A line from a song popular with British forces in WWI was "Old soldiers never die, they only fade away". Today it's those who fought in WWII who are fading away and old soldiers often die young, alone and unmourned after the traumas they have been through. So I found a story about an RAF veteran from WWII rather poignant and the respect from his former colleagues and their successors quite moving.
Harold Jellicoe Percival was in the team which carried out the famous "Dambusters" raid on Germany in 1943. He was not a pilot, not even a member of the aircrew, the last survivor of those was at the Royal British Legion's Festival of Remembrance tonight. Harold was simply one of the ground crew helping prepare the planes. Perhaps his only claim to fame was being a distant relative of former British prime minister Spencer Perceval, who was shot dead by a bankrupt broker.
Harold never married.
"He was a private man, he worked in Australia for a number of years as a decorator and would visit England for holidays.After he retired he returned to England, living in a care home. With no immediate family able to attend, his would be a lonely funeral - if it were not for the local RAF Association who wanted to acknowledge his service. So they put the word round. The result, in the words of the Matron of his care home:
"He travelled around England with only his backpack. He didn't have a postal address, he just used to get everything sent to my mother's address and would go through it when they met up."
"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."Even more poignantly, his funeral is to take place on November 11 at 11 a.m. so it will coincide with the two minutes silence for Armistice Day. Those attending will have a particular "old soldier" to focus their thoughts on.