For some people, it's not a matter of who would come to your funeral, but if anyone would come at all. British WWII Veteran Harold "Coe" Percival, who died last month at 99 years old, had no close family to attend his funeral. But today, on Veterans Day, more than 200 people — most of them strangers — attended his service in Lancashire, England, thanks to what is probably the world's most successful newspaper ad.
Percival worked on the ground crew for Royal Air Force Squadron during the nation's famous Damblaster raids, which were a series of airstrikes staged during May 1943 to wipe out important German dams. Post-war, he lived a "nomadic lifestyle" as a "solitary man," living mostly in Australia and working as a decorator. He returned to England only for vacations and never settled down in one place long enough to have a family. He outlived his siblings.
After he died, the local funeral home in St Annes put an ad in the town newspaper. The ad was picked up by local media and then went viral online, promoted by British comedian Brian Manford on Twitter. Following Manford's publicity, the RAF Benevolent Fund said that some of its members would attend the funeral.
"I didn’t fancy the idea of an old serviceman going out on his last journey without any support," said funeral director Edmund Jacobs."The solicitor knows nothing about him. The nursing home knows nothing about him. We don’t know where he was born. It’s just one of those strange funerals."
But at 11 a.m. today on 11/11 — a remembrance of when the armistice ending WWI was signed — hundreds of people filled the chapel at Lytham Park Crematorium to pay their respects. The memorial began with a bugle call to begin with a traditional two-minute Armistice Day silence observing veterans who lost their lives in the war.
"My uncle would be very surprised at the attention this seems to have received and the number of people wanting to attend," said Percival's nephew David Worsell, who was not able to attend the funeral. "What with him being a very private person, forming long-term relationships didn’t seem to be part of his make-up."
Worsell's son, Andrew Collier-Worsell, had a little different take on what his great-uncle would have thought.
"It is just remarkable to see so many people turn up ... strangers ... people who never knew him in his life," he said. "I think if he'd known, he'd have been sheltering around the corner, hiding from it all. I think it shows there is a deep feeling for the veterans and the service they put in."