Tributes to Kington soldier killed in Afghanistan

Ledbury Reporter: "An amazing person" - Oliver Thomas. "An amazing person" - Oliver Thomas.

A PACKAGE full of poppy seeds was due at Lady Hawkins School, Kington, on the day former head boy Oliver Thomas died in Afghanistan.

That parcel from the Royal British Legion was in a pile of mail waiting for head teacher Gary House when school went back on Monday, and the first item he opened.

Gary had been told of the 26-year-old’s death the day before. Oliver’s mum Joanna, didn’t just work at the school, she was part of it said Gary.
As was Oliver.

“That’s the way it is here, we’re all part of something. That’s why, as a school, we feel this loss so keenly and will do for some time to come,” he said.

The poppies were to  be planted in the school’s memorial garden to commemorate the start of the First World War.

A planting, said Gary, that takes on an added poignancy now.

Lance Corporal Oliver Thomas was one of five servicemen killed when their helicopter crashed in Kandahar province on Saturday.

Tributes to Oliver since run from the lobby of Lady Hawkins to the Westminster offices of the Deputy Prime Minster.

Oliver  was an intelligence specialist with the army reserve who had volunteered  for deployment to  Afghanistan where he had been since December.

He was aboard a Lynx helicopter  that came down in the Takhta Pul district of Kandahar, some 30 miles from the Pakistan border on Saturday during what the Ministry of Defence has said was a “routine flight”.

Four other servicemen died with Oliver in the crash, the cause of which is now under investigation.

Oliver’s family put out a statement saluting him as “a truly amazing person, who lived his life to the full, while fulfilling some of his many dreams and adventures.”

Before his deployment Oliver had spent some time at Westminster working as a researcher for  Roger Williams, Liberal Democrat MP for Brecon and Radnorshire.

From parliament, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg lead the tributes.
“Oliver, or Olly as he was known, was an incredibly popular and dedicated member of staff who had a promising future ahead of him,” said Mr Clegg.

Mr Williams spoke of Oliver as  a “pleasure” to work alongside for many years.

“I consider it a privilege to have been able to call him a friend.  We were all so proud of him when he first joined the Army Reserves, his integrity and strength of character made him a perfect ambassador for our country.  Olly’s family have so much to be proud of in their son,” he said.

With grief still raw, Lady Hawkins School was the face of Kington’s tributes.

Oliver’s mum Joanna is  says Gary, one of the support staff  so often the face of the school itself  in a role that ranged from reception to record keeping for over a decade.

Oliver started at  Lady Hawkins aged 11 and left as head boy, a title the school elects, in 2006.

Through his staff, Gary, who took over as head in 2009, came to know of an a student who “seized every opportunity and achieved in all he did.”

Nic Dinsdale spoke of the “exceptional student” to whom he taught history. Battlefield tours were a particular inspiration, said Nic, who saw Oliver get “very involved”  with veterans the school party would meet.

Olive’s love of the outdoors was fostered through the school’s Duke of Edinburgh scheme.

Hockey was the outlet for his sporting talent, he played several times for Herefordshire.

On leaving Lady Hawkins, Oliver studied war, peace and international relations at Reading University before taking a Master’s degree in international development at Manchester University, where he joined the Territorial Army.

With his degree completed he spent time in Costa Rica on an Operation Raleigh project  before becoming a parliamentary researcher.

Gary says that over the recent days talk has turned to what further tributes fellow former students could pay to Oliver, many have already been in direct contact with the school from wherever in the country – or world – they may be.

Then, says, Gary, there are those poppy seeds that were waiting for to him to open on Monday.

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