Thornley, like many villages in England, has a War Memorial located near the centre of town on High Street (DH6 3EN). This memorial includes the names of all the local men who lost their lives in World War I, World War II, and other conflicts around the world.

The aftermath of the First World War saw the biggest single wave of public commemoration ever with tens of thousands of memorials erected across England. This was the result of both the huge impact on communities of the loss of three quarters of a million British lives, and also the official policy of not repatriating the dead: therefore the memorials provided the main focus of the grief felt at this great loss.

Thornley was the pit village for Thornley Colliery. The colliery was opened in 1835 and closed in 1970. Following the First World War, the community erected a memorial plaque in the newly-built Miner’s Welfare Hall: the plaque listed the names of 133 men, all of whom had worked in Thornley Colliery, who died in the conflict. It was unveiled in 1925, but in 1944 the Hall burnt down. Following the Second World War the free-standing memorial wall was built on the village green, commemorating all those local service personnel who had died in the First and Second World Wars. The names of one man who died whilst serving in the British Army of the Rhine, and one in the Northern Ireland conflict, were later added.

There is also a separate memorial for John Scott “Jack” Youll V.C. Originally an electrician at Thornley Colliery, Youll was a temporary second lieutenant for the Northumberland Fusiliers during the First World War. While commanding a patrol on 15 June, 1918, Youll’s unit came under fire near Asiago, Italy. He was able to send his men to safety and remained to observe the situation. When he realised he would be unable to rejoin his company, Second Lieutenant Youll joined a neighbouring unit and was able to maintain control until faced with machine gun fire. Youll rushed the gunner and, having dealt many a final blow to the enemy already, captured the gun and turned it upon the enemy. He led several men in three counter-attacks until reverse fire forced them to abandon their position. According to The London Gazette, Youll was awarded the Victoria Cross for “his complete disregard of personal safety and very gallant leading” (The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30811. pp. 8723-8724. 23 July 1918).

Thornley honoured Youll with a public ceremony on 10 September, 1918 at the hippodrome. He was presented with a gold watch and chain and a large, silver cigarette case. Modesty prevailed in Jack’s response with a humble statement: “There are two kinds of honour, the seen and the unseen. I hope the people of Thornley give the rest of the boys the same recognition on their return.” Youll returned to duty soon after the presentation ceremony and was killed in action at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto on 27 October, 1918.