Farewell to "inspirational leader" - and a husband

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The Independent Online

At the front of the dignitaries gathered to watch Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe's coffin make its slow procession out of the Guards Chapel today, a petite figure in black stood tensely, her hands clenched by her sides.

As the hearse carrying her husband's body to its final resting place moved away, Sally Thorneloe let out a single gasping sob and closed her eyes, a fleeting break in her perfect composure.

It was a heart-rending reminder that while the death of the most senior officer to be killed in combat since the Falklands has led to national reflection, it was a family tragedy no different from any of the other 183 British losses in Afghanistan.

But this time the tributes from royalty, ministers and generals were personal ones. Yesterday the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, former Defence Secretary Des Browne and head of the army General Sir Richard Dannatt were among those at the chapel in Wellington Barracks, London, to bid farewell to a man described as "an inspirational leader", the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, who was killed alongside Trooper Joshua Hammond when the Viking they were travelling in was hit by an explosion near Lashkar Gah.

Paying tribute to the 39-year-old father-of-two during yesterday's service, Colonel Sandy Malcolm said: "Missing from today are his soldiers, currently in the midst of a fierce and important operation. Six, including Rupert, have made the ultimate sacrifice and others have been wounded. It is late afternoon in Afghanistan, the sun will soon set and Welsh Guardsmen will stand to across the Helmand valley. They will know we too are gathered in this chapel and he will soon be laid to rest."