Polo award in memory of serviceman killed in Afghanistan

  • The parents of Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe MBE, the most senior officer killed yet in the conflict in Afghanistan, awarded a trophy at the Pony Club Polo Championships in memory of their son.

    Major John and Veronica Thorneloe presented the Rupert Thorneloe Award for the most improved 10-year-old boy to William Penfold of the South and West Wilts branch at Hurtwood Park on Friday, 7 August (report, 20 August).

    Major Thorneloe said: “We have since received a delightful letter from William to say he had never won anything before and how much the trophy means to him — which is wonderful to know.”

    Lt Col Thorneloe, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, was at one time a two-goal player.

    He was killed on 1 July, aged 39, on his way to visit his forward troops in operation Panther’s Claw in Afghanistan.

    Growing up within half a mile of Kirtlington polo grounds in Oxfordshire fuelled a passion for the sport that was an integral part of his formative years.

    “At one stage he was so addicted to polo he thought of making it his career,” said Major Thorneloe. “But he then decided the army would give him the best of both worlds.”

    Rupert had numerous successes on the Pony Club polo circuit — winning the Handley Cross final in 1985, and then a scholarship to Major Dawnay’s Polo School in Ireland in 1987.

    He captained the Bicester team to Gannon victory in 1989 and 1990, winning the Jaguar Cup at Cowdray, where he was awarded The Daily Telegraph saddle for the best Pony Club player of the year.

    In 1988, Rupert won a scholarship with the Hurlingham Polo Association to spend six months at the Vesteys’ polo ranch in Brazil.

    At the height of his polo career, Rupert played off a two-goal handicap for the army against the navy. Family and operational commitments in recent times meant he no longer had the opportunity to play.

    “Since Rupert’s death we have received more than 500 letters, including one hand-written by Prince Charles, and many from people within polo with whom he had lost contact a long time ago. We have learnt so much about him and what he did,” said Major Thorneloe.

    Rupert leaves his wife Sally, daughters Hannah and Sophie, and sister Jessica.

    Two of his polo ponies — Mouse and Fungus, aged 24 and 25 — still live at his parents’ home.

    This article was first published in Horse & Hound (27 August, ’09)

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