Thora Silverthorne

Abertillery Museum, Market Street, Abertillery.

Thora was born at 170 Alma Street, Abertillery in 1910 to parents George and Sarah Silverthorne and was the fifth of eight children. She was educated at Nantyglo Primary School and won a scholarship to Abertillery Grammar School. She attended Sunday School at Blaenau Gwent Baptist Chapel and by the age of 16 she joined the Young Communist League.

Sadly, she lost her mother in 1927 and her family moved to England, some say because of her fathers role as an active trade unionist. She gained employment as nanny to for the local Reading MP Sommerville Hastings, the founder and president of the Socialist Medical Association. The MP encouraged her to train as a nurse and soon she was working alongside her sister in the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford.

On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, she was one of the first to sign up for the Spanish Medical Aid Committee. She was elected to be the matron of a 36-bed British Hospital in a primitive farmhouse near Huesca, Aragon. Here she cared for wounded soldiers of the International Brigade under the most challenging of conditions. While in Spain she fell in love with the hospital doctor Dr. Kenneth Sinclair-Loutit, getting married on her return to the UK in 1937. She became sub-editor of Nursing Illustrated, and moved by the poor pay and conditions of nurses she established the first nurses’ union, the National Association of Nurses in 1937, causing displeasure amongst the nursing hierarchy and establishment. The National Association of Nurses eventually amalgamated with NUPE led by another Abertillerian, Arthur Bryn Roberts, who was well regarded by Thora.

After WWII Thora married Nares Craig and became the assistant Secretary of the Socialist Medical Association making a large contribution the establishing of the NHS. She regularly met Clem Attlee and Nye Bevan to provide the Socialist Medical Association’s view of what the new service should be. After her retirement from the Civil Service Clerical Association she returned to Wales and lived happily at Llanfyllin, Powys, until poor health necessitated a return to London where she died in 1999. She was survived by her husband and 4 children.

The Purple Plaque was unveiled on Friday, May 13, 2022 in the presences of Thora’s family, Julie Morgan MS and Meryl James of the Purple Plaques Committee.