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‘Climb as high as you can dream’
Through the window of their Ferndown porch he saw them, a padre and an officer of the Royal Marines.
“You see that and you know,” says Peter. “The officer asked if I was Mr Peter Thornton. I said yes and he said; ‘I regret to have to inform you that your son, John, was killed in Afghanistan.’ ”.
It was later that they learned the details of the improvised explosive device which left John and a comrade fatally injured on a roadside.
Later, too, when the full horror of what occurred and the efforts to save their 22-year-old son were revealed to them.
And they are still learning more and more about John the man, who was so well regarded by his colleagues and by people they have never met, who still get in touch to tell them of the impact he had on their lives.
But in those terrible hours after the news was broken, all Peter could do was comfort Linda as she, like him, struggled to understand how they could have been talking to John just the day before and now would never speak to him again.
Despite the excruciating freefall that comes after the death of a child, it was very early on, just after the funeral, that they decided to start a charity in John’s memory, to advance the causes and values he believed in.
“John had left some money and the wishes that he could be remembered by his school, the Air Training Corps and the Air Cadets junior leaders, the three organisations that got him to where he was,” says Linda.
Peter chuckles as he recounts how they thought: “We’d get a cup for the Ferndown Upper School and a trophy for the air cadets’ junior leaders. But then it was suggested we should start up a charity. “We were like ‘oh, no!’ but afterwards we thought why not?”
Their younger son, Ian, also in the forces, researched the nuts and bolts, friends of John offered to become trustees and the Thorntons found themselves on a steep charity learning curve. They wondered what to call it but in the end, as in everything, they felt guided by John.
“Ever since he was 13 he wanted to be a Royal Marines officer,” says Peter. “Everything he did as a teenager, from the Air Cadets to climbing Kilimanjaro was done to get him there.”
So they decided the only thing was to create the John Thornton Young Achievers Foundation.
“I’d never done charity fundraising before,” says Linda, “But I became so involved I decided to leave my job and Peter took early retirement.”
Now, alongside their family commitments – Ian is married and they are proud grandparents to the children of Peter’s son, Graham – their days are taken up with running the charity which makes bursaries to young people to enable them to pursue adventurous activities.
They eagerly describe their plans for a Plane Pull and delight in the huge numbers who have signed up to run for the charity in the Bournemouth Marathon Festival in October.
Last year they handed out £60,000 to assist young people to ‘climb as high as you can dream’ and they are also proud to announce that their son’s diaries will be published later this year.
With John’s medals and cap badges carefully displayed alongside his photograph, I ask them how it is they have managed to carry on.
“Maybe some people will say we’re not facing things, but we know what happened to John,” says Linda. “If you dwell on it you will just go mad, what you’ve got to do is grasp what happened before in his life and move on with those memories.”
This story is taken from our new weekend magazine, Seven Days. See it all at bournemouthecho.co.uk/sevendays