Friday 15 July 2016

William (Willie) Thorn

Survived the War and the sinking of the 'Transylvania.'
Barnsley Independent 1917
Thanks to Barnsley Archives
Born: 1875 in Dodworth.

Military Service: Willie enlisted on 13th January 1915, declaring his age to be 36 years and 8 months. As there is evidence that he was baptised on 9th May 1875 in Dodworth, his true age was about 39 years, approaching 40. The upper age limit at the time of enlisting was 38 years (later increased to 40 in May 1915). It appears that Willie was desperate to 'do his bit'.

Willie was a Private in the Highland Light Infantry, service number 9566, later transferring to the ASC, service number S/440597. 

A miner, living at 33 Shaw Lane, Barnsley, he married Lucy Crick at St George's Church in 1897, and after her death at the age of 25, he married Margaret Ann Williamson in Bishop Aukland in 1907. 

Willie's brother Stanley Thorn was killed at the Battle of Loos on 25th September 1915.

Sinking of the 'Transylvania'

On 4th May 1917 Willie was on board the liner 'Transylvania' when it was torpedoed and sunk in the Mediterranean whilst carrying troops to Egypt. He described his experience in a letter to his father:

[...] Nearly all the men were on parade on deck at the time and lots of us saw the torpedo coming. When the explosion occurred we were practically ready for it. [...] 

The lowering of the boats proceeded with as much speed as possible, me helping as much as I could, when the second torpedo struck us. Directly after the second torpedo struck us I rushed across the deck to see what help I could render, when, as a boat was just being lowered from the top deck with only two soldiers in it, I was told to get into the boat. There was only about six of us in the boat when she touched the water so we picked up as many men as we could and I held the rope whilst the men climbed down it until we got as many on the boat as she could carry - about 70 altogether. 

The sea was very rough as there was a high wind blowing and we had great difficulty in getting the boat away from the ship. We succeeded after a while and managed to get about 500 yards from the ship when she went down nose first and very quietly. 

An Italian torpedo boat picked us up after about 2 hours tossing about. With the sea being rough they had to throw us ropes, one of which I held until the troops were nearly all transferred. I had a narrow escape as just as I was getting out of the small boat on to the destroyer the wave suddenly went down and I lost my grip and nearly fell into the water, and what with assisting in the loading and unloading of the boat and being sick I was just about finished. [...]

Willie's home address at the time of the sinking was 17 Knowsley Street, Barnsley. The Transylvania sank with the loss of 412 lives. 

Information from the Barnsley Independent 1917   

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