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Cornelia Elizabeth Thornton
(1893~1918)

By Roger C. Davis

Cornelia Elizabeth Thornton (19 May 1893-28 Sept. 1918) was a World War I casualty from Bena, VA.  Cornelia was the eldest daughter of eight children of Harry Lee and Virginia Lee Rowe Thornton, Sr. of the Thornton Creek area of Achilles in Gloucester County, VA.  (Cornelia was the aunt of Ginny Snowden, who is currently branch manager of Gloucester Point Library, and also, of Ed Thornton, GGSV member.)

 She was “one of three students that made up the first graduating class from Achilles High School in 1914.” 1  After high school she went to nursing school at Franklin Square Hospital in Baltimore, MD, where she earned her nursing degree in 1917. 2

 Cornelia (or Nellie as she was known to her friends) had the misfortune of contracting flu on the voyage over the Atlantic to England.  This turned into pneumonia and led to her death on 28 September 1918 at U. S. Army Base #58, AEF, in Portsmouth, England.  She was the first American nurse to die in the war after the United States entered the conflict.  Eleven other Gloucester residents were among the estimated 116,708 American lives lost.” 3  She was first buried at a church in Winchester, England “with full military honors to which an army officer is entitled”.

The 27 May 1920 Mathews Journal notes “the bodies of 10 women war nurses, who died while on duty with the overseas forces, and the first to be brought home, will arrive Sunday at New York on the Steamer Princess Matoaka.  Among them is Miss Cornelia Thornton of Achilles.” 4  She was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

1. Gloucester-Mathews Gazette-Journal, 11 Nov. 1993, p. 1A & 13A.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.

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