HUNDREDS of mourners attended the funeral of a Bomber Command veteran they had never met, following a newspaper and internet appeal to honour him.
Harold Jellicoe Percival died aged 99 at a nursing home on the Lancashire coast with “few friends and little family”, and staff feared no-one would be there to pay their respects.
He was part of the ground team which supported the legendary Dambusters squadron, whose daring raids in May 1943 smashed three dams serving the industrial heartland of the Ruhr valley.
But after a public appeal for the Second World War veteran, an estimated 300 people attended the service at Lytham St Annes, with traffic blocking roads in the area and space running out in the crematorium. He was laid to rest yesterday at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month.
Standing in silence, as millions around the world marked Armistice Day, members of the public, old soldiers and serving servicemen and women awaited the arrival of Mr Percival’s funeral cortege at the crematorium.
“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.” Born in Penge, south London, in 1914, Mr Percival had two sisters and a brother, and was described as a very private person, who lived a “nomadic lifestyle” after leaving the RAF. He never married or had children.
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 and was cared for in the Alistre Lodge Nursing and Care Home in Lytham St Annes until his death on 25 October.
Fittingly, his coffin, with the distinctive blue RAF flag on top, was borne into the crematorium to the sound of the theme from The Dambusters, the popular 1955 film. 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 applause.
In reference to a small appeal for mourners in the Lytham St Annes Express, which snowballed into an internet campaign, the Reverend Alan Clark told mourners: “We marvel at the power of the printed word. You have come in numbers surpassing anything that was expected. Not because you knew him, but because each of us has a common humanity.”
Mr Percival was known as an independent man who knew his own mind and enjoyed reading his newspaper 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.
Nursing home staff who cared for Mr Percival wiped away tears as the service ended. Lorraine Holt, matron at the home, said: “We have lots of veterans at the home and every one of them should be remembered like this.”