Pain and pride as village turns out to honour ‘true Yorkshire warrior’

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PAIN and pride were etched on the faces of mourners at a Yorkshire church yesterday as hundreds of people gathered to pay their respects to a hero.

Private Matthew Thornton was described as a “true Yorkshire warrior” as family and friends gathered at his funeral in Darton, near Barnsley, where he lived.

The village’s All Saints’ Church and its churchyard were packed for the solemn occasion, although many of the Territorial Army soldier’s colleagues were keen to remember the 28-year-old as he was in life.

Pte Thornton, from 4th Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment died 48 hours before Remembrance Day.

Pte Thornton had left the TA in 2007, but re-enlisted two years later to serve in Afghanistan.

He was killed in a blast from a improvised explosive device (IED) on November 9, while serving in Helmand Province.

Mourners in the churchyard stood in silence as the coffin was carried through a guard of honour.

Pte Thornton’s father and mother, Michael and Susan, comforted each other as they followed the coffin, which was draped with a Union Flag and had his Army cap and belt on top.

Dozens of family members followed them into the small village church.

Inside, Lieutenant Colonel Ian Crowley, commanding officer, 4th Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, said: “For me he was the epitome of the modern volunteer soldier – professional, fit, enthusiastic and ready to party after working hard.”

Away from the Army, Pte Thornton worked for Barnsley-based company Premdor, manufacturing door and window frames, at its factory a short distance from his home.

Pte Thornton was patrolling with a small group of soldiers when they were caught in an attack involving small arms fire and grenades.

As Pte Thornton responded he was caught in the blast and died.

Lt Col Crowley said he thought Pte Thornton was destined for promotion after the tour of Afghanistan.

The officer said: “He cared deeply for those around him and was always willing to offer support and help to those who needed it.”

He described him as a “true Yorkshire warrior”.

Pte Thornton’s friend Scott Menzies told the congregation: “Matt was a remarkable, loyal friend. He was incredibly kind and generous.

“Above all, Matt believed in fighting for his country and he always said that his family and friends meant the most to him.”

The Rev Andrew Martlew, officiating chaplain of Pte Thornton’s Battalion, compared the bonds within the Army with those found in the mining communities around the church which, he said, were sadly also used to dealing with fatalities.

Mr Martlew said: “The people who killed Matthew were intolerant, bigoted, fuelled by hatred. One way of honouring Matthew Thornton is to make sure our community never thinks like them.”

Outside the church, Lieutenant Alec Wood said: “He was a fantastic bloke. He really summed up the Territorial Army ethos. He was a fantastic volunteer soldier.”

He added: “He was very keen to live life to the full. He wanted to be part of the big picture and he wanted to make a positive contribution.

“He’s going to be sorely missed by everyone in the company and the battalion. It takes quite a bit of courage to volunteer to go out to Afghanistan. He just saw it as a chance to do his bit.”

The funeral was also attended by Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis, a former paratrooper who himself served in Afghanistan.

He said: “I think the community, Barnsley and Darton are extremely proud of Matthew.

“He didn’t have to go to Afghanistan, but he chose to and they remember that. This is a close-knit community and we feel very hard the loss of one of our own,” he said.