top of page
Henry Grenfell Thornton.png

Signed "H. G. Thornton. Feb 1901", the identity of this soldier was confirmed in a somewhat unexpected way, when I simply Googled the address - 58 The Ropewalk - that was written on the back of the card (see below). That address in Nottingham was the onetime home to Henry Edward Thornton, a banker, and his family.

The H. G. Thornton pictured above was his eldest son Henry Grenfell Thornton, who was born in Nottingham on 9 February 1873. Henry's mother was Katherine Charlotte Grenfell, was the sister of Field-Marshal Francis Wallace Grenfell, 1st Baron Grenfell. Henry Grenfell Thornton had at least three younger brothers; Pascoe Spencer Thornton,
Claude Cyprian Thornton, and Godfrey St. Leger Thornton.

One biographical sketch of his father Henry Edward Thornton mentions two sons being killed in World War I and one being the Rector of Wollaton. The latter would be the youngest of the above-mentioned brothers Claude Cyprian (d. 1939). Pascoe Spencer died in Tientsin, China in 1917. Lieutenant Colonel Godfrey St. Leger Thornton D.S.O. of Royal Field Artillery, died of sickness on 4 February 1918.

Henry Grenfell Thornton was educated at Rugby and was for a time involved with the Boys Brigade being appointed lieutenant in the 12th Nottingham Company upon its establishment around 1891-92.

Thornton was appointed 2nd lieutenant in the 1st Nottinghamshire (Robin Hood) Rifle Volunteers on 11 February 1893.

Promoted Lieutenant - 23 June 1894
Captain - 18 May 1898
Resigned - 25 January 1899

This photograph is dated Feb 1901, which is some two years after his resignation from the 1st Nottinghamshire's and after his enlistment as a private in the 19th Battalion (Paget's Horse), Imperial Yeomanry.

Serving as No. 20405, Trooper Henry Grenfell Thornton is also listed with the 106th Company (Staffordshire), 4th Battalion of the Imperial Yeomanry. He deployed to South Africa on 22 February 1901 and served there for one year, 128 days. According to his Yeomanry service papers, Thornton took his discharge at Elandsfontein on 29 June 1902, so that he could take up civil employment at Johannesburg. Thornton qualified for the Queen's South Africa Medal with the clasps: "Cape Colony", "Orange Free State", "Transvaal", "South Africa 1901", and "South Africa 1902".

It is interesting to consider why a man holding the rank of captain in the volunteers resigned to serve as a private trooper in a unit shipping overseas. I have read of examples of this happening with officers in the volunteers receiving temporary commissions in the regulars sometimes at their current volunteer rank though often at one rank lower, with a captain of volunteers being temporarily commissioned a lieutenant in the regulars. This opportunity was often dependant on an appropriate opening being available. One would think that having an uncle who was a Field-Marshal, not to mention a namesake, would have negated Henry Grenfell Thornton having to resign a commission, let alone serve as a private trooper in the Imperial Yeomanry. Perhaps it was simply a matter of a man wanting to accomplish something on his own account.

I received information from Liz Thornton, the great-niece of Henry Grenfell Thornton, and she related that according to family history Thornton may not have been a very efficient officer in the volunteers, the fact of which prevented him from receiving a commission or appointment as an officer with the troops deploying to South Africa. Another family tradition tells that Field Marshal Grenfell thought very highly of his nephew, and felt that he should have received a commission, had he applied for one.

Henry Grenfell Thornton died on 5 March 1934 at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, Bermuda, leaving an estate worth some £37,103 17s. 8d. No mention of a wife or children was made in the probate records.

Cabinet Photograph
George Pendry - Photographer
38 Long Row, Nottingham, England

bottom of page