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Thornton, R., 3rd Eng., 1917
Photo : Shields Gazette 17/08/1917

3rd Engineer Richard Thornton

James Hoy Archive Shields Gazette 17/08/1917

Shields Gazette 17/08/1917

Photo: Peter Hoy Photo Shields Gazette 17/08/17

Admiralty Statement from the time.

James Hoy archive

Cartoon from Punch 1916

On Tower Hill Memorial is the name of Third Engineer Richard Thornton serving with the Merchant Marine who died 31/07/1917.

Richard was the son of Joseph Potts Thornton and Clarissa Thornton (nee Sanderson), of 164, St. Vincent St., South Shields. Born at South Shields.

He worked at the Middle Dock and Engineering Company at South Shields.

He was a well known footballer having played for South Shields and at one time was an assistant scoutmaster.

He joined the vessel 'Belgian Prince' taking the place of his brother, who came ashore to sit for his ticket. He was aged 23.

Richard was the officer who ordered the survivor [Silessi] who was endeavouring to try to save him by dragging him to the ship to abandon him because he - his would-be rescuer - wouldn't make it otherwise.

See Newspaper reports

The Belgian Prince was torpedoed by U-55 on the 31st July, but actually was sunk by scuttling charges the next day.

Source : James Hoy Archive

The Shields Gazette at the time had the Headlines of:-


Admiralty and the Drowning of the Crew of a Tyne Steamer

The Secretary of the Admiralty yesterday made he following announcement:- As already reported unofficially an the Press, the British steamship Belgian Prince was torpedoed by a German submarine on July 31st.

The crew abandoned the ship in two boats, and were ordered on the upper deck of the submarine. Under his direction the boats were then smashed with axes and the crew of the Belgian Prince deprived of their lifebelts.

The master [Harry Hassan] was taken below and the hatch closed. The submarine submerged without warning with 43 men standing on her deck. This was the entire crew of the Belgian Prince with the exception of three. All these were drowned. The three survivors had contrived to retain their lifebelts without the knowledge of the enemy. They were picked up after having been in the water for 11 hours.

The details of this atrocious outrage are supported by the separate affidavits of the three survivors. The cold-blooded murder of these men equals, if it does not transcend, the worst crimes which our enemies have committed against humanity.


Cyril Joseph Hoey (17), the only son of Mr and Mrs S. Hoey, master and matron of Morpeth Workhouse, was one of the victims of the Belgian Prince. He was serving his apprenticeship on the vessel.

One of the victims from the crew of the Belgian Prince was Apprentice Ralph Henderson Robinson (18), [remembered on C105.28] whose widowed mother lives in Chester-le-Street. He was an only child. He had been away from for less than a fortnight when he was drowned, and had been at home as a consequence of having been torpedoed previously. A month ago he gave an exhibition of high diving at a local swimming gala, and won one of the prizes."

Richard Thornton is remembered at South Shields on S86.051 and in S86.086 and on our List of Ships’ crews.

The CWGC entry for 3rd Engineer Thornton

If you know more about this person, please send the details to janet@newmp.org.uk