The fiancée of a former British Army soldier who was killed in Ukraine had hand-made his wedding ring on the day she learned he had died.
Julian “Jay” Thorn, 36, was killed in a car crash after more than a year in Ukraine, where he had been helping to train soldiers following Russia’s invasion.
His fiancée, Louise Lathbury, received a call from his colleague on Sunday 21 May to say Mr Thorn, from near Hexham, Northumberland, had died in a road accident.
Instead of planning their wedding, she has now set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for the estimated £10,000 costs of repatriating Mr Thorn’s body to the UK.
“We hadn’t set a [wedding] date, we’d been talking about what kind of wedding we wanted. I’d actually made his wedding ring on the Sunday I found out he died. It was going to be a surprise. I went to a workshop to learn how to do it,” Ms Lathbury told i.
“Jay was hard on the outside, but soft on the inside. And he would help anybody that needed it. Whether it was a conflict in Ukraine or a rabbit on the side of the road.
“Everyone is still in the shock and disbelieving stage and you still don’t quite believe it. You expect the ping on your phone to be a message from him to say he’s okay.
“That’s not going to happen. As much as I still don’t want to accept it. I know that he’s not coming home.”
Mr Thorn, who served eight years in the Royal Fusiliers, had originally travelled to Ukraine at the start of the war to help bring refugees across the Polish border, before helping support military units.
He had been travelling back and forth to the UK with his role taking him around Ukraine, Ms Lathbury believes.
A message posted on the Fusiliers Association North East paying tribute to Mr Thorn said he had been a member of a GUR military intelligence 13 special forces group and was “often working behind enemy lines selflessly committed to helping others and gave his all.”
The couple, who used to managed the King’s Head pub in Allendale and got engaged in 2020, had kept in contact daily while Mr Thorn was in Ukraine.
Ms Lathbury said she had asked him not to travel to the war zone, but Mr Thorn felt compelled to help after the Russian invasion in February, 2022.
“He realised that there were some skills that he had that were needed. What I know is that he was training on the equipment and just basically helping them do whatever they needed to do,“ Ms Lathbury said.
“But what that entailed I don’t know. If he was fighting, he never really said anything to me.
“Even though he hadn’t been in the army for a while, he was a soldier. I think any worry, he would never portray that to me because he knew that I would worry. He might just say it was a bit messy or something like that.”
She added: “I said, ‘Why do you feel you have to go?’ But it was just something he felt strongly about. If you speak to anybody that knew Jay, once he made his mind up, it’s very difficult to change it especially if it’s something he felt strongly about.”
A British soldier fighting on the frontline in Ukraine paid tribute to Mr Thorn, telling i he had been due to join his unit.
“I never fought with him before but we spent a lot of time together training. He was a good guy,” he said.
“He was either coming back from Bakhmut or going to Bakhmut to deliver supplies and then he was set to come down to my team.
“There’s a lot people I’ve lost out here. But you become numb to it.”
The Foreign Office advises against all travel to Ukraine, with the Government unable to help with the costs of bringing Mr Thorn’s body back to the UK.
Ms Lathbury has set up a GoFundMe page to help with the huge expense of repatriating Mr Thorn’s body.
Any extra money raised over and above the target will be donated to an animal charity as Mr Thorn was a keen animal lover or to help another British family whose loved one has died abroad.
“I don’t really know whether I’m coming or going. I’m just doing my best. I’ve got his rescue cats.
“They keep you going. Because you have to feed them, You have to look after them. Having them around kind of helps you stay in the present.
“It’s surprising how many people he touched. If you look at some of the comments, they say he was like a brother. So many people have said that on the comments about it, which is really nice.”
Please visit the GoFundMe page here if you wish to contribute.