Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Hundreds attend veteran's funeral

Members of the public, veterans and service personnel gather to pay their respects to Harold Percival at Lytham Park Crematorium
Harold Jellicoe Percival, a war veteran who died with no close friends or relatives, was given a fitting send-off today after an internet campaign driven by media coverage saw hundreds of people pledge to attend.
Members of the public, veterans and service personnel gather to pay their respects to Harold Percival at Lytham Park Crematorium, Lytham St Annes, in Lancashire.

An old soldier has been honoured by hundreds of mourners at his funeral after fears his passing would be forgotten.

Harold Jellicoe Percival died aged 99 without close friends or relatives at hand at a nursing home, where staff worried no one would be at his funeral to mark his passing.

But after a public appeal for the Second World War veteran, roads were blocked with traffic and the crematorium unable to hold the numbers of mourners at his funeral, poignantly beginning at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

As millions marked Armistice Day across the world, members of the public, old soldiers and serving servicemen and women, stood in silence for the arrival of Mr Percival's funeral cortege at the crematorium in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, in keeping with the Ode of Remembrance, "We will remember them".

"It's just staggering," his nephew, Andre Collyer-Worsell, said after attending the service.

"It just shows how great the British public are.

"He was not a hero, he was just someone who did his duty in World War Two, just as his brother and sister did and his father before him in World War One.

"We were expecting a few people, a few local veterans but suddenly it snowballed.

"It's the sort of send-off you would want to give any loved one. It's very emotional."

Mr Percival, who served as ground crew with RAF Bomber Command, never married and had no children.

Born in Penge, south London, in 1914, he had two sisters and a brother, and was described as a very private person, who lived a "nomadic lifestyle" after leaving the RAF at the end of the war.

He worked as a painter and decorator and emigrated to Australia before returning to the UK, travelling around England with his only possessions in a backpack.

He settled in Lancashire but was mugged and robbed in Blackpool and was cared for in the Alistre Lodge Nursing and Care Home in Lytham St Annes until his death on October 25.

Fittingly, at the start of his funeral today, his coffin, with the distinctive blue RAF flag on top, was borne into the crematorium to the sound of the theme from Dambusters, because he served with the ground crew of the famous squadron whose bouncing bomb raid wrought havoc on Nazi Germany.

As the two-minute silence was held, hundreds stood still in the rain at Lytham Park Crematorium, before the Last Post was played and Mr Percival's coffin was removed from the hearse to a round of spontaneous applause.

The Reverend Alan Clark told mourners: "We marvel at the power of the printed word" - referring to a short notice appealing for mourners which appeared in the local paper, was then taken up by an online campaign and finally led to today's turn-out.

Mr Clark said Mr Percival died with "few friends and little family" and it seemed his passing would be lost, his funeral sparsely attended, with no-one there to "confirm this man's worth".

"You have come in numbers surpassing anything that was expected," he added.

"Not because you knew him, but because each of us has a common humanity."

Mr Percival was known as a strong-willed, feisty and independent man who knew his own mind and enjoyed reading the Daily Telegraph each morning, mourners were told.

The Lord's Prayer was read and the hymn Jerusalem sung before the Last Post was played a final time.

Staff who cared for Mr Percival in his final years at the nursing home wiped away tears as the service ended.

Lorraine Holt, matron at the home, said: "It was completely overwhelming, something we did not expect at all, this huge turn-out.

"We have lots of veterans at the home and each and every one of them should be remembered like this."

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