Gunner Charles Ludlam Thornton

107874, Royal Garrison Artillery who died 12 September 1917

Family History

Charles Ludlam Thornton was born in 1891, the son of George and Mary Ann (nee Allen).  His middle name comes from his paternal grandmother, Jane Ludlam.  Charles was one of seventeen children but ten died in infancy leaving only Charles, his five brothers and one sister.  The family lived on London Road and Charles’s father was a shoe riveter. In 1911 Charles was working as a baker at the co-op shop in Oadby. In April 1915 he married Elizabeth Ann Brown. Their daughter, Nora Ellis, was born later that year in Mobley, Cheshire.

The Thornton family outside their house on London Road, Oadby. Charles is probably the son on the far left.


London Road, Oadby. The Thornton house is on the extreme left.

Military Service

In line with the requirement of the Derby Act Charles attested for military service on 7 December 1915. In the October 1915 all men of military age were required, under the Derby Scheme, to attest of their willingness to serve their country if called. This was the British government’s last measure to encourage voluntary enlistment before Conscription was introduced in March 1916. The men who attested were allocated a group and placed in the Reserve awaiting call up of their group.  Most of the men in Oadby attested during November when, for two weeks, twenty three men, assisted by the police, undertook door to door canvassing of all men of military age in the district. On 18 November Mr Sturgess-Wells chair of the Local Recruitment Committee “stated nearly 200 men in Oadby had already enlisted which spoke well for the patriotism of the district” (Daily Post 18 November 1915).

The timing of the Oadby attestation canvassing was unfortunate for Charles, coinciding as it did with the birth of his daughter, Nora Ellis. Men who attested were awarded a day’s pay and placed on the army reserve list awaiting call up which began in March 1916. But for married men this was not until after May 1916. Charles was called up on 19 July 1916 and joined the 231st Siege Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery. He underwent training at Aldershot and Codford in Wiltshire before leaving Southampton for France on 25 December 1916.

Camp 15, Codford, Wiltshire where Charles received his basic training.


Officers of the 231st Siege Battery  RGA, Aldershot, November 1916

The Royal Garrison Artillery was equipped with much larger weapons than the Royal Field Artillery which were used for heavy bombardment on enemy positions. Howitzers of 6”and 9” bore were common, as were 60 pounder heavy field guns. These weapons were often hauled by motor tractors rather than horse power. Some of the guns were so large they could only be deployed on railway tracks. However in the mud of the Passchendaele battlefield, moving these huge guns could often only be done by horses and men

A 6” howitzer gun of the Royal Garrison Artillery is man-handled past some ruins near Boezinghe, August 1917.

On the 12 September 1917, at the height of the Battle of Passchendaele, the component batteries of the 93 Heavy Artillery Group (of which the 231st Siege Battery was one) suffered intense enemy gas bombardment on the Boesinghe Road. About 3000 shells fell amongst the batteries. The 231st Siege Battery lost two men in this attack, one of whom was Gunner Charles Ludlam Thornton.


Gunner Charles Ludlam Thornton is Buried with Honour at the Talena Farm Cemetery, near Boesinghe, Belgium. He is honoured on the Oadby War Memorial.

Charles’ headstone in Talena Farm Cemetery, Boesinghe, Belgium.


Notification of Charles’ death in the Oadby and Wigston Advertiser 13 October 1917

Family Members

Details of Charles’ personal possessions which were posted to Elizabeth Thornton in March 1918. They include a typical combination of items of a personal nature, together with practical ones. For many families, no personal possessions of lost loved ones were ever recovered. Three years after the end of the war, Charles’ widow Elizabeth married Ephraim Ward. Elizabeth signed for Charles’ British War and Victory Medals in October 1921 in her new married name.


Receipt signed by Elizabeth Thornton for Charles’ personal effects.

At least 4 of Charles’ brothers also served during the Great War. His brother Matthew (b.1893) joined the Leicester Yeomanry in 1906 and later transferred to the Army Reserve.  He was called up as part of the British Expeditionary Force at the outbreak of war but was declared no longer fit for active service in August 1917. Albert (b. 1887) was in the Royal Army Medical Corps, having enlisted in August 1917. Herbert (b.1888) fought with the 4ths Leicesters having joined up on the day war broke out, 8 August 1914. Youngest brother Arthur (b. 1895), like Charles, also served in the RGA and at one point saw action in Mesopotamia.