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Fighting Father Thornton


centurion
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There have been many discussions of Chaplains who went over the top "with their flock" so to speak. But I've come across one who did more. Father Thornton a Scotsman with the RND who went over the top at the Battle of Ancre in 1916 and led a group of men who joined up with the 10th RDF, most of whose officers were hors de combat, and so was used by their commanding officer to lead men forward to take German trenches and forts that were still resisting. This appears to be well outside the normal duties of an army chaplain. He is mentioned several times in the official RDF account and once in a history of the RND but I can find nothing else on him either with the forum search engine or Google. Anyone know his history?

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I'm not sure of the man in question, but there were certainly instances where chaplains took command and were involved in leading men with their battalions during The Great War. The chaplain of my local regiment (Hertfordshire Regiment) successfully extracted the remains of the Herts on 31st July 1917 after all the battalion's officers became casualties, I guess that chaplains were seen as natural leaders and clearly assumed their roles admirably!

Good Luck,

Dan

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a brief mention of Father Stephen Thornton, RND here

http://www.plantata....1998hagerty.pdf

leading to snippets

http://www.stmargare...uk/history.html

http://myweb.tiscali...JubileeBook.htm

From the following link :

http://www.naval-history.net/WW1NavyBritishLGDecorationszzDSO.htm

Rev. Stephen Augustin Lawrence Thornton, Naval Chapl. Dept., attd. R. Dub. Fus. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He displayed great courage and determination in administering to the wounded under very heavy fire.

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a brief mention of Father Stephen Thornton, RND here

http://www.plantata....1998hagerty.pdf

leading to snippets

http://www.stmargare...uk/history.html

http://myweb.tiscali...JubileeBook.htm

From the following link :

http://www.naval-history.net/WW1NavyBritishLGDecorationszzDSO.htm

Rev. Stephen Augustin Lawrence Thornton, Naval Chapl. Dept., attd. R. Dub. Fus. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He displayed great courage and determination in administering to the wounded under very heavy fire.

Thanks for this - he seems to have been somewhat of a character. I am intrigued by the Chaplains Dept threatening him with a Court Martial for the action for which he was awarded his DSO. Could they have done this? and what would have been the charge?

Where did he win his MC?

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Chaplain Stephen THORNTON served with 2nd Field Ambulance RND right at the end of the Gallipoli campaign and with Anson, 2/RMLI and 10/RDF battalions of the RND in the BEF. I have no knowledge of an MC but he was mentioned in despatches (LG 15 May 1917, p.4744.)

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Chaplain Stephen THORNTON served with 2nd Field Ambulance RND right at the end of the Gallipoli campaign and with Anson, 2/RMLI and 10/RDF battalions of the RND in the BEF. I have no knowledge of an MC but he was mentioned in despatches (LG 15 May 1917, p.4744.)

In one of the links jdoyle supplied we have "St. Margaret’s new parish priest, Father Stephen Thornton, DSO, MC, was a complete contrast to his predecessor. Born in Glasgow, he had served in a number of parishes in the West of Scotland before he had volunteered as a military chaplain on the outbreak of War in 1914. He saw service in France and Egypt,"

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  • 6 years later...

Hi guys :)

I'm looking for any information on my partners Grt Uncle Rev S.A.L Thornton DSO WW1.

Only have a small amount of information so anything would be appreciated.

Kind regards

Aly

 

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This at the National Archives   http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/D7279578

The record can also been found on FindMyPast  by entering his full name  Stephen Augustin Lawrence Thornton. he was a Roman Catholic chaplain. Access to FindMyPast is often available free of charge through local library services.

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There has been some informaton posted re. Father Thornton in a previous thread on GWF:

 

Joe Walsh

Catholic priest involved in fighting?

By Joe Walsh, 26 November , 2012 in Soldiers 

 

In addition,  an obscure source for Catholic biography that might take a little bit of digging are the diocesan yearbooks of the various bishoprics -  diocesan yearbook holdings for any area or  brand of soap suds seem patchy but when I have used the RC Diocese of Plymouth in years past  for non-military matters it has proved useful-though rather hard to find outside of Plymouth.

