Sergeant John King ‘Jack/Jock’ Norwell, AFC, Second World War fighter ace was born in Perth on 4 September 1917.
Sergeant John King Norwell, RAF 740233, began his military flying with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in May 1937. Initially he trained at Scone Aerodrome, and in early 1939 he was offered six months training with the regular RAF, he joined RAF 74 Squadron at RAF Hornchurch.
Norwell returned to civilian life on 15 August 1939, but war was to break out two weeks later and he was called up on 1 September 1939. He was posted to RAF Evanton, then the RAF 11 Group Pool at RAF St. Athan.
The first of Norwell’s 7 fighter pilot ‘victories’ occurred 2 days before the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Forces from Dunkirk (26 May 1940-4 June 1940) when on 24/25 May 1940, he downed a Messerschmitt Bf 109 and shared in the downing of another.
Other aerial martial events followed including damage to a Dornier Do 17 light bomber (3 July 1940); the shared downing of a Messerschmitt Bf 110 and damage to 2 Messerschmitt Bf 110s (both 18 August 1940); the downing of a Messerschmitt Bf 109 (22 August 1940); a possible downing of a Messerschmitt Bf 109 (28 August 1940); and ashared downing of a Messerschmitt Bf 109 (31 August 1940).
On 11 September 1940, Norwell was assigned to RAF 41 Squadron with which he is credited as having damaged 2 Messerschmitt Bf 109s (17 September 1940) and shot down 2 other Messerschmitt Bf 109s (27 and 30 September 1940).
The following month, Norwell had a lucky escape when his Supermarine Spitfire (X4545) collided with a parked Spitfire. Fortunately, he suffered only minor injuries and was back on operational duty a week later, 9 October 1940.
As the Battle of Britain was reaching its conclusion, Norwell chose overseas service in Malta, which was then under siege (11 June 1940-20 November 1942) and on 11 November 1940 he made the passage to the Mediterranean island that then sat in the midst of Axis shipping lanes on board HMS Argus. The ship’s cargo included 12 Hawker Hurricanes and 2 carrier-borne Blackburn B-24 Skuas destined for active service on the island.
The plan was for the aircraft to take off from HMS Argus and land on Malta. The first wave of 6 Hurricanes and a single Skua, with Norwell as one of the Hurricane pilots, left in the early hours of 17 November 1940. A second wave left an hour later.
The mission was a complete disaster: every aircraft in the second wave ditched into the sea, and of the first wave only 4 Hurricanes reached the island. Norwell put his plane down on Malta with only 2 gallons of fuel remaining in his reserve. At the end of the war, only Norwell of the 4 pilots who reached Malta that fateful day was still alive.
On Malta, Norwell became part of RAF 261 Squadron based initially at RAF La Luqa and after 20 November 1940 at RAF Ta Kali.
From April 1941 onwards, it is highly likely that Norwell took no part in operational service, instead he was involved in test flying aircraft in Ghana. There, he was promoted to pilot officer on 2 July 1942, flying officer on 2 January 1943, and flight lieutenant on 2 July 1944.
For his “acts of exemplary gallantry while flying, though not in active operations against the enemy”, Norwell was awarded the AFC on 1 January 1945.
Post-war, Norwell left the RAF (in 1946) although he rejoined the RAFVR a year later. He became a partner in Norwell’s Perth Footwear Ltd, part of his family’s shoemaking business that dated back a century and a half and which included a shoe shop in Perth’s High Street. Additionally, Norwell ran the Cherrybank Inn for 26 years.
Sergeant John King ‘Jack/Jock’ Norwell, AFC died on 28 May 2003 in the town of his birth.
Research by Ken Bruce
Aircraft Jack Norwell was known to have flown in 1939:
- Supermarine Spitfire 1a K9882 3 March 1939 (later lost in combat on 26 September 1940)
- Supermarine Spitfire 1a K9880 9 November 1939 (later lost in combat on 20 July 1940)
- Supermarine Spitfire 1a K9883 13 November 1939
- Supermarine Spitfire 1a K9900 17 November 1939