S - U

Silverthorne Thora

Thora Silverthorne 

Nurses’ leader and International Brigadier, Thora Silverthorne (pictured left with Rodney Bickerstaffe) was born in Abertillery on the 25th November 1910. She was the daughter of George Richard Silverthorne, a miner at the Vivian & Six Bells Pit and Sarah Boyt of Bargoed. Her early years were spent at 170 Alma Street, Abertillery, she secured a scholarship to Nataglo County School (Hafod) and attended the local Baptist church run by Pastor Rev Ivor Evans.
 
She joined the Young Communist League at 16 and, when she was old enough, the Abertillery Communist Party. Her father was a founder member of the local Communist Party and active in the miners union. Thora chaired meetings with prominent speakers such as Arthur Horner, the miners’ leader. "Everyone in Abertillery talked politics," she was to say of these times.

With her mother’s early death, as one of seven children, she was forced to leave Abertillery for England. Initially she worked as a nanny for Sutcliffe-Bartlett, the Reading Labour MP, but fitted in selling the Daily Worker to the local railwaymen.

She then followed her sister into nursing at Oxford and was involved in Communist Party activities in the city. She participated with her close friend Christopher Hill in the October Club. The health needs of the hunger marchers that passed through Oxford on their way to London were tended to by her “helping her self to bandages and dressings on the wards”. She recalled that “Their feet were often in particularly bad state.”
 
In 1935 Thora secured a Sister’s post at Hammersmith hospital and worked closely with Dr Charles Wortham Brook
and his wife, also a nurse, Iris. 
(Pic right: Thora in the 1930s)
  At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War she volunteerd to nurse, and was "elected" Matron at Granen hospital, caring for many anti-fascist German soldiers in the Thaelmann Centuria. The International Brigadier, Michael Livesey, died in her - arms a memory she never forgot. Later, she was herself drafted into the International Brigade.

On her return she married Dr Kenneth Sinclair Loutit, who she had met in Spain. They lived at 12 Great Ormond Street. Loutit was elected as a “unity front” Councillor prior to the War for Holborn, London. 
 
Her involvement as sub editor of Nursing Illustrated led her to establish a nurses union (The National Nurses Association). This was a consciously progressive union for nurses in direct competition with the reactionary (Royal) College of Nursing. The RCN and hospital managers attacked her as “not being a registered nurse” or “paid by Moscow”, during the late 1930s. With the help of Communist Party nurses such as Nancy Blackburn (Zinkin), the Association ran a very high profile campaign to highlight the poor pay and conditions of nurses. The Association latter amalgamated with NUPE. Bryn Roberts, the General Secretary of that union was a native of Abertillery and a man whom Thora admired.

After the war she became a union official in the Civil Service Association. As Secretary of the Socialist Medical Association, she met Attlee and other Ministers to discuss the establishment of the NHS in 1948.
 
She married Nares Craig (a relative of Lord Carnarvon) from Clitheroe, Lancashire a member of the CP’s architect group and retired to Llanfyllin, Powys, North Wales for 25 years. Clive Jenkins and Frank Cousins were regular visitors there. Thora returned to London, to be close to her daughter Lucy Craig (a Haringey Labour Councillor), a few years before her death on 17th January 1999. The funeral service at Marylebone cemetery on 25th January  heard `the Valley of Jarama’, `The Internationale’, Cwm Rhondda and a recording of the Welsh hymn “Land of my fathers” by  Paul Robeson.
 

Michael Walker