Hundreds of people lined the streets of a Yorkshire market town to pay their last respects to an inspirational Army sergeant who was known to his men as “Dad”.
Scores of soldiers who had recently returned from Afghanistan were yesterday joined by crowds of mourners five-deep along the high street in Skipton ahead of the funeral of Sergeant Gareth Thursby.
The 29-year-old serviceman from Skipton was killed by a rogue Afghan policeman last month.
The married father-of-two died with Private Thomas Wroe, 18, also of 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, when a man dressed as an Afghan police officer pretended to be injured so they would help him.
Major Malcolm Birkett explained that Sgt Thursby’s wife Louise had wanted to leave yesterday’s funeral until his company had arrived back from its tour. He said the men got back to the UK this week.
Maj Birkett said: “Louise asked specifically if we could wait until Alma company returned from operations. And you can see they’re here en masse – 120 of them. They’ve literally come in from Afghanistan and are here today to pay their last respects and take Gareth on his final journey.”
Asked to describe the NCO, Maj Birkett said: “One word to sum him up – inspirational.”
He added: “A fantastic leader of men, a superb soldier. He had such an affiliation, a close bond with his men that actually he was called ‘Dad’ throughout the tour. That’s what they thought of him.
“He is one-in-a-million, certainly a guy that will be remembered for everything right. He epitomises everything right in the Army.”
Sgt Thursby, who was shot dead in the south of Nahr-e Saraj district, Helmand province, is also survived by his two children, Joshua, 10, and Ruby, four.
Yesterday his widow and the two youngsters watched as Sgt Thursby’s coffin was carried into the churchyard before they led family members into the church.
In a tribute read during the service, Mrs Thursby said: “Even on his R&R, he worried about his men out in Afghanistan. Even while trying to put his feet up he never switched off, wanting to make sure everyone was OK and doing their jobs properly. Apart from his family, his job and his lads meant everything to him.”
She added: “He’ll live on in his children who are so proud of their daddy and want to make him proud of them too.
“They look out for him at night, sat on his star, watching over us, still keeping us safe.”
Earlier, applause filled the air from the huge crowd as the cortege passed through the centre of the town in bright sunshine.
Mourners fell in behind the hearse as it passed and followed it up to the front of Holy Trinity Church.
After her husband’s death, Mrs Thursby said: “Gareth was the love of my life. He was an amazing husband and father, happy, full of life and kind-hearted, with a passion for his work and family. He was brave, hard-working, a loving husband who was a devoted father to his children. Our hero.”
Sgt Thursby, whose nickname was Bull, had attended South Craven School as a youngster in Skipton before joining the Army on August 3, 1999.
After completing his training in early 2000, he joined 1st Battalion The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. His first deployment was to Kosovo in 2003 followed by Iraq in 2005.
He passed the section commander’s battle course to qualify for a posting to the Army Training Regiment in Pirbright as an instructor. Subsequently, he returned to 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment as a section commander.
In October 2010 he was promoted to sergeant and assumed his role as a platoon sergeant in Alma Company.
He was said to be deeply respected by all who worked with him and all who knew him.
Pte Wroe’s funeral took place earlier this month in Meltham, near Huddersfield.