It began with a tiny notice placed by undertakers in a Lancashire newspaper: “Harold died peacefully in Alistre Lodge Nursing Home on 25th October 2013, aged 99 years. A single man, he has no close family who can attend his funeral. Served in RAF Bomber Command as ground crew in world war two. Any service personnel who can attend his funeral service would be appreciated.”
The notice was picked up last Friday by Sgt Rick Clement, who lost both of his legs in Afghanistan in 2010. “Need a big favour from any military or ex serving members …” began his tweet.
The appeal went viral.
Hundreds showed up on Armistice Day for Harold Jellicoe “Coe” Percival:
Hundreds turn up for funeral of war veteran Harold Percival who died without close friends and family. pic.twitter.com/HOFimYrojG
— Mike McCarthy (@skynewsnorth) November 11, 2013
Uniformed veterans, teenage air cadets and serving soldiers joined members of the public, including a lad in wellies from a nearby carwash. One man, his jacket heavy with medals, clutched his toddler tightly, thumbing away tears as Lytham Community Choir sang Jerusalem. Clement was there, too, in his wheelchair.
So few people were expected that the pallbearers had been considering staying in the chapel to make up the numbers. But on the day, it was standing room only in the crematorium, with well over 200 mourners left outside.
Matron Janet Wareing said: “Harold was a lovely character, very strong-willed and independent.
“He was quite a private man, and he loved reading his Daily Telegraph every morning.
“We have already been contacted by military veterans who are intending to come, even though they have never met him.
“We’ve been told one group is looking to bring around 200 people to the service, which would be fantastic.”
Davis Boothman, secretary for the RAF Association Layland branch, said he would ring friends and colleagues in an effort to gain additional support.
He said: “We normally do try and make a showing at these times.
“It is important that we remember people like Harold – they are part of us.”
More pictures here.
Mr. Percival’s story is a poignant reminder to thank and treasure our veterans while they’re here.
In that spirit, thank you to all of those who have served. We can only live free because you’re willing to stand guard.