Soldiers and battles remembered in Norton

Norton unveiling
Norton unveiling
Published Tuesday, 27th September 2016

Soldiers from the Worcestershire Regiment and the battles they fought in will be remembered for centuries to come after new information boards were unveiled in the village of Norton.

Over eighty guests, including three WW2 veterans, attended the special event held at St Peter's Garden Centre to mark the servicemen who passed through Norton Barracks.

Five themed boards have been installed around the village with the aim of informing and educating people. They cover the themes of battles, soldiers, The Norton Barracks, The Victoria Cross and the Commemorative Garden.

During the event, which was organised by the Norton Worcestershire Regiment Group, WW2 veteran Barry Freeman was presented with the Legion d'Honneur from Robert Mille, the Honorary Consul for France.

The barracks in Norton were built as a home for the Worcestershire Regiment in 1877 where they remained until 1962. In 1987, they were sold to property developers and converted into apartments with the rest of the site developed as a housing estate. Because the only reference to the barracks and the Worcestershire Regiment in the local area was a small plaque, a group of local residents set out to drive an exciting programme of work to enable greater education of the history of the barracks and provide a lasting legacy of the contribution and the impact of the Worcestershire Regiment. The first project was a Commemorative Garden at St Peter's designed by schoolchildren and the latest being the new information boards.

Tracey Hodgkins, from the Norton Worcestershire Regiment Group, said: "Our overarching aim from the very outset is defined in our strap line which appears on all the lecterns, Helping the Community to remember’.

"As a group of volunteers this project has tested our resilience, commitment and team work over the last 18 months.. However, we all firmly believe the project and the end result have been worth it."

Worcestershire County Council's Chairman, Tony Miller, said: "I have known Norton Barracks for well over 40 years and have had the privilege of knowing some of the serving army personnel and their families.

"It was humbling to meet such fine veterans that have served this country well and I know the Barracks holds fond memories as well as sad ones for many."

Councillor Miller introduced Barry Freeman, who received his special medal from Mr Mille.

Mr Freeman, who is aged 91 and lives in Stourport, received the prestigious Legion d'Honneur after the Union Jack flags were lifted on the information boards.

Mr Freeman was born in November 1924 in Netherton, Dudley. He was called up and reported to Norton Barracks on April 1, 1943, where he spent the next six weeks training to be a soldier.

On completion he joined the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment and was assigned to the Transport Department, where he underwent a further 10 weeks training. He passed his driving test and was given a licence, which he still uses today.

He was to initially drive a Half Track but the main function was as support vehicle to the forward troops. He landed in Normandy in June 1944. For periods of the campaign Mr Freeman was also attached to a Canadian Regiment, with whom he went on many missions. After the war had been declared over in May 1945 he was shipped off again, this time as a guard at the Panzer Barracks in the small German city of Hamm.

After his Demob he went back to work in his mother’s shop before taking up a plumbing trade.

After receiving his award, a visibly emotional Mr Freeman said: "I think the honour is beyond my comprehension. The other thing I remember from the war are my comrades who never came home."

Also in attendance at the event were Standard Bearers from the Worcester Branch of the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regimental Association and pupils from Norton-Juxta-Kempsey First School who sang old war songs.

The latest project in Norton was funded by the Armed Forces Covenant Fund and Severn Waste Fund, with support from Worcestershire County Council, Persimmon Homes, Wychavon District Council and the Mercian Regiment Museum.