Kindness of strangers gives Northern Ireland veteran John Kearns a fitting send-off
An appeal to find relatives of a 95-year-old British Army veteran who enlisted for service in Belfast in 1943 has been launched after the pensioner received a touching funeral tribute from his adopted community in Derby.
Markeaton Crematorium was filled with more than 200 people for the funeral of John Kearns, who died at Royal Derby Hospital, having lost his beloved wife around 18 months previously.
Following appeals to regimental groups and on social media, there was "standing-room only" at Mr Kearns's funeral service, according to the Derby Telegraph.
A Royal Pioneer Corps veteran, he had no known surviving family and was visited by only one set of friends while in hospital, neighbours Josie Flear and Alan Mann, who lived next door to him in Long Eaton.
Ms Flear said Mr Kearns's health had started to deteriorate after the death of his wife, Eileen, to whom he had been married for 40 years.
She said: "I have always said he died of a broken heart. They were soulmates and such a kind and loving couple."
Thanks to their appeal, prompted by concern that only a handful of people would attend his funeral, more than 200 strangers turned up to honour him. "At first we thought it would be us two and a friend of ours. It's wonderful for him to have this many people here. We're really pleased with the turnout and we think it was a lovely service."
Mr Mann said they had found the service history of Mr Kearns, but not his war medals.
The records showed that he enlisted in the Royal Pioneer Corps in Belfast on August 5, 1943, and that he served with the corps as a private for the whole of his army career.
Among the documents was a letter from his commanding officer, describing him as "an extremely pleasant and likeable man who has seen long service in the Army."
Sergeant Richard Baker, from the Royal Engineers, who served in Iraq and Bosnia and now works in Derby, said he felt proud to be at the service.
Members of the Derby branch of the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regimental Association also attended, as did representatives of the Royal Engineers of Nottingham.
After a news article about John Kearns's funeral service, a former Belfast man, Dennis Caughey, asked readers of the Belfast Telegraph if they could help trace any relatives of the army veteran. "It occurs to me that there might be some in Northern Ireland, as the article says he enlisted in the Army in Belfast in 1943," Mr Caughey, who now lives in Derby, wrote.
"I wonder if you would feel it appropriate to bring to a wider audience through your paper."
If you can help trace Mr Kearns's family, contact the News Desk on (028) 9026 4440