Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thornton, Geoffrey (1925–1992)

by Craig Tibbitts

This article was published online in 2016

Geoffrey Thornton (1925-1992), air force officer and horticulturalist, was born on 13 January 1925 at Mildura, Victoria, second youngest of seven children of Robert Sturgess Thornton, fruit grower, and his wife Agnes Olive, née Watmuff. Educated at Dareton, Curlwaa, and Wentworth Central Public schools, New South Wales, Geoffrey gained his Intermediate certificate. On leaving school he worked as a fruit grower, sometimes on the family owned fruit plots in the Mildura area. Known as ‘Blue’ because of his red hair, he stood almost six feet (183 cm) tall, had a lean, athletic build, and excelled at several sports, including tennis, cricket, and football. Later he also became a skilled snooker and billiards player. With the outbreak of World War II, three of his elder brothers enlisted in the armed forces and his father joined the Volunteer Defence Corps.

Enrolling in the Air Training Corps in March 1942, Thornton soon applied for aircrew and enlisted in the Citizen Air Force on 18 June 1943. During the next two years he attended various training units and schools in Australia but did not serve overseas. Promoted to warrant officer on 4 December 1945, he was considered an exceptional pilot and potential officer material.

Choosing to stay with the air force after the war’s end, in March 1947 Thornton joined the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan and was posted to No. 77 Squadron. He transferred to the Permanent Air Force on 17 June 1949. Following the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, his squadron was despatched to the Korean peninsula and was soon in the thick of action. Between July 1950 and December 1951 Thornton flew almost two hundred sorties in both Mustangs and Meteors. Known as a particularly keen, determined, and aggressive pilot, he pressed home attacks on ground targets at dangerously low levels. His commanding officer assessed his leadership in the air ‘as difficult to surpass.' Awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal (1951), Air Force Medal (1951), and United States of America’s Air Medal (1951), he was also mentioned in despatches. In November 1950 he had been appointed to a four-year short service commission as a flying officer. Twelve months later he was promoted to acting flight lieutenant.

Returning to Australia in early 1952, Thornton married Irene Barbara London at Raymond Terrace, New South Wales. His next posting was to No. 76 Squadron stationed in Malta, where he served from July 1952. In April 1953 he was court martialled and severely reprimanded for striking an airman. Although he was promoted to substantive flight lieutenant with effect from November 1953, his commission was unlikely to be extended. He decided to take up a block of land in his home district under New South Wales’s War Service Land Settlement Act. Resigning on 1 June 1954, he transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve the next day.

At Coomealla, Thornton produced dried fruits and grew citrus until 1973 when he sold the property. With his first marriage dissolved, in 1961 at Mildura he had married Margaret Rose Stone (d. 1971), a nurse. Survived by the son of his second marriage, he died on 27 July 1992 and is buried in Nichols Point Cemetery, Mildura.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Hurst, Doug. The Forgotten Few. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2008
  • Mildura and District Genealogical Society. Information supplied to author
  • National Archives of Australia. A12372, Thornton Geoffrey

Citation details

Craig Tibbitts, 'Thornton, Geoffrey (1925–1992)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/thornton-geoffrey-17649/text29291, published online 2016, accessed online 23 August 2019.

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