Peasants to Puddles
My Family History - By Nicky Rowberry

Raymond Hercules Thorburn - Private 6840

This page is dedicated to the memory of Raymond Hercules Thorburn who died on 19th February 1917 in World War 1.

Raymond (Ray) Hercules Thorburn was born in 1894 in Budgong, New South Wales, Australia, the second son of William Thorburn and his wife Mary Faulks. He died on 19 February 1917 in England, one of the many millions of men who lost their lives in World War 1. It seemed sad for him to have died and all but these bare facts remembered, so I've tried to find out at least a little about his life until his untimely death aged just 22.

Raymond's father William Thorburn was born in Australia, but to Scottish parents who had presumably emigrated in the hope of a better life. They were part of a large influx of Scots, with several brothers from the same Thorburn family who settled in New South Wales. The original Thorburn settlers and their families formed a large extended family in the area. At some point the family relocated to nearby Meroo Meadows, where they stayed for the rest of Ray's life. As an adult before the war Raymond worked as a farmer, quite possibly for his father William. Sadly William died in February 1916 - he succumbed to blood poisoning after having his leg amputated. It must have been a very hard decision for Raymond to sign up after such a terrible year for the family.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website revealed that Ray was a Private in the 13th Battalion of the Australian Infantry and that his service number was 6840 and that he is commemorated at the Stratford-Sub-Castle Cemetery in England. I can't reproduce the CWGC photo of the cemetery, but to see his page please click here. The Australian War Memorial website confirms much the same here.

Fortunately Raymond's attestation papers and service record survive and have a wealth of information about his time in the army. The records show that he signed up on 14th October 1916, he was aged just over 22 and his occupation was given as Farmer. The image below shows part of the Attestation form. His mother Mary Thorburn is listed as next of kin.

The service record shows that Raymond left Australia on 8th November 1916 when he embarked from Sydney landing in England on 10th January 1917. He was initially stationed at Codford in Wiltshire, one of the main training camps for the Australian army. Only a month later he was admitted to nearby Sutton Veny military hospital. Initially it was put down as a cough or influenza, but quickly developed into pneumonia. He was transferred to Salisbury Isolation Hospital, based at Stratford Sub Castle. He died of bronchio-pneumonia and heart failure, within a week of being admitted to hospital. He had been in the army for less than 4 months and in England for less than 6 weeks.

His service records contain lots of correspondence from the army to his mother, trying to ascertain whether his father was still alive. Sadly his mother had also died by the time of the letters. The letters from the army were tring to find out what to do with his medals. With no response forthcoming, sadly his medals may have been destroyed. The image below shows his entitlement.

Raymond Thorburn was buried in Stratford Sub Castle churchyard near Salisbury, close to the Isolation Hospital.

It took a few weeks for news of his death to reach the local newspapers, but it was eventually reported in the The Nowra Leader on 23rd March 1917 (image reproduced courtesy of The National Library of Australia). The report describes Ray as a likeable young man, who died serving his country.

As I haven't tracked down a photo of Ray yet, the next best thing I've found is this description from his service records: Height 5 feet 9 inches, chest measurement 32/35 inches, complexion fair, grey eyes and fair hair and a scar on his knee. It would be so much better though to be able to add a photo of Ray - so if anyone out there has one, do please get in touch. Ray had several brothers and sisters, so hopefully there are descendants out there who might just have a photo. Feel free to e-mail me at: n.rowberry@btinternet.com

In researching Raymond's final days, several sites have been invaluable, so I've included links to some of them here.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is a great site to start with to give you the basic details you would need to then start digging deeper:

The Australian War Memorial website gives lots of information on Australian soldiers who died in WW1 (and other conflicts)

The National Library of Australia is a fantastic online resource for, amongst other things, digitised newspapers and images.


If any of the above is of further interest, please feel free to contact me at: n.rowberry@btinternet.com

Nicky Rowberry 2017

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Peasants to Puddles - My Family History. By Nicky Rowberry