HUNDREDS of people lined the streets of Skipton today to pay their last respects to an inspirational army sergeant who was known to his men as “dad”.
Scores of soldiers just back from Afghanistan were joined by crowds of mourners five-deep along the high street in the Dales market town, ahead of the funeral of Sergeant Gareth Thursby.
Sgt Thursby, 29, 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 a local Afghan policeman pretended to be injured so they would help him.
Major Malcolm Birkett explained that Sgt Thursby’s wife Louise wanted to leave today’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.
“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 was shot dead in the south of Nahr-e Saraj district, Helmand province.
He is survived by his wife and two children, Joshua, 10, and Ruby, four.
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.”
Pte Wroe’s funeral took place earlier this month in Meltham, near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.
There was applause 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.
Mrs Thursby and her two children watched as Sgt Thursby’s coffin was carried into the churchyard and then 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.”