WWII veteran's funeral packed after appeal

2013-11-11 17:38
Mourners gather for the funeral service of WWII veteran Harold Percival in Lytham, England.

Mourners gather for the funeral service of WWII veteran Harold Percival in Lytham, England. (AFP)

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Lytham St Annes - Hundreds of people attended the funeral on Monday of a British World War II veteran, responding to an internet appeal sparked by fears that nobody would mark his passing.

Harold Jellicoe Percival served as ground crew for the famous Dambusters air raids of May 1943, which targeted dams in Nazi Germany's Ruhr Valley industrial heartland.

Unmarried with no children, the former Royal Air Force Bomber Command crewman died last month at a nursing home aged 99. Without close friends or family nearby, it was feared he would be given a lonely send-off.

But after a local newspaper death notice saying so went viral online, some 500 troops and civilians turned up to give "Coe" a fitting farewell.

The crematorium in the seaside town of Lytham St Annes, northwest England, could only hold 100 people so 400 more, including veterans in regimental blazers and children with England flags, stood silently outside in the rain to acknowledge his wartime efforts.

Military standard-bearers and uniformed troops escorted the cortege, while the march "The Dam Busters" from the 1955 film of the same name was played as his coffin was carried inside, topped with the British flag and sprays of flowers.

"It's just staggering," his nephew Andre Collyer-Worsell said afterwards.

"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."

He added that his uncle was "not a hero - he was just someone who did his duty in World War II".

Fittingly for a veteran, the service began at 11:00 with a two-minute silence, as people across Britain paused to remember the wartime dead in an annual ceremony marking the moment the World War I guns stopped.

The damage caused by the innovative bouncing bombs dropped in the daring Dambusters raids forced Germany to divert significant resources towards repair efforts.

From south London, Percival lived and worked in Australia after the war, where relatives remember him fondly.

Back in England, he spent his last years in a nursing home in Lytham.

The veteran was a distant relative of Spencer Perceval, prime minister from 1809 to 1812, the only British premier ever to be assassinated.

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