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On 7/4/2011 at 02:02, centurion said:

Thanks for this - he seems to have been somewhat of a character. I am intrigued by the Chaplains Dept threatening him with a Court Martial for the action for which he was awarded his DSO. Could they have done this? and what would have been the charge?

 

They certainly could. Military chaplains were non-combatant personnel under the Geneva conventions. It was and is a war crime for a non-combatant personnel to engage in combat. The Germans could rightfully have executed him. The British certainly executed German non-combatants who broke the rules in WWII.

Edited by Wexflyer
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18 minutes ago, Wexflyer said:

 

They certainly could. Military chaplains were non-combatant personnel under the Geneva conventions. It was and is a war crime for a non-combatant personnel to engage in combat. The Germans could rightfully have executed him. The British certainly executed German non-combatants who broke the rules in WWII.

 

    The Geneva Conventions appear to have begun after the 1929 Conference, which makes it rather hard for the subsequent conventions to apply to a war from 1914-1918

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The Geneva Conventions appear to have begun after the 1929 Conference, which makes it rather hard for the subsequent conventions to apply to a war from 1914-1918

 

You are misinformed. 1929 was the Third Geneva Convention - there were two previous, one in the 1860s, and the other before the Great War.

 

The First Geneva Convention, in 1864, specifically covered military chaplains, viz:

"Art. 2. Hospital and ambulance personnel, including the quarter-master's staff, the medical, administrative and transport services, and the chaplains, shall have the benefit of the same neutrality when on duty".

 

In short, Fr. Thornton should have been court-martialed and shot, not decorated.

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6 hours ago, Wexflyer said:

In short, Fr. Thornton should have been court-martialed and shot, not decorated.

 

 

     I am well aware of the early conventions and their limitations. Indeed, Dunant's "Memory of Solferino" is on the shelf in front of me as I write.

 

     By whom?   His own side?    

      It is perfectly possible to have the award of the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross without a chaplain performing any actions that would be a breach of any of the Geneva or Hague Conventions. A look at what  the citations are for any of the awards have been for either medical  personnel or chaplains  may show this. Indeed, the work of chaplains  that had earned either of these awards m seems usually to be that they have performed their work WITHIN THE 1864 CONVENTION in an exemplary manner.

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I am well aware of the early conventions and their limitations. Indeed, Dunant's "Memory of Solferino" is on the shelf in front of me as I write.

By whom?   His own side?    

It is perfectly possible to have the award of the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross without a chaplain performing any actions that would be a breach of any of the Geneva or Hague Conventions. A look at what  the citations are for any of the awards have been for either medical  personnel or chaplains  may show this. Indeed, the work of chaplains  that had earned either of these awards m seems usually to be that they have performed their work WITHIN THE 1864 CONVENTION in an exemplary manner.

 It is of course perfectly possible, and happened multiple times, that chaplains and medical personnel were decorated for gallantry.  But that was for gallantry in a non-combatant role. What is different here is that according to the OP Fr. Thrornton was decorated for playing a combatant role. That is what this whole thread is about, so it is a bit beside the point to say that he could be decorated in the normal course of their duties. We know that. The question is, was this chaplain decorated for performing what was a war crime?

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1 hour ago, Wexflyer said:

The question is, was this chaplain decorated for performing what was a war crime?

 

      Any evidence of this at all???   Would the approving authorities for military awards really have risked the lives of all chaplains with the publicity that one of them was a combatant???  I suspect even the thickest of staff officers at GHQ might have picked up on that - to risk all chaplains being treated as franc-tireurs.

     I am not aware that any chaplain of any combatant power was caught in flagrante. Do you know of any examples?

Of course, shooting a chaplain for being a franc tireur would have made the matter of Edith Cavell look like a children's party.

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