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Thread: "A real good 'un"

  1. #1
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    "A real good 'un"

    Acquired another "sword with a story" the other day, via a real-life auction. It needs a good clean but under the rust is quite complete, so I think it'll look fine after a couple of hours' work. However, the scabbard is an object lesson in how not to treat 90-year old leather...can you spot in picture 1 where the lot number, in the form of a sticky label, was affixed?

    Anyway, on to the sword: it's a "wartime economy" P1897 infantry sword, serial numbered 45161. It's plain bladed except for the Henry Wilkinson etching and "HW" proof disk, and is inscribed with the owner's name & regiment. Robert West Thornton was gazetted 2nd Lt in October 1914, and was only 19 when he was killed in a fierce attack on Hooge in June 1915, while serving as battalion machine-gun officer in the 4th Royal Fusiliers.

    Despite his youth and junior rank, he had been serving as acting company commander for part of 1915 (probably due to previous officer casualties), and seems to have been well regarded. The senior officer left in the Battalion after the attack when he was killed wrote: “He was a real good ‘un and brave as a lion”.

    His Captain wrote from the Commanding Officer’s bedside in hospital: “The Commanding Officer would like you to know that he had sent in your boy’s name for the Military Cross a couple of days before he died and that he knows the General recommended it and sent it on. It will probably not have got through in time” (sadly, it didn't).

    I have the Battalion war diaries for the first half of 1915, and it sounds like they were having a pretty torrid time of it in June, with heavy casualties caused by frontal attacks on well-defended positions near Hooge Chateau and the Bellewaarde Ridge. "Bobbie" Thornton was one of 15 officers of the 4/RF reported as "lost" on the 15th, and his body was never recovered.

    John
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    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  2. only 19 when he was killed

    Another stunning buy John - well done. But still, what a shame "only 19 when he was killed".

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Austin View Post
    Another stunning buy John - well done. But still, what a shame "only 19 when he was killed".
    I know. That's why it's so important not to forget - and of course makes some of our own day-to-day "problems" seem rather small.

    John
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  4. #4

    Thumbs up

    John,
    Thank you for sharing yet another moving "sword story". One wonders what would have become of such a promising young man had he the fortune of surviving the Great War.

    How is the rest of the sword looking?

    Jonathan

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by J.G. Hopkins View Post
    How is the rest of the sword looking?
    The blade has surface rust which needs removal fast to avoid long-term pitting (job for this evening!). The outer face of the hilt is good, with all original plating and only slight "bubbling". The inner face is not so good but no worse than many I've seen. The grip and bind wires are dirty but undamaged (bidding unseen, I'd assumed they would be poor). The scabbard is good apart from the patch where the lot number was, and which lifted the top surface of leather off when I tried to remove it (grrr)!

    John
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  6. #6
    I can't wait to see the result of your efforts. It is a shame about the sticker. Why anyone puts stickers on antiques is beyond me!

    Jonathan
    Last edited by J.G. Hopkins; 04-08-2008 at 11:45 AM.

  7. #7
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    Great story, great sword, poor Bobbie wasn't given much of a stab at life. So he didn't get the award after all that? His parents should've got it with no body to bury, speaking as a father, he likely spent the rest of his life hoping his son would come home. Exactly why we should never ever forget their sacrifices, what a rediculus waste those frontal attacks were. Can you imagine the outcry there would be if thousands of soldiers were to die in one day today? Then some jerk puts a sticker on it, just no respect or sence.

  8. #8
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    Something that works well for sticker removal is naptha. More commonly found as cigarette lighter fluid for the old flint and wick type.

    Cheers

    Hotspur; 101 uses

  9. #9
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    Or Goo Gone.
    "Ancora imparo - Michelangelo Buonarotti"

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by David gray View Post
    Great story, great sword, poor Bobbie wasn't given much of a stab at life. So he didn't get the award after all that?
    That's right, David: from my medal collecting days I seem to recall that only the Victoria Cross can be awarded posthumously - he missed out by only a few days. Still, I think the recognition of his peers may have counted for more with him ... I have some more quotes from an obituary notice:

    His Commanding Officer writes: “We were all most awfully fond of your boy, he was always so cheery and bright; I also had – as his Commanding Officer – the highest opinion of his abilities as an officer, and looked on him as quite in a class by himself. He was very clear headed and quick at taking in a situation, and carrying on and doing the right thing”.

    Another officer writes: “When I was in Ypres I met a great friend of mine, and he told me of a certain young subaltern in his Battalion, the 4th Royal Fusiliers, who at the age of nineteen was commanding a Company, and doing so well that although there were more senior and older men available the Colonel refused to put them over his head. I asked who the lad was, and was told it was Bobbie Thornton”.

    And a Senior brother officer said: “He had the knack of getting men to work and to fight”.


    So perhaps he packed a lot of living into those 19 years.

