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Nevil Shute Norway

(1899 - 1960)

Nevil Shute Norway was born on 17 January 1899 at Ealing, London, second child of Arthur Hamilton Norway, a clerk in the General Post Office, and his wife Mary Louisa. He was educated in England at Lynam's (the Dragon) School, Oxford, and Shrewsbury School, Shropshire.

In 1912 Arthur became secretary of the Post Office in Ireland and was based at the main post office in Dublin in 1916 at the time of the Easter Rising, where the young Norway was exposed to the fighting and served as a stretcher bearer. In 1918 he spent nine months training as an Air Gunner with the Royal Flying Corps and attended the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, but failed to get a commission due to his stammer. He spent the rest of the war on guard duty with the Suffolk Regiment in Britain. In December 1918 he was sent as a clerk to a demob centre near Folkestone where he found an abandoned Sopwith Camel which he familiarised himself with. He was accepted to study engineering at Balliol College, Oxford. During this time, having got an introduction to C.C. Walker at Airco at Hendon and offered his services free of charge during the vacations. He was employed without pay as a junior assistant in the design office and on wind tunnel research.

He worked with Geoffrey de Havilland on the DH.18, the last design begun by the Airco concern for in 1919 it was sold to British Small Arms. However, the leading members of the Airco staff were convinced there was a future for aviation and consequently bought the aviation related assets of the company, forming the de Havilland Aircraft Company on September 20, 1920 and moved to Stag Lane. Norway graduated in 1923 and was hired as a junior stress and performance calculator in the same year. He learnt to fly that year but only qualified as a pilot on an Avro 548 at Stag Lane on 4 March 1924. He wrote in the evenings but his first two books were not accepted for publication.

Norway left de Havilland in the autumn of 1924 and joined Barnes Wallis at Vickers' Airship Guarantee Company as Chief Calculator (stress engineer). Here he worked on the R.100 airship. His third novel, Marazan, was published in 1926 (worried about undermining his position as an aeronautical engineer, he published under his forenames only). He was appointed deputy chief engineer in 1929. Following the disaster to the rival, Government sponsored, R101 in October 1930, the British airship programme was cancelled and the Airship Guarantee Company was liquidated. Norway, along with colleague Hessell Tiltman whom he had known from Airco, left and, in 1931, founded Airspeed Ltd. Although they were joint managing directors he concentrated on the business side. In 1938 Norway recognized that Airspeed was a different company from the one he had founded. After falling out with Hessell Tiltman, the board asked him to resign with a generous settlement that enabled him to devote himself to full-time writing.

By the outbreak of World War II, Shute was already a rising novelist. Even as war seemed imminent he was working on military projects with his former Vickers boss Sir Dennistoun Burney. He joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a sub-lieutenant and quickly ended up in what would become the Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development. There he was a head of engineering, working on secret weapons such as Panjandrum. Unfortunately, the giant, rocket-propelled Catherine Wheel intended to smash Hitler's Atlantic Wall went haywire on a Devon beach and was never used. His celebrity as a writer caused the Ministry of Information to send him to the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944 and later to Burma as a correspondent. He finished the war with the rank of lieutenant-commander RNVR.

In 1948, after World War II, he flew his own Percival Proctor light airplane to Australia and back. On his return home, concerned about the general decline in his home country, he decided that he and his family would emigrate and so, in 1950, he settled with his wife and two daughters on farmland at Langwarrin, south-east of Melbourne.

Nevil Shute Norway died in Melbourne on 12 January 1960 following a stroke.

Biography References

  1. Airspeed Aircraft Since 1931, H.A. Taylor (Putnam, 1970)
  2. Croft, Julian, 'Norway, Nevil Shute (1899–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/norway-nevil-shute-11262/text20089, accessed 21 October 2012.

V1.3.0 Created by Roger Moss. Last updated February 2017