Operations in Afghanistan

Lieutenant John Thornton and Marine David Marsh killed in Afghanistan

It is with deep sadness that the Ministry of Defence must confirm the deaths of Lieutenant John Thornton and Marine David Marsh, both of 40 Commando Royal Marines, in southern Afghanistan on Sunday 30 March 2008.

Ministry of Defence crest

Just after 1653 hours local time, the Marines were conducting a patrol in the vicinity of Kajaki, Helmand province, when the vehicle they were travelling in was caught in an explosion.

Medical treatment was provided prior to both being evacuated to the field hospital at Camp Bastion. Despite the best efforts of the medical team, both sadly died as a result of their wounds.

Lieutenant John ‘JT’ Thornton

Lieutenant John ‘JT’ Thornton, aged 22, was from Ferndown in Dorset and joined the Royal Marines on 31 August 2004. He had previously served in Iraq and leaves behind his loving parents and brothers.

Lieutenant John 'JT' Thornton RM (All rights reserved.)

Lieutenant John 'JT' Thornton RM (All rights reserved.)

His family issued the following statement:

Since the age of 13 John has always wanted to become a Royal Marines Commando. He said on many occasions ‘I have the best job in the world’. He died a hero following his dream and doing the job he loved. He was proud to be making a difference to both the people of Afghanistan, and to all of us back home who value our freedom. A much loved and always caring son, brother and friend to all those who were fortunate enough to have met him, his death will leave a massive gap in all of our lives. We will not forget him.

Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Birrell RM, Commanding Officer 40 Commando Royal Marines, said:

Lieutenant John Thornton Royal Marines was in command of the Fire Support Group from Charlie Company, 40 Commando, when he was killed in action at Kajaki, northern Helmand, conducting a patrol to disrupt enemy activity in that area. His death has come as a tremendous shock to his friends and colleagues, and he will be dearly missed by his comrades in 40 Commando Royal Marines.

John, known universally as ‘JT’, joined the Royal Marines on 31 August 2004 and made an immediate impact. A conscientious and highly motivated man, he loved the life of a Royal Marine and he very quickly proved himself to be a talented and highly capable Commando officer. Upon completion of Commando training his first appointment was an attachment as a Platoon Commander with the 1st Battalion The Devonshire and Dorset Light Infantry, with whom he deployed to Iraq, serving with distinction during Op TELIC 8.

He was subsequently appointed to serve with 40 Commando in January 2007 and was thrilled at the prospect of leading Marines on operations. His enthusiasm was infectious and his men responded magnificently to his leadership. An immensely professional officer, throughout his service he was greatly respected by the men under his command.

During the various operations conducted by Charlie Company, ‘JT’ was always to be found in the thick of the action; a courageous and brave commander he never asked his men to do anything that he would not do himself. He led from the front and provided an outstanding example to his peers and his men alike; he was a resolute and formidable soldier in battle, a larger than life character who impressed all who met him.

Lieutenant John Thornton’s untimely death is a tragedy; a gregarious, fun-loving man, his passing has caused great sadness across the Royal Marines, and our thoughts are with his parents Linda and Peter, and his brothers Ian and Graham, at this very difficult time.

Lt Thornton on operations in Afghanistan (All rights reserved.)

Lt Thornton on operations in Afghanistan (All rights reserved.)

Major Duncan Manning RM, Officer Commanding Charlie Company, 40 Commando Royal Marines, said:

‘JT’ was a central character within the Company. His relaxed and amiable personality made everyone he met immediately warm to him. His good humour and ability to laugh at himself was balanced with high professional skills and a devotion to the men under his command. Never shy of additional workload or responsibility, his laid back style drew the very best from his Marines and he was highly respected as a result of his willingness to listen to, and take advice from, his men.

Their well-being and interests were always at the forefront of his mind and he would endeavour to do the best for them. ‘JT’ became a sounding board and confidante for the new Troop Commanders who arrived mid-tour, listening to their concerns and providing advice when he deemed it appropriate.

His loyalty, both to his men and to the chain of command, was never in question and this trait when combined with his devotion to his career and constant energy made him a highly effective Royal Marines officer. When in contact with the enemy he remained cool, and his calm voice on the radio would regularly suppress any urge to panic or allow a situation to spiral out of control.

He was killed as he lived his life, leading from the front and sharing the risks and dangers which his men were required to endure. He was very much looking forward to attending his older brother Ian’s Passing Out Parade at the end of his Royal Marines Officer training, and having the opportunity to call him a sprog! JT’s loss will be felt by the whole Company and he leaves a gap that will be impossible to fill. He was a true friend in every sense of the word. The thoughts of the whole Company are with his family at this particularly difficult time.

