THE Padiham parents of a hero soldier killed by a rogue Afghan policeman have paid tribute to “one of the finest men in the British Army”.
Sgt Gareth Thursby was shot dead in a “green on blue” attack on Saturday in Afghanistan only six days before his 30th birthday.
The married father-of-two was killed alongside 18-year-old comrade Private Thomas Wroe when a man dressed as a local Afghan policeman opened fire at a checkpoint in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand Province.
Sgt Thursby’s mother Caroline Whitaker (49) and her husband Brian have been left devastated at the death of their son.
The couple, who live in Victoria Road, left a simple and touching tribute, saying: “They have lost one of their best. He was one of the finest in the British Army. He would do anything for anyone.”
The 29-year-old sergeant, who was born in Skipton, leaves behind wife Louise and two children Ruby and Joshua.
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, hardworking, a loving husband who was a devoted father to his children. Our Hero.”
The family were expected to be at a repatriation ceremony yesterday as Sgt Thursby’s body was flown back to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire alongside that of fellow 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment solider Pt Wroe.
Sgt Thursby, who attended South Craven School near Keighley, joined the British Army in August 1999 and after completing his training was deployed to Kosovo in 2003 and 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 and returned to the 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (3 YORKS) as a section commander.
In October 2010 he was promoted to sergeant and assumed his role as a platoon sergeant in Alma Company.
Tributes have flooded in for Sgt Thursby who was affectionately known as “dad” by his fellow soldiers.
Ministry of Defence officials described his exemplary loyalty, moral courage and sense of duty and said his professionalism and commitment to his men were his true hallmarks.
Lieutenant Colonel Zachary Stenning, Commanding Officer, of 3 YORKS, said: “We have lost one of our finest, Sergeant Gareth Thursby.
“His nickname ‘Bull’ epitomised everything; he was strong, confident and unbelievably robust.
“He was admired and deeply respected by his soldiers and peers for his soldiering skills, physical strength and forthright honesty. Utterly professional, his standards were legendary.”
“Having been his Company Commander and now Commanding Officer, I know just how committed to soldiering he was.
“When there were dangerous moments, it was always Sergeant Thursby who could be found at the front, offering steadying words to his Platoon Commander and the young soldiers. Such dedication and indeed selfless love for his fellow soldiers is remarkable and testament to the qualities of this unique man.”
Major Finlay Bibby, Officer Commanding Alma Company, 3 YORKS, described him as an inspiring man.
He said: “He led from the front and set an example that could not be ignored. He was able to blend strong leadership with a genuine compassion for his men who adored him and referred to him as ‘Dad’. More importantly than being a superb soldier he was a devoted father and husband.”