William Isaac Thorndale


Obituary WIT WIT
WIT Medal WIT Medal WIT Medal

The images above show WIT with his wife Jane (nee Dowling) and WIT with his family. The obituary was from a local Reigate newspaper, most probably the Surrey Mirror. I have tried without success to find information about the Cook and Wilson sides of the family, or whether any descendants are still in Reigate.

The above are actually images of three of WIT's medals, shown singly. They have unfortunately been lost to the family probably around 1980 at the time of WIT's daughter's death, and were auctioned by someone from America and bought by someone in Australia back in 2005, so they have travelled a bit. I only found out after the auction had closed, so I couldn't bid for them, but at least I was able to snaffle the images. WIT had some other medals, one was the Khedive Star of 1882. The variation in his middle letter, "J", "L" and "I", are all due to misreading of his service record, it should be "I" in all cases. I don't know what happened to the Khedive's Star, but I guess I will be unable to bring any of his medals back into the family.

In December, 1910, WIT and his family moved to the coastguard station at Studland, Dorset, where he spent many happy years, and where his eldest daughter, Sarah, was a schoolteacher in the village. He retired to Reigate, Surrey, in 1919.

During his spare time, he sat down in 1932 and hand wrote his memoirs in two old coastguard order books, and these memories remain in the family still, by great good fortune. He seems to have been blessed with a phenominal memory even at over 70 years of age, being able to recount events; dates; ships by tonnage and more importantly for a sailor: guns and captain (even when only part of his squadron); and all without the aid of text books or diaries. I have spent many wonderful hours deciphering place names he only heard from shipmates, written down 50 years later by memory and spelt phonetically in his flowing script, against modern places today; names which sometimes have changed in the intervening years. Some defy my efforts still. Without these memoirs, which twice survived being bombed out at Reigate during the second world war, I would have learned very little about the man himself.

WIT died at his daughter's home in Redhill on 30th August 1949, aged 88 years. He was buried in Redhill's nearby Redstone Cemetery in the same grave as his wife Jane who had died September 10th, 1939. Sadly, I never met the man, though I feel I have come to know him from reading his memoirs, and researching what else I could find. I think he would have approved of the web-site, especially the story of his ship, HMS Calliope.

Click here for a fictional story written by my Aunt Evelyne Holliday (nee Gray) published in The Lady weekly 30th November 1961, who have very kindly given me permission to reproduce it here. It is based, very loosely I ought to say, on her grandfather's exploits. She also had a children's book published around 1960, but I cannot remember the title and have been unable to find a record of it anywhere. She also wrote "The Parish Church of St Anne" in 1973, which is available on bookfinder, under her married name.

Sydney and Betty Box

Sydney Box Betty E Box

As a remote famous-connection-trivia note, Jane Dowling's niece was the mother of one of the most famous British brother and sister pairings in world cinema in the second half of the 20th century, and who were my mother's second cousins. Sydney Box was born in 1905, the eldest of 5 children of whom Betty Evelyn Box was the youngest (with her twin, born in 1915). Sydney was head of Verity and Gainsborough Film studios, and with his wife Muriel, won the 1947 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for "The Seventh Veil" - by the way, some sources state it was the 1946 Oscar, though the web-site for the Oscars show it won the award at the nineteenth Academy Awards held in 1947. The film was made in 1945. Betty produced numerous films including the "Doctor..." series starring Dirk Bogarde, James Robertson Justice, Bridget Bardot, Donald Synden and many other famous actors. Other films which she produced include "Campbell's Kingdom" again with Dirk Bogarde, "The Iron Petticoat" with Katherine Hepburn and Bob Hope and "The Thirty-Nine Steps" with Kenneth More. Betty's husband was Peter Rogers, producer of all the "Carry On..." films. She received the OBE in 1958 and I thoroughly enjoyed reading her delightful autobiography: "Lifting The Lid". Sydney, whose autobiography "The Lion that Lost its Way" I also have, died in Australia in 1983, and Betty in the UK in 1999. It was in the late 1950s or early 1960s that I was taken to visit Betty with my parents, but being around 8 years old, my memories of the event are few and faint. I recall a large house, full of wonderful things (that I was under strict instructions not to touch!) and a large garden where we spent most of the day. Of Betty and her family, I sadly have no recollection at all. The occasion may have been around the time of Betty's mother's death. After her own mother's death in 1963, I don't think my mother kept in touch with her famous relative, probably from diffidence at the remoteness of the connection, but she never failed to take us to see a Betty Box film the moment it came to Brighton! It is also interesting to note that, with some 8 years between them, some of the images of Betty in her book could be my mother to a tee! It might justifiably be said that Sydney and Betty owed much of their success to being in the right place at the right time, but undeniably, it wouldn't have worked had they not been exactly and magnificently the right people to take advantage! Peter Rogers died 14 April 2009.

Here are the Wikipedia links to these people: Sydney Box, Muriel Box and Betty Box.