Captain Leon Marshall RM and Lieutenant Alex Nixon RM, 40 Commando Royal Marines, added:

We will always remember ‘JT’ for his positive outlook on life. From Day 1 Week 1 of Young Officer Training through until the last time I saw him everything was always ‘hoofing’. His enthusiasm was unbreakable, even when the Dartmoor weather was doing its worst. He was immensely proud of his older brother who is currently in Officer Training at the Commando Training Centre, and ‘JT’ was chuffed to bits at the thought of one day serving alongside him.

Describing ‘JT’ as an ‘awesome bloke’ is a gross understatement. If he could help in any way, he would, no matter the request. I remember during training he worked out that our Survival Exercise was going to be near his house and using true Commando initiative he and a select few managed a shower and BBQ at his house.

‘JT’ was an incredible young man who was an exceptional Royal Marine Officer and an unforgettable friend. He will be sorely missed.

Sergeant Darren ‘Daz’ Joyce, Fire Support Group Troop Sergeant of Charlie Company, 40 Commando Royal Marines, said:

Lieutenant John ‘JT’ Thornton: A true leader and officer for his men. He led from the front, and in doing so quickly gained the utmost respect from all under his command. Always ready to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in both work and when ashore, be it in DPM or in Spartan Rig. It was an honour to serve alongside him and to call him a friend. He will be sorely missed our Spartan leader and Comrade.

Corporal Dominic ‘Cash’ Cashman, Fire Support Group Section Commander of Charlie Company, 40 Commando Royal Marines, said:

Lieutenant Thornton: A highly regarded and respected Troop Commander. ‘JT’ to his friends, he always had time for his charges, making their life easier anyway he could. Never one to shirk his duties he led from the front to inspire young and old members of the Troop alike. Wisdom beyond his years he truly was a leader of men and no words can convey the loss that his passing has brought.

Corporal Aaron ‘Tiny’ Winter, Section Commander of Charlie Company, said:

Regarded by the lads as a proper ‘Bootneck’ Officer, he was liked and respected by the men of his troop and the company throughout. As a section commander in a rifle troop it often instilled confidence in me when his ‘Whisky 1’ callsign would report over the radio net that they had ‘overwatch’ as we the ground troops pushed forward. As we pushed forward and often took incoming fire it again was a massive relief and reassurance to hear that ‘Whiskey 1’ was suppressing enemy positions with Dave Marsh on the Grenade Machine Gun and JT’s voice on the radio saying ‘That’s us suppressing now’.

Marine David ‘Dave’ Marsh

Known as ‘Dave’ to his friends, Marine David Marsh, aged 23, was originally from Sheffield, but had recently moved to Taunton in Somerset with his wife Claire. She said of Marine Marsh:

David was a loving and dedicated family man. He went though life with a smile on his face, which will continue through our beautiful daughter. The Royal Marines was his passion and love, he will always be our hero.

Marine David 'Dave' Marsh (All rights reserved.)

Marine David 'Dave' Marsh (All rights reserved.)

Marine Marsh’s mother, Maxine, father, Gary and sister Katie said:

David was a very fine son and brother, he was warm, loving and caring at all times. He was a loving husband and very proud father. He embraced life to the full and no matter what happened his big smile bore him through.

“He was a dedicated Royal Marine and was proud to serve his country. He was much admired and respected by his colleagues for his professionalism and courage. He will be deeply missed by his family and friends and all who knew him.”

Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Birrell RM, Commanding Officer of 40 Commando Royal Marines, said:

Marine Dave Marsh was killed in action at Kajaki, Northern Helmand Province in Afghanistan whilst serving with Charlie Company, 40 Commando Royal Marines. Dave joined the Royal Marines on 9 September 2002 and after successfully completing Commando Training at the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines, where he was awarded the Commando Medal for displaying most consistently the attributes expected of a Royal Marines Commando, he was posted to 45 Commando in Scotland where he served with distinction during an operational deployment to Northern Ireland.

From 45 Commando there followed a period with the Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines, helping to protect the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent, before he chose to become an Anti-Tank specialist in 2006. Dave joined 40 Commando Royal Marines in December 2006 and immediately impressed with his enthusiastic approach and diligent manner.

Throughout pre-deployment training and the exceptionally difficult challenges he faced during his company’s tour of duty in Afghanistan, his resolve and determination to succeed in all he undertook was truly breathtaking. A consummate professional he was deeply respected in his company; in battle he was steadfast and utterly dependable, in barracks he was a true friend and comrade whose presence was a comfort in difficult times.

Marine Dave Marsh has been cruelly taken from us and he will be sadly missed by all who had the privilege to know him. A loving, compassionate husband and father, he will be dearly missed by his wife Claire and his young daughter Molly, along with his parents Gary and Maxine, and his sister Katie; our thoughts and prayers are with them at this most difficult and distressing time.

