You’ve probably seen this story – about a WW2 Bomber Command veteran who died without family or friends in a nursing home. This obituary led to a call for people to attend his funeral.
The end result was a huge crowd standing outside because the chapel was totally full.
There were uniformed Air Cadets, veterans with medals, and ordinary people. They each felt so strongly that this veteran’s death should not go unnoticed and his life uncelebrated, that they turned out on a grey, cold day day to see him off.
Funerals are not events you attend for no good reason. They are miserable, a reminder of the ticking clock we’r all trying to ignore.
Yet hundreds of strangers turned out for this one, unknown man, simply on the basis that he’d been a member of a bomber crew in World war Two.
They knew their presence wasn’t going to help him – or his family as he didn’t have one. So why did they do it?
One might say that the firm of undertakers created this “event” (probably inadvertently) having set the funeral time and date for 1100 am on 11 November – Armistice Day as the Two Minute Silence begins . One might reply that this would lessen the numbers as people interested in ‘that sort of thing’ as they were already committed to their local TRBL Armistice service.
It was symbolic, for a dead man with no family. But why so many, come out into the cold, to a dismal crematorium?
Answer – the people who attended Mr “Coe” Percival’s funeral did it for themselves, to reinforce their belief in what’s right, decent and proper.
This tells us all something very important – that in todays’ Britain, the strong undercurrent of regard for the Forces and what they do, remains; and that the debt society owes them is understood and remembered by ordinary people.
But, thinking specifically of Mr Percival, how much better would it have been for him to have seen this demonstration of regard? Could not somehow all this have been channeled into something that could have helped him whilst he was still alive? Why did it have to wait until he was dead?
Asking this is not to be critical of what happened, but to use it to remind our Government that looking after the Armed Forces and our veterans is something they skimp on at their peril.
I’ve never approved of the UK’s reliance on charity to look after veterans. As in the USA, the MoD should do this. “Punching above our weight” should not mean being inadequately manned and equipped, or afterwards being turned out of the Forces to rely on being looked after by social services and the NHS.
Specifically veterans should be clearly identified within society – on GPs’ records for example. They are supposed to be given priority treatment for their war-related conditions. This doesn’t happen. And like “Coe” Percival, they are forgotten until it’s too late.