Lieutenant-Colonel John Conrad of Orono was presented with an historic sword that was once owned by a British hero of the First World War. The unexpected gift was given by Rotarians Elfi and Georg Krohn, following a meeting of the Rotary Club of Bowmanville on November 9th where Conrad was the guest speaker.
The Krohns, who live in Hampton, had owned the sword since 1961, when Georg purchased it in London, England at the famous Portobello Market. The piece is a World War I, 1897-pattern Infantry Officer’s sword manufactured by Wilkinson, with the serial number still legible. Although the company no longer makes swords, Wilkinson has records of its serial numbers from which the original owner can be traced.
Using the serial number, the Krohns discovered that the sword was first owned by Second Lieutenant Robert (“Bobby”) West Thornton of the 4th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. According to Georg Krohn, Thornton was killed in action near Hooge in Flanders, Belgium on the 16th of June, 1915, while serving as acting Lieutenant as part of the failed Battle of Bellewaerde. Thornton was the battalion’s machine gun officer, and received the distinction “Mentioned in Dispatches” for his bravery in battle.
“Just prior to his death, he had been recommended for the Military Cross,” said Krohn. “The senior officer [who survived] the attack in which Thornton was killed later wrote of him, ‘He was a real good ‘un and brave as a lion.’”
As he fell beyond the line eventually held by the Germans, Thornton has no grave, said Krohn. He is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial in Belgium, and in the local church at Framfield, Sussex, England.
Surprised by the gift, Conrad said he is “deeply grateful” for the sword. “I was speechless last week when they presented it to me,” he told the Orono Times. “The gift is an enormous gesture – almost too much to give a non-family member.”
Conrad explained that a sword is a long-established symbol of command authority in the military, and said he is thrilled to finally have one of his own. “I have taken command of two battalions in the Canadian Forces with borrowed swords,” he said. Just this past September, Conrad took command of the 32nd Service Battalion, a reserve combat logistics battalion based in North York. He previously commanded a regular unit in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2006.
“I never purchased a sword when I left the Royal Military College as a Second Lieutenant, opting instead [to buy] a 1985 Dodge Charger,” recalled Conrad. “I regretted it. For years, I have been keeping an eye open for one I could afford, but as you know, it is never the right time to spend a lot of money when there are family responsibilities.”
“The Wilkinson Company swords were always my favourites,” he said, clearly pleased with what he called his “new old sword”.
Conrad’s Rotary address focused on Clarington’s contributions to the world’s many armed conflicts from the First World War to present.
– with files from Marg Zwart, The Orono Times