'Major Norton gave the order to fire two or three times … Their advanced machine gunners could be seen rushing forward and establishing themselves in commanding posts … Almost at once the ridge we were occupying was swept by machine gun fire …'
E.F. Norton lived a life of distinction in the declining years of the British Empire. Born into an accomplished, well-travelled family, he followed his heart and enlisted for a professional career as a soldier. A distinguished military career followed, punctuated with indulgences in his passion for exploration and mountaineering. The British Empire was starting to crumble, and Norton would be called upon more than once to rise to a variety of challenges.
Norton’s gift for leadership was first demonstrated via his rapid progression through the ranks in the First World War, which paved the way for future leadership appointments, having earned the confidence and respect of those under his command. Events in the Second World War followed suit, when Norton was abruptly assigned the post of acting governor of Hong Kong, entrusted to save the civilian population from imminent Japanese invasion.
The 1924 Everest expedition also exemplifies the pattern of having had leadership thrust upon him – in this case when General Charles Bruce was struck down by malaria on the approach march. Leading from the front, Norton set an altitude record for climbing on Everest without supplementary oxygen – a record only bettered in 1978 when Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler made the first ascent of Everest without oxygen. Yet tragedy would follow Norton’s achievement, when George Mallory and Andrew Irvine disappeared high on the mountain.
In Norton of Everest, Hugh Norton has written sensitively and knowledgably about his father’s remarkable life as mountaineer, soldier, naturalist, artist and family man. As on Everest, the real story is not only the death of the gallant, but also the heroics of the quiet survivors like E.F. Norton.
Norton of Everest is now available to order direct from Vertebrate Publishing priced £12.99 (including free postage to UK mainland addresses).