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Thread: Looking for information on RAF pilot Alan Thornton, ex-Irish Air Corps

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    Default Looking for information on RAF pilot Alan Thornton, ex-Irish Air Corps

    Hello to all-
    I am researching the RAF career of Alan Thornton, the ex-Irish Air Corps pilot involved in "borrowing" the Supermarine Walrus that is now on display at RNAS Yeovilton. I am researching him for a magazine article, I am in no way related to Mr. Thornton. Most of the information I have about him comes from a brief RTE interview he gave in 2005 in which he recounted the story of stealing the Walrus along with 3 other NCO's who intended on flying to the Channel Islands to attempt to join the Luftwaffe (!). He was intercepted near Cornwall and escorted to St. Eval. He was subsequently court-martialed, and after serving time in Ireland made his way to England and joined the RAF.
    Mr. Thornton claimed he attended RAF Cranwell, and even wore his IAC wings on his RAF uniform there (this would have been around mid '43-'44). He flew as a ground-attack pilot, probably in Spitfires, in Italy and the Balkans. He was captured for a time by the Serbian Chetniks, but later released.
    According to the interview, he married a WAAF before shipping out to Italy, (judging from the interview, she would have passed in about 2004) and after the war served about 12 years in the reserves "training youngsters in Tiger Moths"...

    I've run into a brick wall trying to fill in Mr. Thornton's RAF career details, especially aircraft type, squadron, and whatever medals he would have received. Just in case he joined the RAF under an assumed name, I've also researched him under the names of Thorpe, Thorn, and Thorne, all to no avail. Judging by the interview, my best guesses as to his squadron would be 6, 73, or 253 (although I suppose he could have been posted to 351 or 352, but I find that unlikely).

    I live in the States, so a trip to Kew to go through their archives is out of the question at the moment. Can any member of the board help me fill in Mr. Thornton's RAF details?

    Thanks!

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    Muldoon214,

    Wow!

    "... he recounted the story of stealing the Walrus along with 3 other NCO's who intended on flying to the Channel Islands to attempt to join the Luftwaffe (!). He was intercepted near Cornwall and escorted to St. Eval. He was subsequently court-martialed, and after serving time in Ireland made his way to England and joined the RAF...'

    That segment of your post is quite a mouthful in itself to swallow and digest.
    I suppose stranger things have happened.
    Sorry, I don't have any hard data on your queries.
    But I'm awaiting with breath abated for a follow-up to your post.

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    Definitely from the "Stranger than Fiction" files, Grounded!

    I believe the display at Yeovilton where the Walrus is now housed (as FAA L2301) recounts the story. Very interesting history on that particular aircraft... It was forced down in the Irish Sea in 1939 when being delivered with the IAC's other two Walruses (Walrai? Walroose?) in foul weather and had to be taxied into Wexford Harbour. The wings were so damaged by rough seas that the Walrus sat derelict for a couple of years until one of the remaining two flyable Walrus suffered a landing mishap writing-off the airframe and the wings of that one were mated to the one with which Thornton and compatriots absconded (IAC serial N.18). It spent the remainder of the war flying coastal patrol based at what is now Shannon Airport. After its withdraws from service, it was owned briefly by Aer Lingus, who never used it operationally and in 1946 it was sold to Wing Commander RG Kellett, who used as a squadron hack for RAF Squadron 615. Some time in the 60's it was saved from the breaker's yard by the Historic Aviation Preservation Group and restored for the FAA Museum.

    My research has led me to believe that Mr. Thornton ended the war with the rank of Squadron Leader... but my facts for his RAF career are murky to say the least. I certainly hope someone can help me fill in the gaps, this is a story begging to be told!

    Thanks for your reply!

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    Air Force lists for July 1945 list only two A Thorntons

    173794 A C Thornton Then a Flying Officer GD Branch 655886 Arthur Cedric THORNTON (173794) Commissioned late 1943/Jan 1944

    79820 A E Thornton, then a F/Lt in A&SD branch, the serial number is quite low so doubt that could be him.
    Anthony Eric THORNTON (79820). was commishioned as early as 8th June 1940

    http://www.rafcommands.com/reference...r-force-lists/

    Hard to imagine a 'deserter' from another air force having tried to defect to the enemy then receiving a commission in the air force he tried to fight against?
    Dennis Burke
    - Dublin

    Foreign Aircrew and Aircraft Ireland 1939-1945
    www.ww2irishaviation.com

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    Thanks for the reply Dennis-

    After spending hours going through the pages of the London Gazette for the time-period, it had occurred to me that perhaps Mr. Thornton had joined under an assumed name... However, I have no idea how likely/easy this could have been. It's not like the RAF is the French Foreign Legion! Thats why I also looked under Thorn, Thorne, and Thorpe, as these were names that some of the people who had heard bits of the Walrus story (mis)remembered.

