Thursday, January 23, 2014

Hundreds of strangers flock to funeral of veteran who died alone at age 99.

A line of cadets queuing up in the rain during the former serviceman's funeral ceremony.

Harold Jellicoe Percival died in a nursing home and had no close relatives to attend his funeral in Lancashire, U.K, but more than 500 people, including many in uniform attended the ceremony after a notice was placed in the local paper and picked up on the internet. A two-minute Armistice Day silence was also observed across Britain at 11am.

Mr. Percival’s service was recognized in a memorial service.

Veteran Harold Jellicoe Percival, who died last month at age 99, served with the Bomber Command during the Second World War. His death would have gone unnoticed and marked with a simple service in an almost empty chapel if not for a group of compassionate strangers comprised of veterans and a funeral director.

Harold Jellicoe Percival, the last link to the Dambusters raid, lost the love of his life in 1935 and he had no children. When he died last month he had no close friends and it seemed there would be no one to mourn him except a small group of nursing home staff.

But veterans groups and a caring funeral director wanted a memorial service to honor him and they led an internet campaign highlighting the forgotten war veteran’s accomplishments. Hundreds of people who never knew him were moved by his story and came to pay their respects at his funeral – touchingly held at 11am on Armistice Day.

Harold Jellicoe Percival had over 500 mourners who celebrated his life.

The extraordinary turnout of strangers included many children who stood in the rain alongside military personnel in uniform, some on leave from Afghanistan. All were determined to honor the memory of Mr. Harold Jellicoe Percival, who valiantly served his country with the Bomber Command as ground crew on the famous May 1943 raids by 617 Squadron.

Beneath a cold, rainy sky the mourners formed a queue at the crematorium in Lancashire. Over 100 filled the pews inside, with another 400 or so standing outside in the rain.

After the funeral cortege arrived, a two-minute silence was observed. Then Mr. Percival’s casket, draped in British flags, was carried in to the chapel accompanied by the sounds of The Dambusters March amid extemporaneous applause.

Almost forgotten, now memorialized by many.

The Reverend Alan Clark who officiated over the service told the mourners: ‘You have come in numbers surpassing anything that was expected. You come not because you knew him, but because each of us are part of each other. We have a common humanity.’ ‘We marvel at the power of the printed word’, referring to the short notice appealing for mourners which the funeral home and veterans group had placed in the local paper.

The funeral home was contacted by veterans’ groups and other military supporters who wanted to acknowledge the life of Mr. Percival and the appeal was quickly picked up by others on internet social networking sites.

Funeral Director Eddie Jacobs said: ‘This was a man with only a couple of very distant relatives going to his last resting place alone. The British people responded like only the British can.’

Other staff stated: ‘It’s staggering. It shows how great the British public are. He was not a hero, he was just someone who did his duty in World War Two. We were expecting a few people, a few local veterans, but it snowballed. It’s very emotional.’

His caretaker Janet Wareing added: ‘He would talk about the war sometimes. His sort of role has often been forgotten. He would remove the deceased aircrew from bombers when they returned full of bullet holes. Then he would try to keep the plane in the air ready for the next mission. It was very harrowing.’

Group Captain Bob Kemp of the RAF Benevolent Fund said: ‘Harold Percival served in perhaps the most famous unit of World War Two. It is fitting that he should be given this sort of send-off. It is remarkable.’

Mr. Percival’s legacy.

Mr. Percival was a distant relative of Spencer Perceval, who in 1812 became the only British prime minister to be assassinated. He was born in Penge, South-East London.

Mr. Percival never married. The only love of his life, Jessie Campbell, died of tuberculosis back in 1935. He remained alone for the rest of his life, mourning her loss.

After the war Mr. Percival emigrated to Australia, where he worked as an interior decorator for many years. He returned to Britain after retirement and lived in hotels until he moved into the nursing home where he later died.

Everyone deserves a dignified funeral and memorial service at end of life.
Thanks to hundreds of Brits, Mr. Percival's life was memorialized. His legacy was honored.

If you know of someone who might need financial assistance for their funeral or burial needs, let us help. We can start a donation page for them on

Nancy Burban 2014

Funeral fund

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