Rupert Thorneloe

Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Stuart Michael Thorneloe, MBE (17 October 1969 – 1 July 2009) was a British Army officer who was killed in action on 1 July 2009 near Lashkar Gah, Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan. As of July 2009, Thorneloe is the highest-ranking British Army officer to have been killed in action since Lieutenant Colonel H. Jones's death in 1982 during the Falklands War.

Rupert Stuart Michael Thorneloe
Born17 October 1969
Kirtlington, Oxfordshire, England
Died1 July 2009(2009-07-01) (aged 39)
near Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchBritish Army
Years of service1991–2009 
RankLieutenant Colonel
Commands held1st Battalion Welsh Guards
Battles/warsThe Troubles
Iraq War
War in Afghanistan
AwardsMember of the Order of the British Empire

Early life and education

Thorneloe was born on 17 October 1969 at Kirtlington, Oxfordshire.[1] He attended Cothill House school,[2] and Radley College in Radley, near Abingdon in Oxfordshire, and the University of Reading in Reading, Berkshire.[1] Thereafter, he trained at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst,[1] and graduated with an MA in Defence Studies from King's College London in 2002.

Military career

On 6 September 1991, Thorneloe was commissioned as a second lieutenant on probation in the Welsh Guards on a short service commission.[3][4] His commission was later confirmed and backdated to 5 August 1989, and he was promoted to lieutenant with seniority from 5 August 1991.[5] He served in Northern Ireland as a platoon commander and company second-in-command, and also worked for a year as an intelligence liaison officer for his regiment, liaising with the Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch in South Armagh.[1][6] According to journalist Toby Harnden, Thorneloe played a key role in the British campaign against the IRA's South Armagh sniper and the arrest of four members of one of the sniper teams.[7]

Thorneloe was promoted to captain on 1 April 1995.[8] He switched to a special regular commission on 5 October 1995,[9] and an ordinary regular commission on 18 September 1996, electing to make the Army his permanent career.[10] He was appointed battalion adjutant[1] and, on 30 September 1999, was promoted to major,[11] and posted to Permanent Joint Headquarters, Northwood, where he worked in intelligence analysis.[1] In 2002, Thorneloe studied at the Joint Service Command and Staff College, Shrivenham, and then took command of a company in Bosnia. Later, in 2004, Thorneloe moved to HQ 1st (UK) Armoured Division as Operations Officer.[1][6]

In 2005, as the division was due to take over the role of Multi-National Division (South-East) (Iraq), Thorneloe was sent to Iraq ahead of the main deployment, and travelled to Basra to begin planning for the transition to Iraqi control.[6] The Times said that the divisional commander Lieutenant General John Cooper "looked on Thorneloe as his right-hand man in analysing and presenting the options in this process".[6] On 8 September 2006, Thorneloe was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire for his service in the Iraq War.[12] He became military assistant first to the Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff (Policy), Major General Andrew Stewart, and then to the Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne.[1]

Thorneloe was promoted to lieutenant colonel on 30 June 2008,[13] and became Commanding Officer of his battalion just before it deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 with about 1,000 troops based in Helmand Province.[1]


Thorneloe was killed by the Taliban in Operation Panther's Claw during a resupply mission when an improvised explosive device exploded under his BvS 10 Viking armoured vehicle.[14] The explosion also killed Trooper Joshua Hammond of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment[14] and injured six other soldiers.[15] The deaths of Thorneloe and Hammond brought the total number of fatalities of British Forces personnel in Afghanistan since 2001 to 171.[15]

As of July 2009, Thorneloe was the first British Army CO and most senior officer to have been killed in action since Lieutenant Colonel H. Jones in the Falklands War, the highest-ranking to die in Afghanistan in post-colonial times,[15] and one of eight British Army commanding officers "killed on operations" since 1948.[1] Across the British Armed Forces, Thorneloe was most recent highest-ranking British officer to have been killed on operations since Wing Commander Nigel Elsdon of No. 27 Squadron RAF on 17/18 January 1991, during the Gulf War.[1][16]

Thorneloe's death reinvigorated debate over the adequacy of military equipment supplied to British forces in Afghanistan, with charges focusing on the alleged lack of transport helicopters, which forces troops to travel by land and become exposed to Taliban IED attacks, and the inadequate protection offered by Viking armoured vehicles against IEDs and land mines.[17] However, according to The Times's obituary, Thorneloe himself had previously "dismissed suggestions that British Forces in Afghanistan are underresourced, saying, 'The training and kit are outstanding.'"[6]

Thorneloe's funeral took place on 16 July 2009. At about 11:00 BST (10:00 UTC) the hearse carrying his coffin passed through Aldershot Barracks which was lined with Guardsmen. The hearse then travelled to the Guards Chapel at Wellington Barracks, London. The bearing party consisting of eight members of the Welsh Guards then shouldered the coffin and carried it into the chapel. On his coffin were placed his scabbard, sword, cap, belt and medals along with a wreath of white roses. The service began at 12:45 BST, attended by the Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, Des Browne, and Thorneloe's family including his father, Major John Thorneloe.[18]

Thorneloe is featured extensively in the book Dead Men Risen: The Welsh Guards and the Defining Story of Britain's War in Afghanistan (Quercus, 2011) by Toby Harnden, which won the 2012 Orwell Prize for Books. A poetry competition is held at Cothill House every year in his honour.


  1. "Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Thorneloe". The Daily Telegraph. London. 3 July 2009. Retrieved 4 July 2009.
  2. Cothill Memorial Pavilion
  3. "No. 52754". The London Gazette (Supplement). 23 December 1991. p. 19766.
  4. "No. 52905". The London Gazette (Supplement). 27 April 1992. p. 7380.
  5. "No. 53022". The London Gazette (Supplement). 27 April 1992. p. 13952.
  6. "Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Thorneloe: Commanding Officer 1st Welsh Guards". The Times. London. 6 July 2009. Retrieved 6 July 2009.
  7. A tribute to my friend Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, killed in Afghanistan by Toby Harnden
  8. "No. 54060". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 June 1995. p. 8192.
  9. "No. 54271". The London Gazette. 8 January 1996. p. 372.
  10. "No. 54610". The London Gazette. 17 December 1996. p. 16633.
  11. "No. 55627". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 December 1996. pp. 10608–10609.
  12. "No. 58092". The London Gazette (Supplement). 8 September 2006. p. 12271.
  13. "No. 58752". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 July 2008. p. 9837.
  14. "Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe and Trooper Joshua Hammond killed in Afghanistan". Ministry of Defence. 2 July 2009. Retrieved 4 July 2009.
  15. "Tribute to 'outstanding' soldiers". BBC News. 3 July 2009. Retrieved 4 July 2009.
  16. "Tornado Storm" (pdf). Flight International. 23–29 October 1991. p. 43. Retrieved 6 July 2009.
  17. Evans, Michael (4 July 2009). "Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Thorneloe's death reignites equipment row". The Times. London. Retrieved 6 July 2009.
  18. "Funeral for Afghanistan officer". BBC. 16 July 2009. Retrieved 16 July 2009.
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