THE dominant note in Richard Norton's life was cosmopolitanism. He studied archæology at Munich, proceeded thence to Athens, served as director of the American School in Rome, conducted excavations in Cyrene in North Africa, and lived for a time in London, where he represented the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
He was such a many-sided character, with such strong traits, that it is hard to say where he best fitted into the world before the war. He had a scholar's equipment; had he the temperament? He was, I think, essentially a man of action. That is why he has left so little behind him in an academic way, little if one considers his ability and his knowledge. In addition to articles in the American Journal of Archaeology, the Journal of Hellenic Studies, the Encyclopdia Britannica, and elsewhere, he had published a catalogue of the casts in the Museum of Fine Arts in Portland, Oregon, and Bernini and Other Essays. The enthusiasm of his students and his fellow-excavators will remain his chief academic monument. He could not fetter himself to a desk; he must be up and doing. In addition, he had an extraordinary capacity for exciting the most fervent loyalty among all the men who ever worked under him; this showed itself when he was in the field excavating as well as when he was directing ambulance work in France. His quality as leader was greatly aided by his unselfishness and his consideration for all those with whom he came in contact. Added to these qualities was an intense hatred of all deceit and sham and a certain unpracticalness in his nature which amounted to quixotry. For these qualities he often suffered. They came to him partly as an inheritance from his father. They were undoubtedly increased by his observation of the Boche before the war and by the experience of the brutal chicanery of the universal foe which he later encountered.
He was exceedingly hardy and admirably equipped to fend for himself in difficult expeditions, as he proved in Central Asia with the Pumpelly Expedition in 1903, and as leader of the excavations at Cyrene. He frequently said that if he had had large private means he would have given himself to exploring the ancient trade routes between the East and Italy. This power of roughing it and endurance of hardships, his knowledge of ways and means in travel, stood him in good stead during the years of his service at the front.
All thoughts of his own profession and interests vanished from his mind on the outbreak of war. He threw himself whole-heartedly into the work of rescuing the suffering at the front, in which he was ably assisted by his friends in England, France, and America, and particularly by his brother Eliot and by his sisters. The history of the American Volunteer Motor-Ambulance Corps is something of which the country must be very proud; it will surely be written by those who knew it on the spot from the beginning to the end. Norton was among the first to realize that the ambulance corps of the French and English were pitifully inadequate, that many lives and infinite suffering could be spared if more ambulances could be provided to transport the wounded quickly from the field to the hospitals. The American Motor Ambulance Corps was his answer to the demand; after the first battle of the Marne he and a few of his friends provided their own cars and the necessary money.
Originally Henry James was chairman of the organization. The corps was connected with the British army, but soon the rule that no American could serve in any capacity within the British lines was discovered and the corps was divided, half continuing good work under a British officer, half under Norton serving thenceforth with a French army corps. Norton's section was presently joined by one supported by Mr. Harjes of Paris, under the Red Cross, and was later joined by other units, until by September, 1917, the entire body, known as the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps, was operating in many places with about two hundred ambulances and seven hundred volunteers. Norton was field commander. He established a reputation for great courage, capacity, and devotion. The sections were repeatedly cited by the army divisions to which they were attached; many of the volunteers were decorated. He himself received the Croix de Guerre with two palms, the Cross of the Legion of Honor, and the Mons Medal. He was the first American during the war to receive the Cross of the Legion.
Lieutenant-Commander Robert Greenough saw Norton in service with his section. "We were obliged to drive without lights," he wrote, "and the road was fully occupied by trains of artillery, supply wagons, and commissary traveling kitchens. For about one mile the road was exposed to shell-fire from the German batteries, and in consequence practically all communication had to be carried on at night. During the night the three ambulances at Hébuterne and at the two corresponding stations immediately below that point made about twelve trips and carried sixty-seven wounded. On one of the previous days, Norton tells me, they carried 528 .... Shells burst over the poste de secours almost continuously both from the German and French batteries, which were concealed behind us. We were fortunate enough not to have any shells burst in close proximity to us that night, but two nights later, I am told, the poste de secours was dismantled, and an ambulance standing on the road beside it was shattered by a German shell .... I came away strongly convinced that the people at home have very little notion of the splendid work these ambulance men are doing."
As a commander of a volunteer ambulance corps on the battle-field of France, Norton showed sterling character, and resource to a remarkable degree. He had many ideas in advance of others, as that of using one of the cars as a rolling kitchen to take supplies to the wounded. Timorous souls were afraid he would involve the Red Cross in difficulties by thus feeding the fighters; Norton himself wrote later of the critics: "We all know that hindsight is more certain than foresight, and what my critics of those days failed to realize was that I had the hindsight of a few weeks of war, which enabled me to see that all international contracts between the Germanic and the Anglo-Saxon race had achieved a Judas-like immortality." The innumerable canteens, now everywhere close behind the lines to feed both fighters and wounded, prove his ideas were quite right. He was far-seeing, and he was unneutral; his sympathy and his work were whole-heartedly from the beginning entirely for the side on which we are all now aligned. His self-sacrificing service at the front, his bravery, received the enthusiastic appreciation of the French and English. The work of the Norton-Harjes sections will be his enduring monument.