    The British Army, Royal Navy, and the RAF had taken in nearly five-thousand deserters from the Irish Defence Forces during the war (the Republic of Ireland only granting those individuals amnesty in 2013), but as far as I know, if what Thornton claimed in the interview was true, he may have been the only one who had actively attempted to throw in his lot with the Luftwaffe first! I believe Mr. Thornton had some advantageous political connections in Ireland, his father being private secretary to a few major players in Irish government, and that may have helped in reducing his prison sentence or even sweeping some of the details under the rug (I am speculating here). An acquaintance of mine has speculated that perhaps the RAF might have taken a chance on a trained flying officer especially at a time when Eire's
    "Neutrality" was proving to favor the Allies as Nazi atrocities were becoming more well-known. (Again, more speculation)

    In any event, it seems to me that IF Thornton served in the RAF under his own name, had indeed flown ground-attack in the Balkans, and been captured by the Chetniks for a period, his details would be easier to uncover. I'm afraid that without confirmation of his service number, or the name under which he served in the RAF, perhaps only a surviving family member could fill in the gaps to make a complete story... Which is unfortunate, since it's such an intriguing story.

    Again, thanks for your help Dennis!

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    Friday 13 February 1942 , Western Morning News , Devon, England

    CORNISH LANDING
    Explanation Of Eireann Officer
    An Eireann Army officer, said to have entered a 'plane at Rynanna
    Aerodrome and flown it across the Irish Sea and landed in Cornwall, appeared at a general courtmartial
    at Cork. Sec.-Lieut. "Francis" Joseph Thornton, 20. of the Army Corps,
    is accused of absenting himself without leave, with the intention of
    deserting, and of being guilty of conduct prejudicial to
    good order and military discipline. He pleaded Not guilty.
    Corpl. John Kelleher stated that on January 9 the officer asked
    him to start a Walrus Amphibean and entered tne seat at the controls.
    Three privates also entered the 'plane. He saw lifebelts
    being put into the machine. When he asked where he was going, the
    officer replied: I don't know. Thornton said he had been in the
    Air Force since 1938. After being placed under open
    arrest, he decided to take a machine and fly to Baldonnel, County Dublin,
    to give the Directors of the Air Corps an explanation.
    He flew high into the clouds and sleet. On landing was taken
    to the flight commander, and gave him all the details,
    asking him to communicate with the Irish authorities.

    Saturday 14 February 1942 , Western Morning News , Devon, England

    FLEW TO CORNWALL
    Eire Officer Charged With Petrol Theft
    Sec-Lieut. Alphonsus J. Thornton (20), of the Army Air Corps,
    alleged to have flown from Eire to Cornwall with intent
    to desert, was charged at a Cork court-martial yesterday with stealing
    150 gallons of petrol, the property of the Minister for Defence.
    He had previously been accused of absenting himself without
    leave from Rynanna Aerodrome, and of conduct prejudicial
    to good order and military discipline by flying an aircraft for private
    purposes. The hearing on those charges was concluded
    after Capt P. Cowan, defending, had said Thornton was absent without leave for only about two and a half hours from the time he
    left the aerodrome until he landed in Cornwall and was taken
    into custody. Findings will be promulgated. Capt. Cowan
    said hei did not propose to cross-examine or call witnesses, because the charge
    would resolve itself into legal argument as to whether or not the petrol
    was stolen.

    Suggest Alphonsus Joseph Thornton
    Last edited by paulmcmillan; 30th April 2015 at 17:51.

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    UNAUTHORISED FLIGHT BY IRISH ARMY PLANE

    Monday 19 January 1942 , Derry Journal , Londonderry, Northern Ireland

    UNAUTHORISED FLIGHT BYIRISH ARMY PLANE
    The following statement was issued on Friday by the Government Information Bureau, Dublin, on behalf of the
    Irish Department Defence: On the January 9th, a Junior officer and three other
    ranks of the - Corps took off unauthorised flight in Army
    aeroplane from Ryhanna Air Port. They subsequently landed In Cornwall, England. They have been handed
    over by the British Authorities and are now In the custody
    of the Irish Army.

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    Thanks for all of the information Paul! I'm tracking down so many different names now I'm starting to wonder if I might be Thornton!

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    last input today,

    I see an Alphonsus Joseph THORNTON born 1921 in Ireland, with a death of a man the same name in 2006 in Kent.

    Paul, can you check AIR78, my connections are not great.
    Dennis Burke
    - Dublin

    Foreign Aircrew and Aircraft Ireland 1939-1945
    www.ww2irishaviation.com

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    Air 78/157

    Alphonsus Joseph THORNTON #1796201

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