
Norman’s siblings, both born in Sutton, included Alick Clarkson (born on 8th May 1892) and Margaret Alys Clarkson (born in 1899).
The 1901 census recorded six year-old Norman lodging with his parents, two siblings, three others, at Claremont, Carshalton Road, Carshalton, Surrey, the home of Charles and Mary Sinant. At the time Norman’s father was a mechanical engineer.
A year later the family moved to Chelmsford. Norman’s father, experienced in working on steam powered vehicles, began building steam car chassis in premises next to the former Crompton Arc Works in Lower Anchor Street in February 1903. He progressed from eight-seater cars to 14-seater buses and in 1905 double-decker bus chassis. His first steam bus went into service in 1903 (he had started the works in February of that year) and in 1909 he founded the National Steam Car Company Ltd. which began to operate buses as well as build their chassis. In 1913 the firm took over services from Chelmsford to Great Baddow, Danbury, Writtle, Oxney Green, Broomfield and Great Waltham. Later, further services were added to the network. In 1912 Thomas’ father was living at Runsell Green, Danbury.
Norman and his brother Alick were educated at King Edward VI’s Grammar School, Chelmsford between September 1902 and July 1903. At the time their father lived at Jesmond in Southborough Road, Moulsham, Chelmsford. Norman’s father was a governor of the school and for three years before the war was a councillor on Chelmsford Borough Council.
Norman was later educated at a private school in Hadham Road, Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire and was recorded there in the 1911 census, aged 16, accompanied by his brother Alick. By then Norman’s mother had died, aged 42 in Surrey in 1910.
On 7th December 1911 Norman’s father married Danbury resident Charlotte Susannah Moore ('Lottie') at the Registrar’s Office, Poland Street in London. With her he had two further children: Thomas Clarkson junior (1913-c.1995) and Jeffrey M. Clarkson (1914-2004). At the time of the birth of the latter the Clarkson’s home was at Woodlands in Galleywood, (today’s 693 Galleywood Road).
On 21st May 1913 18 year-old Norman and his brother Alick arrived in Boston in the United States having crossed the Atlantic on board S.S. Laconia.
Norman appears to have inherited his father’s engineering expertise, putting them to good use when he joined the Royal Flying Corps as a fitter (general) on 14th August 1914, agreeing to serve for the duration of the war. In October 1914 he was reported to be serving with 1 Squadron then stationed at Brooklands in Surrey. He landed in France on 3rd May 1915.
He married Nellie Latham while on leave at St. Peter’s Church, Acton Green in Middlesex on 14th November 1915. At the time he was 21 years old and living at Fort Grange in Gosport. His bride was the grand daughter of John Latham, who took over the running of Wilkinson Sword company in 1861 from Henry Wilkinson. Nellie’s father was Henry Wilkinson Latham, indicating the close association between her grandfather and his predecessor at Wilkinson Sword.
CLARKSON, NORMAN THOMAS,
Flight Sergeant, 22nd Squadron, Royal Flying Corps
He was subsequently promoted to Flight Sergeant on 1st March 1916.
Norman was killed on 1st August 1916 while serving as Flight Sergeant 1565 in the 22nd Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps. He was aged 22.
The Essex Weekly News of 25th August 1916 reported:
“Flight-Sergt. Norman Clarkson, R.F.C., second son of Mr. Thomas Clarkson, of Chelmsford, was reported missing about a week ago after an aerial encounter over the German lines. Mr. Clarkson wrote to the Commanding Officer with a view to obtaining further information, and has received a reply stating that though there is no definite news it is feared that both Sergt. Clarkson, who was acting as observer and gunner, and the pilot of the machine were killed by a shell fired at the aeroplane over the German lines. The machine was seen to drop in the German lines, and while there is a bare possibility of the men having being taken prisoners, it is believed that they lost their lives.
Sergt. Clarkson joined the Royal Flying Corps at the outbreak of war, and after training at Brooklands and the Central Flying School, Netheravon, went to France, where he served for about eight months. He then returned to England and was given special duty, and during the present year again proceeded to France. Sergt. Clarkson, who was married, spent a short leave at Chelmsford about a month ago.”
The Essex County Chronicle of the same date carried a similar report:
“Chelmsford Airman’s Feared End – Machine shelled and falls in German Lines – Much sympathy will be felt for Mr. Thomas Clarkson, managing director of the National Steam Car Company, Limited, Chelmsford, in the anxiety he is experiencing as to the fate of his younger son, Norman, who has been missing at the front since the 1st of August.
Mr. Norman Clarkson is 22 years of age, and joined the Royal Flying Corps at the beginning of the war as an air mechanic, but his knowledge of engineering and motors quickly gained him promotion, and shortly before he came home a month ago he was made Flight-Sergeant. It is understood that machines frequently make a safe landing, even after being severely damaged by gunfire, and there is therefore a possibility that Mr. Clarkson’s son may have been able to land within German lines.
A letter to Mr. Clarkson from Capt. J. H. S. Tyssen, the Commander of his son’s Squadron, dated August 18, states: ‘Your son was acting as an observer and gunner to his Flight-Commander on this particular flight, and as far as we know, almost for certain, I am sorry to say, the machine was hit by anti-aircraft fire, in which case I am afraid there is absolutely no chance if either of them being alive; in fact we think they were both killed by the explosion of the shell in the air. Of course you will understand that this is not ‘official; and as they fell in Germans hand, it is difficult to know for certain, but it is what we are almost sure ourselves happened.’”
Norman has no known grave and is commemorated by the Arras Flying Services Memorial in the Faubourg-d’Amiens Cemetery, Arras, Pas de Calais, France, and on the Civic Centre Memorial, Chelmsford. He is not commemorated on the war memorial at St. John’s Church in Moulsham Street.
Norman was entitled to the Victory, British War and 1915 Star medals. The Arras Flying Services Memorial commemorates nearly 1,000 airmen of the Royal Naval Air Service, the Royal Flying Corps, and the Royal Air Force, either by attachment from other arms of the forces of the Commonwealth or by original enlistment, who were killed on the whole Western Front and who have no known grave.
The 1918 register of electors listed Norman’s father still at Woodlands, Galleywood Road. Later he lived at 4/5 Queen Anne’s Chambers, Westminster, London.
The last Clarkson steam bus ran in London in 1919 and in Chelmsford in 1920, the year Norman’s father left Chelmsford. The firm was to become Eastern National Omnibus Company in 1929. Norman’s father died four years later at St. Leonard’s on Sea in Sussex.
Norman’s brother Alick died in 1965 in the United States.