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The Papers of Peter Hill-Norton, Baron Hill-Norton

Reference Code: GBR/0014/HLNN

Scope and Contents

The collection of Hill-Norton's papers held at Churchill Archives Centre relate to the later part of Hill-Norton's career. It includes personal and official correspondence, letters to the press, speeches and articles covering defence and military issues and controversial political issues, such as the repeal of section 28 and the ordination of women.


  • Creation: 1968 - 2003

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for consultation by researchers using Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers wishing to publish excerpts from the papers must obtain prior permission from the copyright holders and should seek advice from Archives Centre staff.

Biographical / Historical

Peter John Hill-Norton (previously Norton) was born in Gemiston, South Africa in 1915, the son of Martin John (Jack) Norton and Margery Birnie (née Hill). The family moved to England in 1917. Hill-Norton added ‘Hill’ to his name in 1931 to prevent confusion with an officer in the Royal Navy.

In 1928 Hill-Norton entered the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. He first went to sea in 1932 in the cruiser HMS London, then served in battleships Malaya and Rodney, and was promoted to Sub-Lieutenant in 1935.

In the Second World War Hill-Norton first spent time on the instructional staff at the gunnery school. He then worked in convoy protection for most of the Second World War, serving in the anti-aircraft cruiser Cairo and then the cruiser Cumberland, in escorts in the North Atlantic, North-Western Approaches and the route to Russia’s Arctic ports.

In 1943 he joined the gunnery division at the Admiralty, then HMS Howe of the British Pacific Fleet as Gunnery Officer taking part in later Second World War campaigns against Japan.

After the Second World War Hill-Norton was appointed to the cruiser Nigeria, flagship of the south Atlantic station. He was promoted to Commander in 1947 and returned to the Admiralty in the naval ordnance division.

In 1951 he served as Executive Officer of the new aircraft carrier Eagle which was the largest, most complex and heavily manned ship in the Royal Navy to that date. He was promoted to Captain at the end of the commission in 1952.

Hill-Norton then became Naval Attaché at Buenos Aires (Argentina), Montevideo (Uruguay) and Asuncion (Paraguay) from 1953 to 1955.

In 1956 he was appointed to his first ship command HMS Decoy which was involved in the Suez crisis in operation Musketeer helping cover the forces landing in the region.

After the Suez crisis Hill-Norton was given a Whitehall appointment in the defence research policy staff, and then in 1959-1961 he commanded the aircraft carrier Ark Royal, which was the sister ship to the Eagle.

Hill-Norton was promoted to Rear-Admiral in January 1962 and appointed Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (in Admiralty), a position he held until 1964. In 1964 he was awarded the Companion of the Order of Bath (CB).

From 1964 to 1966, Hill-Norton served as Flag Officer Second-in-Command of the Far East Fleet. In this position he was the senior embarked officer of a group of warships, naval aircraft and royal marines during the confrontation with Indonesia that led to the formation of Malaysia and Singapore. At the time this was Britain’s main overseas naval commitment and he was promoted to Vice-Admiral in 1965.

After several short-lived Whitehall appointments (due to changes in senior officers’ hierarchy)- including Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (personnel and logistics), Second Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Personnel - Hill-Norton was appointed Chief of the Defence Staff (personnel and logistics) at the newly unified Ministry of Defence in 1966.

On return to the United Kingdom in 1966 Hill-Norton became Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (Personnel and Logistics) and in January 1967 he was appointed Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty and Second Sea Lord and later that year had the unusual distinction of holding two appointments to the Admiralty Board at the same time, as he became Vice Chief of the Naval Staff in July before relinquishing his appointment as Second Sea Lord at the end of August. In 1967 he was knighted as KCB (Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath).

From 1969 to 1970 Hill-Norton was the last Commander-in-Chief of British forces (all three services) in the Far East. In this role he contributed to setting up the 5 power defence agreement (FPDA) and supervised the rundown of British forces in the area.

In 1970 Hill-Norton returned to the United Kingdom, was promoted GCB (Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Bath), and was appointed First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff. Among other more important strategic decisions while First Seal Lord, Hill Norton abolished the daily rum ration and made an agreement with the Chief of Air Staff (Sir John Grady) to minimise conflict between the naval and air staffs.

Hill-Norton's time as First Sea Lord was cut short when his predecessor chosen to be Chief of Defence retired with ill health and Hill-Norton was selected to take his place. In March 1971 Hill-Norton was appointed as Chief of Defence Staff (Britain’s most senior serving officer) and was promoted to Admiral of the Fleet. After two and a half years in post he was succeeded by General Sir Michael Carver of the Army.

From April 1974 to 1977 Hill-Norton served as the chairman of NATO’s military committee. In this role he was involved in the successful peace negotiations between Greece and Turkey after the Turkey had invaded northern Cyprus in the summer of 1974.

In 1977 Hill-Norton left NATO and was created a life peer as Baron Hill-Norton in 1979. He became an active member of the House of Lords with some controversial contributions on subjects such as attacking poor warship design, excessive reliance on nuclear weapons, shrinking of regular and reserve forces and the alleged MoD suppression of UFO sightings. He also narrated a popular BBC television series on seapower in 1985.

In other roles Hill-Norton also served as President of the Sea Cadets’ Association (1977-1984), President of the Defence Manufacturers’ Association (1980-1984), first President of the British Maritime League that sought to promote British maritime interests (1982-1985) and Vice-President of the Royal United Services Institute (1977-1990). He was a Liveryman of the Shipwrights’ Company and a Freeman of the City of London from 1973, Governor of Reigate grammar school and director of several companies.

Hill-Norton married Margaret Eileen Linstow in 1936. They had two children, Nicholas (b. 1939) and Carla Ann (b. 1943). He died in 2004.


23 archive box(es)

Language of Materials


Other Finding Aids

Copies of this finding aid are available for consultation at Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, and on the Janus website

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were given to Churchill Archives Centre by the Royal United Services Institution in October 2012.


In addition to articles for the press, Hill-Norton's published works include: 'No Soft Options' (1978) about NATO and 'Sea Power' with John Dekker (1982) on navies.


This collection level description was prepared by Madelin Terrazas at Churchill Archives Centre in April 2013. Biographical information was taken from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004), Who’s Who (A & C Black) and an obituary in the Guardian (20 May 2004) with input from Sir Nicholas Hill-Norton. Catalogued by Natalie Adams and Tom Davies, 2018.


Norton, Peter John Hill-, 1915-2004, Baron Hill-Norton, Admiral of the Fleet and Chief of Defence Staff

2013-04-08 13:36:52+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Churchill Archives Centre Repository

Churchill Archives Centre
Churchill College
Cambridge Cambridgeshire CB3 0DS United Kingdom
+44 (0)1223 336087