When the United States entered the war, the army decided that all volunteer ambulances, even including those of the Red Cross, should be incorporated in the regular service. Norton was offered a commission as major in the work; the new tasks seemed to him, however, so different from those he had been performing --- the organization so changed---that he declined it and entered the service of our naval intelligence department with headquarters in Paris. He worked loyally with Colonel Kean, who had arrived in Paris to take charge of the ambulance service, in making the transition from the work of volunteers to the new order. He was harshly criticized because so few of the old men went into the new service. The criticism was unjust toward Norton and his volunteers, many of whom were Harvard men, and almost all of whom were young; a great many of them were serving in the ambulance corps merely as a stepping-stone for posts in the fighting branches; many of them had been working in the cause since the beginning of the war, and all of them had repeatedly risked their lives. The great majority of them, without waiting to be drafted, at once entered one or another branch of the army.
The cars were given to the American Red Cross, the balance of the funds to the 21st Division of the French army, for the benefit of the widows, orphans, and mutilated soldiers of that division, with which Norton's original unit, Section VII (as it was known) had continued to serve. The following letter from the divisional commander may well serve as a permanent recognition of the work accomplished by the American Volunteer Motor Ambulance Corps:
Le Général Dauvin, à Monsieur Henry D. Morrison, Secrétaire Honoraire de l'American Volunteer Motor Ambulance Corps, 17, Waterloo Place, Londres.
13 Mars, 1918.
Je viens de recevoir la lettre que vous avez bien voulu m'adresser le 21 février dernier.
Je suis profondément ému des sentiments que vous exprimez à l'égard de nos soldats et de notre patrie. La 21ème Division et son chef, le général Dauvin, gardent un souvenir impérissable du concours si utile et apprécié que leur ont donné, depuis le début de la guerre, les volontaires de la S.S.A.A. N° 7. Chaque soldat connaissait et aimait cette section, il savait avec quel dévoûement, quel héroïsme agissaient les volontaires pour secourir et réconforter leur camarades français.
Je porterai à la connaissance de tous et en particulier du docteur Lhoste les termes de votre lettre du 26 février.
J'accepte avec reconnaissance le don de cinq mille livres que vous faites pour venir en aide aux veuves, aux orphelins des soldats de la Division et à ses glorieux mutilés. Ainsi se conserveront dans les années à venir les liens solides d'attachement entre l'âme de la 21ême Division et celles des premiers représentants de votre généreuse nation, venus volontairement avec nous. Parmi eux, du premier rang MM. Richard Norton, A. T. Kemp, F. Havemeyer.
Au nom de tous et de tout coeur je vous dis merci en vous envoyant l'expression de mes sentiments de dévoûment et de reconnaissance.
Vive l'Amérique et vive le souvenir de l'American Volunteer Motor Ambulance Corps.
Cdt. la 21ème Division.
What I have written has been put together from many sources. Let me quote directly from words spoken at Richard Norton's funeral:
The blue colors of Norton-Harjes have long since become only a memory. The American army is in the field now, its flag floating beside the others, and its uniform no longer provoking comment. Yet those who were here, even a year ago, can remember a time when the only American uniforms known were those of the two volunteer services, and all that the French army had to judge us by was the men with the black and the blue-gray cars. -
What they thought is written, for any who cares to read it, not in decorations and citations but in the work they gave the sections to do. What they thought of Richard Norton himself was expressed officially when he was decorated with the Légion d'Honneur at the Chemin des Dames; but what he himself eared for more than any official honors was the knowledge that the wounded, waiting in dripping shelters to be taken back to the hospital, would ask eagerly for a "voiture américaine." That was proof of good work done. The acknowledgments did not matter. For in a man who was great in many ways, it was perhaps just this indifference to outside judgment that was greatest .... Let it suffice that for three years, from the time when the first volunteers went out, driving their own cars in the opening month of the war, till the organization six or seven hundred strong and known all along the French front, was finally dissolved, he worked, not untiring, but unresting, at the thing he had found to do; that no man under him had cause to complain of neglect or unfairness, that he never praised without reason or censured with malice, and that no man came to him in trouble and was not helped.
A gallant and great-hearted gentleman who saw clearly his opportunity for service to humanity, and followed it to the limit of his powers.