ARMY veterans are to pay a poignant tribute to a fallen comrade from Skipton who was affectionately known as ‘dad’ to his platoon.

Sgt Gareth Thursby, a married man with two children, was killed at an army checkpoint in Afghanistan in 2012, shortly before his 30th birthday.

Thousands of people attended his funeral at Holy Trinity Church, Skipton, and in the following year a stone was erected in his memory in the town’s Soroptimists Garden.

Sgt Thursby was held in exceptionally high esteem by those who served alongside him and they have always wanted a bench for the garden - it’s now been made out of cast iron with Gareth’s name etched on it.

Former colleague Robert Swindells said: “Many of us have been to Skipton to pay our respects at Gareth’s memorial stone but we really felt it needed a bench so people can spend more time there.

“The lads rallied round with some phenomenal fundraising which means the bench has been specially made in Scotland and is now ready to be taken to Skipton.”

The bench is currently stored in Halifax, the home of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment which became part of The Yorkshire Regiment in 2006.

But rather than take it in a car the 22 miles from Halifax to Skipton, the veterans have decided to carry it in honour of Gareth even though it weighs 100kg - almost 16 stones.

Robert, 39, said: “We’re hoping to have a team of 20 on the job but if we only end up with a dozen or so it means each of us will have to carry it more.

“We really want to do this for Gareth. He was like a father figure to many of the younger lads and was a brilliant leader known as The Bull as he had such natural drive and determination. He cared so much for soldiers under his command and always put them first which is why he became known as ‘dad’ to members of his platoon.”

The team will set off from Halifax town centre around 9am on Saturday, September 16, and hope to reach Skipton eight hours later.

Gareth’s mum, Caroline Whitaker, said: “What they are doing for Gareth is wonderful – I think they are all amazing. I’m going to do the journey from Halifax to Skipton with them to support them every step of the way.

“After we lost Gareth we delayed his funeral for two months until the rest of the boys came back from Afghanistan as we knew how much he meant to them and they wanted to be there.

“Even though it’s now 11 years on, Gareth is still held in such high esteem by them which is a great comfort.”

The bench carry will be virtually 11 years to the day since Gareth was killed alongside 18-year-old Pte Tom Wroe from Meltham in Huddersfield.

Both died when they were shot by a rogue Afghan policeman at a checkpoint in the Nahr-e Saraj of Helmand province on September 15, 2012.

Gareth was married to Louise with two children, Joshua and Ruby.

His commanding officer, Lt Col Zachary Stenning, said at the time he lost his life: “Sgt Thursby’s nickname ‘Bull’ epitomised everything - he was strong, confident and unbelievably robust. He was admired and deeply respected by his soldiers and peers for his soldiering skills, physical strength and forthright honesty. Utterly professional, his standards were legendary.

“Against the hard exterior there was a caring and most compassionate leader. He had told his platoon to call him ‘dad’ during the tour. That is how he saw himself, a father figure for 30 men and women involved in gruelling operations in Helmand. On the very few nights where he was not on patrol but his men were, Sgt Thursby would remain alert and awake until all returned safely.

“When there were dangerous moments it was always Sgt Thursby who could be found at the front, offering steadying words to his platoon commander and the young soldiers. Such dedication and selfless love for his fellow soldiers is remarkable and testament to the qualities of this unique man.”

Lt Col Zachary Stenning also paid a wonderful tribute to Tom who had only been in Afghanistan for two months.

He said: “Tom had only been with us a few months, but in this short period he had made a significant impression on his fellow soldiers and commanders. Always eager and with unrelenting energy, he had pushed hard to join the regiment in Afghanistan."