THE parents of the highest ranking British Army officer killed in Afghanistan spoke of their pride at seeing his boots and uniform displayed at an exhibition on the Great War.

And they told of their hope that it may serve as a reminder of the ongoing sacrifice made by the armed forces.

Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe, 39, the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion of the Welsh Guards, was killed by an explosion near Lashkar Gah, Helmand Province, in July 2009.

He was the most senior officer to have died in conflict since Lt Col ‘H’ Jones died in the Falklands in 1982.

Lt Col Thorneloe left behind his wife, Sally, and two daughters, Hannah and Sophie.

His family and former regiment have loaned his uniform and size 12 boots for an exhibition on the First World War, which opens today at Blen-heim Palace in Woodstock.

The display recounts the stories of people associated with the Blenheim estate who fought and died in the 1914-1918 war. A special section has been dedicated to Welsh Guardsman Lt Col Thorneloe who grew up in nearby Kirtlington and was a pupil at Cothill and Radley Schools, near Abingdon, and worked as a guide at the palace as a teenager.

His parents John and Veronica still live in Kirtlington.

Mrs Thorneloe is head guide at the palace – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mr Thorneloe, a retired major in the Royal Artillery who served from 1940-1963, described his son as “the brightest of the best,” saying: “He joined the Army to play polo, as they have a very good team, but as things got going he became more of a soldier than a polo player.

“He was totally motivated. He knew you’ve got to do more than you ask the chaps to do. I just wish he was here.

“Anyone who sees war as a glamorous thing is a fool, but when the alternative is something unimaginable there’s no choice.”

Mrs Thorneloe said: “It is still so hard for Sally and the children. I have been in tears. But it’s lovely he has been included in this exhibiton. He would have been impressed.”

She added: “When you join the Army you don’t expect to be killed – but that’s one of the things that might happen.

“He might have been the most senior to have been killed, but he wasn’t the only one – or the most important.”

She said her own grandfather, a member of the Royal Flying Corps, died as a result of injuries suffered after being gassed in the First World War.

She added: “This exhibition shows people today, and particularly children, that although the Great War was supposed to be the war to end all wars, it wasn’t.

“It makes you ask whether any war is worth dying for. But equally you can’t have bullies running around.”

She said her son had enjoyed his time working at Blenheim – which he did before going to Reading University and on to Sandhurst.

Lt Col Giles Harris trained, and then fought alongside Lt Col Thorneloe in Afghanistan and, following his death, took over his role in the Welsh Guards.

He paid tribute to his fallen comrade saying Lt Col Thorneloe’s achievement lived on in Afghanistan: “The area he was responsible for is now safe and you can drive around freely.

“For people living in thousands of square miles of Afghanistan, that’s his real legacy.”

Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill, the eldest daughter of the present Duke of Marlborough, who lives at Blenheim Palace, presented Lt Col Thorneloe’s parents with a book about his life.


The exhibition, A Great Estate at War – Land, Sea and Air is at Blenheim Palace from today until April 21.

It includes models of aircraft and clothing used by those who served in the Royal Flying Corps in France; extracts from the war diaries of Oscar Guest, who flew on reconnaissance and combat missions over No Man’s Land and behind the German lines and medical equipment used in Blenheim Palace’s library, which became a hospital during the war.

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