The funeral for former Royal Air Force airman Harold Jellicoe Percival was attended by hundreds of strangers who heeded the call to honour the British veteran, who had no close friends or relatives at the time of his death. Percival served as ground crew with the RAF's Bomber Command and helped with the famous Dambusters raids during the Second World War. Darren Staples/Reuters
"We will remember them," says the Ode of Remembrance recited around the world each Armistice Day.
Hundreds of Britons took the message to heart Monday, attending the funeral of a 99-year-old former Second World War airman they had never met.
Harold Jellicoe Percival died Oct. 25 at a nursing home in Lytham St. Annes, northwest England, with no immediate family or close friends still alive.
A funeral home placed an advertisement in the local newspaper asking military personnel to attend the service so his passing would not go unmarked.
The ad was taken up on Twitter, and several hundred soldiers, veterans and civilians gathered at a crematorium Monday to pay respects to Percival, who served as ground crew with Royal Air Force Bomber Command during the war. Scores of people who could not fit inside the chapel stood outside in the rain.
Many other veterans in similar situation
"You have come in numbers surpassing anything that was expected," said the Rev. Alan Clark, who led the funeral service. "Not because you knew him, but because each of us has a common humanity."
Monday is the anniversary of the end of the First World War, on Nov. 11, 1918. The funeral began at 11 a.m., 95 years to the hour after the 1918 armistice.
Mourners observed a two-minute silence for victims of war before Percival's coffin, draped in a blue RAF flag, was carried into the crematorium chapel to the strains of the "Dambusters March." Percival worked as ground crew for the squadron that carried out a daring raid on German dams in 1943.
The service included a reading of The Lord's Prayer, singing of the hymn Jerusalem and the sounding of The Last Post bugle call.
"It was completely overwhelming, something we did not expect at all, this huge turnout," said Lorraine Holt, matron of the nursing home. "We have lots of veterans at the home, and each and every one of them should be remembered like this."
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