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  • Christina Drummond

Gunner Lee Darren Thornton, 58 (Eyre’s) Battery, 12 Regiment Royal Artillery

Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 2006 Gunner Lee Darren Thornton, 58 (Eyre’s) Battery, 12 Regiment Royal Artillery, died from an injury sustained two days earlier as his patrol came under fire in the town of Al-Qurna, north of Basra. He had volunteered to go out on the patrol a day after two soldiers had been lost to a roadside bomb. Although transported to Germany for medical care, sadly he could not survive the injury. His parents were at his bedside when he passed away.

Gunner Thornton had wanted to be a soldier from when he was very young, and so enlisted in the army in the year 2000 at the age of sixteen. At the time of his death he was on his second deployment to Iraq, by which time he had proved himself as an enthusiastic, motivated, diligent and extremely fit soldier. He inspired great loyalty, both for his gentle and compassionate side as well as for his professionalism.

In 2016 his mother spoke out after receiving her copy of the Chilcot report, and critiized not only the decision to fight the war, but the lack of essential equipment: “At the time Lee told me they were having to borrow each other’s armoured vests when they went out on patrol and their boots were melting on the ground out there. The snatch Land Rovers they patrolled in were not fit for purpose. It is heartbreaking to think that Lee died in vain. They achieved nothing in Iraq. Lee loved his time in the Royal Artillery but while he was serving in Iraq he said he was thinking of coming out of the army. He wrote diaries and wrote that in them. Lee just wanted to make a difference but he saw that was not happening.” He had become disillusioned, and told his mother that the people they had gone in to help had turned on them.

Lieutenant Colonel Jon Campbell said: “It was typical of Gunner Thornton that he volunteered to participate in the very next patrol which went out after the attack a day earlier. This gesture of defiance by Lee and his colleagues was aimed at the people who perpetrated the first attack. He showed no hesitation in driving out of the security of the Shaibah Logistics Base and facing the ever-present threat to British soldiers in Iraq. Lee Thornton was an excellent soldier. He was popular with his mates; he was widely known around the Regiment. His death has touched everyone; we are all numbed by his passing, especially as we had clung to hope that he would survive and pull through. 12th Regiment has lost a fine young man; popular and bright. All those who knew Thorny were privileged to do so. The Battery, Regiment and the British Army have lost a soldier and a friend of the very highest calibre and he will be sadly missed.”

Lee, from Blackpool, was 22 years old and engaged to be married.

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