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Bert Thornton celebrates his ninetieth birthday on the 28th of this month. Bert, like his wife Sheila, is well known and much loved locally - for all the right reasons. Many Sentinel readers will join us in wishing him MANY HAPPY RETURNS.

Bert is featured, talking to David Dimbleby, in 'The North: Full Steam Ahead', the fifth in the series 'How We Built Britain', to be shown on BBC One at 9pm on Sunday, July 8th.

Roger Clarke’s Saltaire people Special

Bert was born at No.15, Shirley Street. When he was just eighteen months old his father died and when his mother remarried Bert was raised by his grandmother, Mary Jane Ridgeway. He attended Albert Road and Saltaire schools and, at thirteen, gained a place at Shipley Selective Central School (now Shipley CE School on Otley Road). At fifteen he joined a firm of accountants in Bradford and remained in accountancy for the rest of his professional life. After the war, he rejoined Thoseby, Son & Co. in Bradford, but his main period of employment was with a textile company in Bingley.

Bert's army career makes fascinating reading. He was injured on the football field, playing for Salts, on the day before his medical for joining up. His close friend passed the medical A1, was posted overseas and was killed in the trenches a few weeks later. Because of his injury, Bert joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and spent time in hospitals in Naburn, near York, and in Iceland, where he was posted for two and a half years. He nursed survivors of HMSs Hood and Prince of Wales, both sunk by the Bismark. He was injured in the Normandy landings and was mentioned in dispatches when a doodlebug exploded in Antwerp and he continued going back into the ruins to rescue people. One of his final postings was to Norway, where he was involved in the liberation of the country in May 1945, for which he still has a certificate presented to him by King Haakon.

After the war, in 1946, Bert returned to live with his grandmother on Shirley Street, buying the house for £250. Marriage to Sheila, a schoolteacher from Ironbridge in Shropshire who by 1983 was deputy head at Albert Road School, came at this time. Bert was a teacher at the Congregational Sunday School (where Caroline Street car park now is); was in the church choir; was an Elder and church auditor, and made a huge contribution to Scouting. Both he and Sheila have done much to open up the United Reformed Church building to the public and remain highly valued members of the church community. In fact, Bert still regularly gives talks to schools about the church and Village. Despite recent ill health, this remarkable man keeps bouncing back, displaying a resilience and commitment to other people which should be an example to us all.

Thorntons preceded Salts!
The Thornton family history in the area began with Bert's great-grandfather, Anthony Thornton, a manager at Dixon's Mill when it was demolished to make way for the existing Salts Mill, where Bert's grandfather and father subsequently worked. Bert's mother's family originated in Market Deeping in South Lincolnshire, her grandfather being the village blacksmith until rural poverty, and especially the potato famine, drove many families to seek work in the new industrialising areas of the North.

Bert is featured, talking to David Dimbleby, in 'The North: Full Steam Ahead', the fifth in the series 'How We Built Britain', to be shown on BBC One at 9pm on Sunday, July 8th.

Read Bert Thornton's own recollections of growing up in Saltaire >


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