THOUSANDS thronged the funeral route of a fallen soldier - shot dead in Afghanistan - who was known simply to his comrades as ‘Dad’.

And in tribute to Sgt Gareth Thursby, whose mother lives in Padiham, around 120 of his fellow soldiers jetted in to march in his honour.

His wife Louise, at his full military funeral in Skipton, said that, after his family, ‘his job and his lads were his life’.

Sgt Thursby, who was killed aged 29 by a rogue Afghan policeman on September 15, also leaves two children, Joshua and Ruby, and mother Caroline Whitaker, who lives in Victoria Road, Padiham, with her husband Brian.

His mother said that throughout her grief she had always felt proud of her son who was nicknamed ‘The Bull’ because of his determination and strength of character.

Sgt Thursby attended South Craven School, in Cross Hills, located between Colne and Keighley, before joining the Army in August 1999. After completing his training in early 2000, he joined 1st Battalion, The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment.

Veterans and townsfolk thronged the market town’s main street for his funeral parade, with spontaneous applause breaking out in places, en-route to Holy Trinity Church.

Mrs Thursby and Joshua, 10, and four-year-old Ruby, watched as Sgt Thursby’s coffin was carried into the churchyard by his comrades and then led family members into the church.

Major Malcolm Birkett, of the Yorkshire Regiment in which the sergeant served, said that Louise had wanted her husband’s funeral to be delayed until his company had returned from their Afghan tour of duty.

He 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.”

The major later described him as a ‘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 and colleague Private Thomas Wroe were killed in the south of Nahr-e Saraj district, in Helmand province, by a rogue Afghan policeman who pretended to be hurt - then turned on them.

In a tribute read during the service, his wife: "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 okay 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.”

His first deployment was to Kosovo in 2003 followed by Iraq in 2005. In October 2010 he was promoted to sergeant and assumed his role as a platoon sergeant in Alma Company.

The funeral services was followed by cremation at Skipton’s Waltonwrays cemetery. Private Wroe’ funeral was held at Meltham, near Huddersfield, earlier this month.