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THERE were moving scenes as the family of a South Yorkshire Territorial Army soldier killed in a bomb blast in Afghanistan gathered to pay their respects as his body was repatriated back to the UK.

Private Matthew Thornton, aged 28, from Barnsley and a member of 4th Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, was killed last Wednesday, just 48 hours before Remembrance Day.

His body was flown to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire and about 200 people gathered at a memorial garden near the airbase to pay their respects.

The 28-year-old’s loved ones had placed white roses on the roof of the hearse before movingly touching the glass with their hands - as old veterans and serving soldiers saluted.

Afterwards, the crowd erupted into a spontaneous round of applause and one family member - believed to be the soldier’s father, Michael, thanked everyone.

He said: “Thank you so much, thank you.”

Tributes were also paid by David Moody, Lord-Lieutenant of South Yorkshire, who said: “Matthew Thornton volunteered to serve his country in Afghanistan and lost his life. We will remember him and his sacrifice and we will support his family as they come to terms with his loss.”

Pte Thornton, nicknamed ‘Thorney’, was a former pupil at Darton High School and worked for Barnsley firm Premdor, which makes door and window frames. In his spare time he was a keen snowboarder.

He signed up for the Territorial Army in 2004 but left three years later, only to re-enlist in 2009, eager to deploy to Afghanistan.

His family said his death would leave ‘a huge hole in all our lives’.

In a statement, Pte Thornton’s father Michael, mother Susan, sister Sarah and brother Nathan said: “Matthew was a dedicated soldier and passionate about the job. He loved what he was doing.

“He loved life and lived it to the full - in his work, in his role with the Territorial Army and in his leisure time.

“Matthew will be greatly missed by his family, his TA colleagues and his friends.”

Lieutenant Colonel Ian Crowley MC, commanding officer, 4th Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, paid tribute to a ‘fine soldier and even finer man’.

He said: “It is a very tragic loss of a fine young soldier who was hugely respected by his comrades and commanders.

“Private Matthew Thornton displayed that he had the volunteer ethos in spades. He was a fine soldier and an even finer man.”

Pte Thornton deployed to Afghanistan with the 1st Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment in October this year.

He was patrolling with a small group when they were caught in an attack involving small arms fire and grenades. As Pte Thornton responded he was caught in a bomb blast and died.

His death took the number of British personnel who have died since operations began in Afghanistan in 2001 to 385.

Yesterday, a soldier from the 2nd Battalion The Rifles, serving with the 1st Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, was killed in an explosion in Helmand .

n See footage from the repatriation ceremony at www.thestar.co.uk/video