Hundreds attended funeral of a British WWII veteran who died alone

Hundreds attended funeral of a British WWII veteran who died alone

Photo story (Clockwise from top left): (1) Harold Jellicoe Percival, the WWII veteran who died alone (2) Mohne Dam breached during Operation Chastise and pictured on 17th May 1943 (3) Edersee Dam also breached; pictured on 17th May 1943 (4) An upkeep bouncing bomb on display at Duxford Imperial War Museum (5 & 6) The funeral was attended by about 100 people inside Lytham Park Crematorium with another 400 people standing outside silently in the rain

The famous attack on German dams was carried out by 617 squadron of Royal Air Force on 16-17th May 1943 and was called Operation Chastise. The 617 squadron is known as the Dambusters subsequently. Specially designed bouncing bombs were used to bounce the explosives to the dams across water in a calculative way, avoiding torpedo nets and other obstacles. English scientist Sir Barnes Wallis invented the concept of the bomb in April 1942. The Dambusters’ raid successfully breached Edersee and Mohne Dams, resulting in catastrophic flooding of the villages in Eder valley and Ruhr valley. The Sorpe dam also sustained minor damages in the air raid. Germany lost approximately 1,600 people who were drowned and killed in the raid; over 1,000 of them were forced laborers and prisoners, mostly Soviets. 8 RAF aircrafts were shot down; 53 of its aircrew were killed and 3 were taken prisoners.

The flood destroyed 11 factories & 92 houses of the heavily industrialized German region. It also damaged 114 factories, 971 houses, 25 roads, bridges and railways. The hydroelectricity production halted the industrial productions, coal productions and crippled the industries for several years. Despite Britain was heavily bombing Germany, Joseph Stalin was often calling the Western Allies to open a second front in 1942. The effective Dambusters raid also proved the British capabilities and persuaded USSR and the US to take Churchill more seriously as an impressive ally in the WWII battlefields. Online edition of world’s largest broadcaster by the number of employees, BBC, reported that the funeral of one of the ground crew of the famous Dambusters raid, Harold Jellicoe Percival, who died on 25th October 2013, aged 99, was attended by hundreds of strangers on 11th November 2013, the Armistice Day.

Harold Percival, known as Coe, was never married or had any children. RAF association had been trying to ensure that the funeral of the WWII veteran was well attended in Lancashire on the Armistice Day. An advertisement was placed in a local newspaper by the funeral home for people, especially military personnel, to attend the funeral of the WWII veteran who died alone. The funeral was attended by about 100 people inside Lytham Park Crematorium with another 400 people standing outside silently in the rain at 11:00 GMT on the Armistice Day. The funeral service was conducted by Reverend Alan Clark. He said that people had come in numbers ‘not because they knew him but because each of us possesses a common humanity’

Nephew of Harold Percival, David Worshell said that Coe had been a private man who worked in Australia as a decorator for a number of years. He also added that Coe had been visiting England for holidays and travelled around with only his backpack. ‘He did not have postal address; he used to get all things sent to my mother’s address & would check those when they met up’ David further said.

According to David, his uncle Coe was a shy man and led a nomadic lifestyle. Coe loved cricket and taught David’s son spin bowling. Coe intermittently lived with David’s family in Australia and New Zealand. David said that they always ‘had a Coe’s room in their residence as he could turn up any time’.

During the funeral, a two minute silence was observed around the veteran’s coffin to mark the WWI Armistice. Stuart Dagger, standard bearer of RAF Association, said that they were ‘saying goodbye to a hero’. For one day, Harold Jellicoe Percival had a very big extended family who all wanted to say ‘thank you’.
Video story: Hundreds of people paid homage at the funeral of Coe, WWII veteran who died alone.

Mohammad Rafi Saad

Mohammad Rafi Saad is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE