Norman Lees Jennison was born in Gorton, Lancashire on 23rd April 1895 to Jane Porritt Jennison [née Ardern] and her husband Angelo Jennison. Angelo and his brother ran the Belle Vue Zoological Gardens in Manchester. This was a large zoo, amusement park, exhibition hall complex and speedway track opened in 1836 by John Jennison. During the First World War the gardens were used by the Manchester Regiment for drill and a munitions factory, complete with railway sidings, was also built.
After completing his education Norman left Wellington College1 in 1912 where he had spent five years in the Officers Training Corps [OTC] and was then employed as a clerk at the engineering firm of Schloss Bros, at their premises on Princes Street, Manchester.
Norman joined the army’s Territorial Force on 19th March 1914 as Private 2009 Norman Jennison with the 1/6th Battalion, The Manchester Regiment, and on the outbreak of war on 4th August he was fully mobilised the following day, agreeing to serve overseas as required. Together with his Battalion they left for Egypt on 10th September and arrived in Alexandria two weeks later, on 25th September.
In March 1915 his application for a commission was successful and he returned to England and joined the 20th (Service) Battalion (5th City), The Manchester Regiment, one of the city’s ‘Pals’ battalions, as a Second-Lieutenant at their base in Grantham, Lincolnshire where he remained for five months.
In September that year the Battalion moved to Larkhill and prepared for embarkation, arriving in France on 9th November 1915 aboard the ‘SS Princess Victoria’, which followed a rather wet and stormy crossing from Folkestone to Boulogne.
Several months were then spent in various aspects of training before Norman and his Battalion moved up to the front lines in February 1916 at which point they were part of 22nd Brigade, 7th Division.
In March 1916, the light Stokes2 batteries left battalion control and came under brigade command. On 14th April the 22nd Trench Mortar Battery [TMB] was formed and two weeks or so later Norman was attached to the Battery, where he achieved the rank of temporary Captain on 31st August.
At some point during that year Norman made an impact that brought his name to the attention of the GOC as he was recognised with the award of a ‘Mention in Despatches’, gazetted in January 1917. Six months later he was awarded the Military Cross, but the surviving records give no hint of his bravery in action.
In November 1917 the 20th Manchester’s and the 22nd TMB moved with their Division to Italy. This was a strategic and political move agreed by the British Government as part of the effort to stiffen Italian resistance to enemy attack after a recent disaster. Originally the idea was that they would be moved to the mountainous area of the Brenta, but the orders were changed and they ended up in the line along the River Piave.
Nothing is publicly known about Norman’s time in Italy for the following year but life here would have been very different to the conditions they had all experienced on the Western Front. It was often described as being “like another world”.
On 28th October 1918 Norman’s father received a telegram from the War Office which advised him that his son was seriously ill at No.11 General Hospital, although no mention was made as to the nature of his illness. We know today that the wording indicated that this was not war-related, although whether this was apparent to his family is unclear.
A further telegram was received by the family in Manchester the following day advising them that Norman was now ‘dangerously’ ill; again no specific mention of the nature of the illness. It also specifically mentioned that “permission to visit not granted” which at the time gave a further clue as to it being non war related but potentially contagious.
Had permission been granted it would have been too late as on Wednesday 30th October 1918 Captain Norman Lees Jennison, M.C., 20th (Service) Battalion (5th City), The Manchester Regiment; att. 22nd Trench Mortar Battery, died of influenza in No.11 General Hospital in Genoa at the age of 23. He was later buried in the city’s Staglieno Cemetery.
The telegram that advised Angelo Jennison of the death of his elder son arrived on 2nd November 1918.
It is also believed that during his period of military service Capt. Norman Jennison was awarded both the Meritorious Service Medal [MSM] and the Territorial Force Efficiency Medal [TFEM].
A cousin of Norman’s, Second-Lieutenant James Leonard Jennison, fell at the Battle of Vimy Ridge on 3rd May 1917.
Both were also remembered on the Belle Vue War Memorial at Gorton, Manchester and the Jennison family memorial at St Mary's Parish Church, Cheadle.
Norman’s brother, Sydney Angelo Jennison, himself an OW, served with 14th (Service) Battalion, The King’s (Liverpool Regiment). He later transferred to the 3rd Skinner’s Horse, a cavalry regiment of the British Indian Army where he finished the war with the rank of Captain. He died in 1975.
The Manchester Regiment is perpetuated today in the 1st Battalion, Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment (King’s Lancashire and Border).