Birley, Normand Addison
Normand Addison Birley (G 1911-1916) was born on 26th March 1898, the second son of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Addison Birley of Bartle Hall, Preston, and the brother of Charles Fair Birley (G 1902-1908). He came to Winchester, going into Culver Lea, later known as Sergeant’s, in 1911, becoming a House Prefect in his last year. At the time of his death in 1942 he was one of 28 Birleys who had been at Winchester in the preceding hundred years.
He passed through the Royal Military College, Sandhurst into the 17th Lancers and served with them in France for over a year before the Armistice of 1918. He was devoted to his Regiment and indeed had refused accelerated promotion in order to stay with it. From 1920 to 1922 he was an Instructor at the Cavalry School at Weedon, Netheravon and then until 1923 at the Equitation School. He was a keen rider to hounds.
He became Adjutant (1926-1929), was promoted Captain in 1930 and rose to the rank of Major in 1935. In 1940 he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in command of 2nd Royal Gloucestershire Hussars, taking over on 13th May. His battalion was part of 22nd Armoured Brigade and moved to North Africa which they reached at the end of September. They took part in Operation Crusader, the major Allied attack intended to break through German and Italian defences in Libya to relieve the beseiged Tobruk. During this fighting Birley was wounded, and was unable to command for a while.
“Crusader” had been a shattering experience for 2RGH. Reduced from regimental to troop strength – fifty tanks down to four – the unit had lost confidence in its equipment when their tanks had proved to be unreliable and totally outgunned by German tanks. Within a week, however, the unit had been re-formed and re-equipped with the M3 Stuart light tank (known by the British as ‘Honeys’ owing to their mechanical reliability).
The War Diary notes the return on 13th January 1942 of Lieutenant Colonel Birley after recovering from his injury. The battalion spent most of February to mid-May resting and training, eventually being sent back into the desert as part of 1st Armoured Division facing the Germans in the Gazala-Bir-Hacheim area. They took a severe punishing from the enemy, when attacked by the Italian Ariete Division and for his outstanding gallantry in action Birley was awarded an immediate DSO and was mentioned in despatches.
However, on 6th June 1942 at the age of forty-four, he was killed in action near the Knightsbridge defensive box. Killed by a shell from a 88 mm gun near Bir Bellifa, he lies in grave 4.B.23 of the Knightsbridge War Cemetery, Acroma, Libya.
- Surname: Birley
- Forenames or initials: Norman Addison
- House: G
- Years in School: 1911-1916
- Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
- Regiment: Gloucestershire Hussars
- Date of Birth: 26th March 1898
- Date of Death: 6th June 1942
- How Died: Killed in Action
- Location in War Cloister: Inner D1
- Decoration: DSO
- Burial Site: Knightsbridge War Cemetery, Acroma: Grave 4.B.23