Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Strangers attend veteran's funeral

Mouners at the funeral service of ex-Bomber Command pilot Robert Argyle

A war veteran who died with no close family or friends to mourn him has been given a fitting send off following a public appeal inviting mourners to his funeral.

More than 100 people attended the funeral service of ex-Bomber Command pilot Robert Argyle who died aged 92 in Eastbourne, East Sussex, on November 27.

Other than an older brother who is believed to have died in Canada and some distant relatives elsewhere, Mr Argyle had no other family members, it is thought.

He was destined to have a modest send off attended by eight staff and residents from his sheltered housing block until an appeal was made for more people to come and pay their respects.

On Twitter, charities and organisations, including Help for Heroes, Support for Forces and Eastbourne Borough Council, re-tweeted details of the funeral service to their thousands of followers.

And strangers came in their droves to Eastbourne Crematorium to honour "very shy, very unassuming" Mr Argyle, who never married and never had children.

An original Tiger Moth bi-plane flew overhead as a lone bagpiper walked in front of the hearse carrying his coffin as it slowly made its way to the chapel entrance.

Standard bearers from the Royal British Legion lined up outside the chapel as four pall-bearers lifted the Union flag-draped coffin from the hearse in front of dozens of mourners.

Among them was Joe O'Riordan, president of the Royal British Legion's Polegate branch, who said: "It would have been awful for Robert, having done what he has done in his life, to have gone out with just around half a dozen people to see him off.

"This is an opportunity for us to show our respect and affection for this man."

As the service got under way, led by Father Sebastian Mattapally, Geoffrey Smith, a reader in the Diocese of Chichester, addressed the crowd outside.

He said Mr Argyle had left instructions for his funeral, including that John Barry's Dances with Wolves should be played and Psalm 23 be read.

Mr Smith said: "We honour the life of Robert Argyle and thank the Lord for his courage and his commitment to the Lord in whose nearer presence he now lives."

Born in Ottawa, Canada, Mr Argyle came to England as a boy to be educated and later joined the RAF.

He found himself involved in some 45 daring missions over Europe during the Second World War.

Described as a modest man who rarely spoke about his wartime exploits, he later went to Burma to fight the Japanese before going on to act as a courier for the Vatican.

In later life, Mr Argyle became a personal assistant to a globe-trotting tycoon involved in international finance, and some time later moved to Eastbourne.

Shirley Duker, manager at his housing block where he lived for the last five years, said: "He was a very shy, very unassuming and quiet man, but lovely too.

"He was the type of man who would never draw attention to himself.

"He rarely spoke about his wartime achievements as he was the kind of man who didn't share too much.

"I think he was very haunted by what he experienced."

She added: "We thought to let him go quietly with just a handful of us at his funeral wouldn't be right.

"I'm hoping he'll be looking down on us with a smile on his face.

"He would have felt very embarrassed, I'm sure.

"He didn't mind other people getting recognition but he never felt he deserved any for himself."

The response to the public plea for mourners echoed the case of Dambusters hero Harold Jellicoe Percival who also died without close friends and family.

Following a similar appeal, hundreds of people went to the 99-year-old's funeral in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, last month following fears that his passing would be forgotten.

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