Hundreds of mourners shed tears and reflected sombrely in the Autumn sunshine as a volunteer soldier’s body was brought home to be laid to rest in his South Yorkshire village.
Nearly 1,000 people, including local school children, lined the route before gathering in the churchyard or taking their seats in the pews at All Saint’s Church in Darton, Barnsley, for the military funeral of ‘Yorkshire Warrior’ 28-year-old Territorial Army soldier Matthew Thornton.
Matthew’s coffin was draped with the Union Flag flag and topped with his hat, belt, a wreath of white carnations and a single white rose.
A lone church bell rang out poignantly as the coffin was carried in a procession through Darton and a guard of honour by six members of the Yorkshire Regiment, saluted by soldiers and veterans holding aloft military standards.
The coffin was followed by Matthew’s devastated parents Susan and Michael Thornton and his brother Nathan, sister Sarah and girlfriend Melina.
Mrs Thornton burst into tears and was comforted by her husband as her son’s body was taken in to the church, accompanied by music from the film Gladiator.
Crowds of onlookers from the local community, as well as others in military fatigues, uniforms and ties, also stood to listen to the service.
Matthew - described during the service as a ‘selfless’ soldier who ‘paid the ultimate sacrifice’ - died in an explosion 48 hours before Remembrance Day while on deployment with 1st Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment.
The funeral included tributes from Matthew’s Army comrades, as well as family and friends, and solemn readings and hymns.
Lieutenant Colonel Ian Crowley MC, Pte Thornton’s commanding officer, paid tribute to Matthew’s ‘unquestioning loyalty’ and said he was a ‘man of real character’.
“He had talent to match the swagger and an inner strength based on a strong moral compass and a love of his family,” Lt Col Crowley said.
Matthew managed to fit his TA life with 4th Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment around his job at Darton firm Premdor, which makes door and window frames, he added.
“A volunteer soldier has competing requirements, to balance time with work, family and military commitments,” Lt Col Crowley said.
“Matthew seems to have had the knack of achieving that balance. He was professional, fit, enthusiastic and ready to party after working hard.
“A true Yorkshire warrior, we will remember him.”
The soldier’s uncle, Peter Thornton, read the poem Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep by Mary Frye, while pal Scott Menzies offered personal memories of his friend. “Matt was such an outgoing person, he was always making new friends,” Scott said.
“He was incredibly kind and generous and always said his family and friends meant the most to him.”
The congregation remembered happier times by clapping along to one of Matthew’s favourite songs, Party Rock Anthem by dance group LMFAO.
They also sang military hymns I Vow To Thee My Country and Onward Christian Soldiers, as well as The Lord Is My Shepherd.
Reverend Andrew Martlew, officiating chaplain for Matthew’s battalion, said he died fighting for his country.
“He was one of a steady stream of young men and women who have laid down their lives for their friends, for us and for our nation,” said Rev Martlew.
“The people who killed Matthew were intolerant, bigoted and fuelled by hatred.”
The coffin left the church surrounded by standard bearers before being buried in a plot in the cemetery.
A wake was held afterwards at the Rose and Crown pub, opposite the church, and Darton Liberal Club.