Lieutenant Robert West Thornton

4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment)

Killed in Action, Battle of Bellewaarde Ridge, Ypres, Belgium on 16th June 1915. Aged 19

Robert West Thornton was born in New Town, Uckfield in January 1896, son to Major Robert Lawrence Thornton CBE, DL, JP and Mrs Charlotte Thornton JP of High Cross, Palehouse Common, Framfield. Educated at Eton, where he served in the Officer Training Corps, Robert Thornton was accepted into the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in November 1913, Major General Barton securing him a position in the prestigious Royal Fusiliers. Robert was still officer training when war was declared, not gazetted 2nd Lieutenant until the end of September 1914. He was sent to join the famous 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, who had won the first Victoria Crosses of the war, in late November1914, serving in the Ypres sector after the first battle there.

Winter was spent in the snow and then mud of the Ypres Salient. In the February, Robert was promoted to Temporary Lieutenant and later to Battalion Machine Gun Officer, a very responsible job for a 19 year old. Robert was ‘Mentioned in Despatches’ by Field Marshall Sir John French, and although evidence is scant, from this ‘MID’ action was also apparently recommended for the Military Cross, a junior officer’s gallantry award. In June 1915 3rd Division were tasked to take the strategic German positions that overlooked Ypres at Bellewaarde Ridge. 4th Royal Fusiliers were tasked to take and hold the German front line trenches; they succeeded and pressed on, but at a high cost, losing 15 officers and 376 men. Robert was shot in the chest as he controlled his Vickers machine guns deployment and fire. As 3rd Division consolidated their gains, German and British artillery fire swept the battle area, and many of the fallen were lost forever.

Lieutenant Robert Thornton’s body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate, Ypres. 

Jim Hastings & Pam Allsop, June 2014