Major Duncan Manning RM, Officer Commanding Charlie Company, 40 Commando Royal Marines, said:

Marine Dave Marsh was an inspiration to the whole Company. A larger than life character, he was known by all, and respected by both peers and commanders alike. For him the glass was always half full and regardless of conditions he remained positive. The one thing that always struck you when you saw Mne Marsh, regardless of the time of day, was his smile that appeared to be ever-present, lifting the morale for those around.

When times were hard or conditions difficult Dave Marsh would invariably make a comment or tell an amusing anecdote, which invariably made you laugh. His ready wit and good humour were balanced however with high professional skills and a devotion to his chosen profession. He could regularly be seen behind the aiming sight of his Javelin missile system maintaining his focus for hours on end.

It was due to his experience and proven proficiency that he was regularly chosen to assume the position of a vehicle commander, directing his WMIK vehicle with confidence and authority. If any member of his Troop were to find themselves in a difficult and dangerous situation it was Dave Marsh they wanted by their side. It is for this reason that his Troop commander selected Dave to be his driver.

His loss is made especially difficult being so close to the end of the tour having faced so many dangers on numerous previous occasions. The thoughts and prayers of the whole company go out to those he has left behind, particularly his wife Claire and his daughter Molly. While the Company cannot be there in person to help and support his family, we are thinking of them at this difficult time.

Warrant Officer First Class Neil ‘Brum’ Warrington, Assistant Adjutant of 40 Commando Royal Marines, said:

Dave was the epitome of a Royal Marine who upheld all the qualities of a true Commando, in particular ‘Cheerfulness in Adversity’. He always had a smile on his face that lifted the spirits of everyone around him, in any situation. You never knew what was coming next with Dave. This uncertainty earned him the nickname ‘Crazy Dave’ whilst serving in Zulu Company, 45 Commando, and a nickname he loved to live up to.

“He had a streak of devilment in him that kept everyone on their toes, as he loved to play pranks on anyone who let their guard down. He was the character that every Royal Marine Company needed and every Sergeant Major loved to have around, for so many different reasons. This man loved life and everyone who knew him will always smile at that thought. On behalf of the men you served with in Zulu Company and all the other Royal Marines that were blessed with your friendship, you will be missed, but never forgotten.”

Sergeant Darren ‘Daz’ Joyce, Fire Support Group Troop Sergeant, Charlie Company, 40 Commando Royal Marines, said:

Marine Dave Marsh or ‘Comedy Dave’ was an outstanding character and a true ‘Bootneck’. Committed to his family and work, socially he was always there to lift spirits when times were hard. An all round hoofing Bootneck it has been an honour to work with him and call him a friend. His tragic death is a huge loss to everyone who had the pleasure to know him.

Corporal Dominic ‘Cash’ Cashman, Fire Support Group Section Commander, Charlie Company, said:

Larger than life Dave ‘Billy the Kid’ will be remembered for his boundless energy and manic character. A permanent source of morale for his fellow marines, his professionalism was without question and doing his job so well made my job so much easier. A better example of a Bootneck could not be found. Working with Dave he continually demonstrated his love for his family and balance for both work and home alike. Dave was the brightest light and a light that affected anyone around him. He will be sorely missed.

Corporal Aaron ‘Tiny’ Winter, Rifle Troop Section Commander, 40 Commando Royal Marines, said:

‘Crazy’ Dave Marsh: A man who was always smiling in contact with the enemy or whilst firing the Grenade Machine Gun, playing poker or smoking his pipe. The only time that his smile changed was when he spoke of his daughter Molly whereupon his smile would double in size and his face would beam with pride. Despite the nickname of ‘Crazy’ Dave he astounded many in the company by fixing the lads’ laptops with his leatherman tool and a can lid, when many a qualified technician had failed; there was much much more to this man than met the eye. He will be sorely missed by the Kajaki Pipe Smokers whose daily after dinner smoking sessions were improved with his attendance and humour.

Marine Andrew ‘Charlie’ Charlesworth, Storeman for Charlie Company, 40 Commando Royal Marines, said:

Dave Marsh, what I can say about him. I have only known him about eight months but what I can say is that he had the ability to make you laugh even when you did not want to. His infectious laugh, character and zest for life were memorable and only Dave could have that got away with that ‘Billy the Kid tattoo’. I am pretty sure that God will be laughing with Dave right now.

Des Browne, Secretary of State for Defence, said:

I was extremely saddened to hear of the deaths of Lieutenant John Thornton and Marine David Marsh. Both of them embodied the skills and qualities central to the Royal Marines ethos and their loss will resonate amongst all who knew them. My thoughts are with all their family, friends and comrades as they struggle to come to terms with their loss.

Published 1 April 2008