    John
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by J.G. Hopkins View Post
    I can't wait to see the result of your efforts.
    After a couple of hours' work, it's come up quite well. Can't get rid of the dark staining on the blade, but at least the rust is now gone and the blade itself has responded well to a gentle dose of car chrome cleaner.

    I also managed to turn up pictures of Thornton's father, Major Robert Lawrence Thornton, taken in 1936, and the memorial he erected in his son's memory in their local church (St Thomas à Becket, Framfield, Sussex).

    John
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    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  12. #12
    Well done, John, the sword looks fantastic! Have you looked into his father's service at all? Sometimes I can't resist the urge to investigate the service records of immediate relatives (fathers, sons, brothers) in addition to the actual owner of the sword.

    Jonathan

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by J.G. Hopkins View Post
    Well done, John, the sword looks fantastic! Have you looked into his father's service at all? Sometimes I can't resist the urge to investigate the service records of immediate relatives (fathers, sons, brothers) in addition to the actual owner of the sword.
    A little - he seems to have been a real pillar of the community: past Chairman and President of Sussex County Cricket Club, prominent Freemason (Provincial Grand Master for Sussex from 1926 to 1947), and benefactor of the local church. He had served in the Sussex Regiment from before 1883 to some time prior to the First World War. A collection of photos he took of severe flooding near his home in 1943 are in a local museum collection, and he died in 1947!

    John
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Hart View Post
    After a couple of hours' work, it's come up quite well. Can't get rid of the dark staining on the blade, but at least the rust is now gone and the blade itself has responded well to a gentle dose of car chrome cleaner.
    As a follow-on to this, I've just re-fixed the sword knot, which I've been treating with Pecard's leather restorer. I'm very pleased with the results - from being dry and cracking, it's now supple enough to alow for the bending and pulling involved in fastening it back on the hilt. I notice that it leaves a slight residue (similar to vaseline, but less greasy), but I think I can live with that as it's invisible and doesn't spread. It's possible that it might be absorbed into the leather over the next few weeks in any case.

    So, highly recommended - doesn't make the leather look too new and retains the character, but hopefully preserves and protects for several years to come!

    John
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    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  15. #15
    It looks marvelous, John. Is the vaseline-like residue limited to the leather or does it rub-off on the hilt? Did you find this at a local home improvement/hardware store or did you order it from a specialist website?

    Thank you,
    Jonathan

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by J.G. Hopkins View Post
    It looks marvelous, John. Is the vaseline-like residue limited to the leather or does it rub-off on the hilt? Did you find this at a local home improvement/hardware store or did you order it from a specialist website?
    Thanks, Jonathan - I found it quite near to home, at http://www.antiqueleatherdressing.co.uk/index.shtml, but you should be able to find a Pecard's outlet much nearer to you as they're a US company. The residue is more of a "feeling" than a visible deposit, but I don't think it will do the steel any harm - if anything it might help keep moisture off...

    John
    PS: Being good for aged and distressed leather, it also made my hands nice & soft - must tell the wife about it!
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  17. #17
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    It's all good John, great job, the leather dressing's probably better for the skin than some of that stuff women put on. I have a wee tin of Arctic Dubbin I use for leather, bought about 40 years ago and not finished yet. Probably because I didn't tell the wife what a good job it does. Worked into the leather it sucks it up like a sponge with very little trace of it being there.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Hart View Post
    I found it quite near to home, at http://www.antiqueleatherdressing.co.uk/index.shtml
    I've just looked on their website and part of the sales pitch is:

    Pecard Leather Dressing is a safe, clean, leather care product which will help rejuvenate, waterproof and cosmetically enhance the valuable leather items in any collection - whether it be militaria or whips.

    I wonder what made them put militaria and whips in the same sentence; do they know what militaria collectors get up to in their spare time?!

  19. #19
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    John,

    After the Pecard's has been on the leather a bit (I usually leave mine overnight), buff off the residue gently with a soft cloth. I find an old Tee shirt works well. That should solve the residue problem.

  20. #20
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    Thanks, Reese - I'm currently treating a scabbard from a different sword, and will give it a day or so more to soak in before trying the buffing technique!

    Cheers,

    John
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  21. #21
    Hi John

    I have recently written an article on Robert West Thornton for my website (http://www.sussexpeople.co.uk/sussex...oll-of-honour/). The article is at http://www.sussexpeople.co.uk/sussex...oll-of-honour/.

    I would love to include a paragraph about you obtaining his sword and the splendid job you have done renovating it, together with the picture from this thread. Before I can do so, however, I require your permission to use the photograph, which is clearly copyright.

    Best wishes

    David Earley

  22. #22
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    Hi David,

    Glad to hear of your interest. Unfortunately I sold the sword a few years ago when the focus of my collecting shifted. If you need some more images, however, I'm happy to send those to you if you PM me with your email address. I have higher-resolution pics which will probably be of more use to you, and my broadband has improved significantly since 2008!

    John
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

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