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Richard NORTON (1872-1918)

Biographical Details

Richard Norton (1872-1918) was a friend of Arthur Sladden.  They first met in October 1910 when they went to Cyrene, Libya, for an archaeological excavation, and then met up again in France during the war.

Richard Norton was born on 9th February 1872 at Dresden, Germany, the youngest of six children of Professor Charles Eliot Norton and his wife, Susan Ridley (née Sedgewick).  His mother died at the time of his birth.  The family returned to Cambridge, Massachusett, in 1874.  Richard attended Browne and Nichols School and went on to graduate from Harvard with the Class of 1892, following in the wake of his father and grandfather who were both Harvard graduates.

Richard was an archaeologist and, after graduation, spent the next three years in Europe, studying at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, and, for a short time, at the University at Munich.  In 1895 he was appointed Lecturer in Classical Archaeology and the History of the Fine Arts at Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania.  Whilst at Bryn Mawr he married Edith White on 16th June 1896.  They had one daughter, Susan.

In 1897 he went to Rome as Assistant Director of the American School of Classical Studies, and in 1899 was promoted to Director, remaining in that position until 1907. He visited Central Asia in 1903 as a member of the Pumpelly archaeological expedition, and the Cyrenaica in 1904. He returned to the latter region in 1909 for further exploration, and in the following year began excavations at Cyrene, Libya, as leader of the expedition sent out by the Archaeological Institute of America and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.  It was here that he first met Arthur Sladden who was the excavation’s Medical Officer.  The intention had been to undertake several seasons’ worth of digging, but the murder of one of the team in March 1911 curtailed the project.

In the First World War, Richard was the organiser and head of the American Volunteer Motor Ambulance Corps (also known as the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps) which served on the front in France from 1914 until it was taken over by the American Army in 1917.

By October 1914, ten of his ambulances were at work, at first under the auspices of the British Red Cross and the St John Ambulance.  The number of ambulances grew, so the Corps became linked with the American Red Cross and its cars were placed under the direct control of the French Army.

When America entered the war, Richard had charge of more than a hundred ambulances on the western front.  He was urged to accept a commission as Major in the United States Army and to continue in control of the ambulance corps.  He declined the offer and retired from the service.

Arthur Sladden kept in touch with Richard Norton after they went their separate ways in 1911 and exchanged several letters.  They had the opportunity to meet up in Paris in January 1917 when Arthur saw Richard and others of the American Ambulance team.  He was interested to exchange views with them and to hear about the work of the ambulance team at Verdun.

Richards was awarded the Croix de Guerre in September 1915, the Legion of Honour in the spring of 1917, and the Order of St Lazarus. His award of the Cross of the Legion of Honor was the highest award given to any foreigner by France during World War I.

Richard died suddenly of meningitis on 2nd August 1918 in Paris, aged 46, after an illness of one day.

Further information may be read about Richard Norton in Harvard in the Great War and American Ambulances in France.

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