Today Bomber Command veteran Harold Percival was laid to rest. It was thought that Harold had no remaining family and that nobody would be at his funeral. However, after the story was shared on social media, thousands turned out to pay their respects. The RAF Benevolent Fund's Bob Kemp, who attended the funeral, tells us more.
Yesterday we feared Harold Percival's funeral would go unattended and unnoticed. Today we witnessed a truly astonishing response to the story of this Bomber Command veteran who died recently in a care home.
Over 2,000 mourners comprising both retired and serving personnel from the RAF, army and navy as well as air cadets and members of the University Air Squadron and civilians came to pay their respects. Many could not get into the small crematorium but they waited patiently outside before, during and after the service.
A loud speaker relayed the service to those standing outside in the pouring rain but because the crowds stretched so far back, many could not see or hear anything, but they didn't seem to mind.
They felt, like me, that they just had to be there. Nobody expected the response to be of this kind of magnitude – Lytham has never seen a funeral like it, I'm told.
One veteran I spoke to, who had served on HMS Belfast, had travelled for 40 miles that morning just to be there. He said when he heard the story he felt sad that nobody would be there to pay their respects so felt that he had to come along.
Harold's nephew was actually at the funeral and said he felt overwhelmed by the response and touched that so many people had attended a funeral for somebody they had no direct connection to.
I was there for the same reasons as everybody else – I felt that we had to do something for a member of the RAF family that appeared to have very few relations. It was a privilege to read the lesson and be a part of the day.
Harold's nephew said he was sure he would be looking down on all of this and smiling. He also kindly offered for all donations made on the day to go to the RAF Benevolent Fund for which we are extremely grateful.
By Group Captain Bob Kemp