Thora Silverthorne

The Olive Tree, my Spanish Civil War Saga, is based on true events and real people. For example, Thora Silverthorne of Abertillery, Wales. 

Thora Silverthorne

In 1936, Thora volunteered to go to Spain as a nurse. There, she became a matron in a hospital established in a primitive farmhouse. 

“I had done a lot of operations before,” Thora said, “but in Spain it was quite different. We dealt with seriously injured people. Once we treated 700 people over five days. We were under fire. We had a Red Cross on the roof, but were warned, ‘take it down – it’s the first thing the fascists will aim for.’”

On her return to Britain, Thora helped to establish the first union for nurses, the National Association of Nurses, in 1937.

Thora was born on 25 November 1910 in Abertillery, Wales one of eight children belonging to George Silverthorne and Sarah Boyt. Sadly, Sarah died in 1927 when Thora was sixteen while George worked at the Vivian and Six Bells Collieries and was an active member of the South Wales Miners Federation. George’s political and social conscience greatly shaped Thora’s life and influenced her decision to nurse in Spain.

The census from 1911 when Thora was four months old

Born in Abertillery, Wales on 25 November 1910, Thora Silverthorne went on to nurse in Spain and enjoyed a distinguished nursing career.

Thora’s father, George, was a leading member of the National Union of Mineworkers and active in the struggle to improve miners’ wages and conditions. Following the collapse of the 1926 General Strike, George was one of the first to fall victim to the widespread dismissals conducted by the private mine owners. Consequently, he emigrated to Reading in order to find work to support his family.

From Reading, Thora moved to Oxford to study nursing. The records show that she was a student between 1931-34 at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford. She qualified on 23 November 1934 and in 1936 was a resident at Hammersmith Hospital in London before embarking on her journey to Spain.