On 21st August 1919, one of Downside’s most ‘indefatigable workers’ passed away at the age of just 58. 

Dom Norbert Birt was one of the pre eminent Downside monks of the early 20th century, working tirelessly at literary work as well as being secretary to Cardinal Gasquet, an army chaplain and a teacher in the school. His scholarly work included writing the history of Downside School, still the definitive history of Downside today. He also wrote the Obit book of the English Benedictines and Benedictine Pioneers in Australia. 

Besides this, Dom Norbert was secretary to then Abbot Gasquet, working with him on the Vulgate Commission. His closeness to Gasquet never wavered, with his archives at Downside showing how much Gasquet valued Dom Norbert’s involvement in his matters. 

In 1900 Dom Norbert volunteered as an army chaplain, sailing to South Africa to minister to the souls of the soldiers involved in the Boer War. As his obituary states, he was ‘devoted to his work.’ At the outbreak of the Great War, he enlisted again but being too old to serve abroad he was sent to Netley Hospital, Southampton where he served as a hospital chaplain until 1919. 

Mentioned in Despatches for his work at Netley, his archive shows the strain the work put on him there. At one point he was the only chaplain in three hospitals and this work must surely not have helped the illness which eventually cost him his life. In August 1919 he underwent an operation to cure his illness, but it did not work and he died on 21st August 1919 after receiving the last rites, still officially an army chaplain. He was brought to Downside and is buried in the monastic cemetery. 

Dom Norbert’s archives offer an insight into a man who was a tireless worker, dedicated monk and caring chaplain. His written works have left a legacy of historical fact and are regularly used for research on Downside’s history today. 

To find out more about the Birt Collections click here. Dom Norbert is also featured in the book ‘Monks in the Military’ which can be purchased here.