British World War II veteran Harold Percival died alone in a nursing home at age 99, and his funeral was to be a depressing affair with no guests. His care-takers desperately placed ads in newspapers for anyone with a connection to attend his send-off on Remembrance Day, November 11.
Their plea was heard by Sergeant Rick Clement, an Olympic torch-bearer who lost his limbs in Afghanistan, and he circulated it frantically. When it was time to lay Harold to rest, it was witnessed by hundreds of people that traveled across the country to say goodbye to a man they never knew.
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Metro: How did you make people come?
Clement: A friend of mine passed on the ad and I passed it to everyone at my regiment, then Facebook and Twitter. I thought a few army guys would turn up but it just snowballed and became massive.
What sort of crowd turned up?
Absolutely everybody – there were military cadets and navy officers, but also bikers on their bikes, and civilians that just wanted to be there.
Why do you think they wanted to be there?
It’s a big week for military remembrance, and given what’s happening in Afghanistan the public see a lot more death and injury, so it's closer to people’s hearts.
Where the nursing home staff surprised by the turnout?
I think they were amazed. The managers came over to say thank you, and they invited me for a drink.
Do you think there are many more Harold Percivals: abandoned and forgotten after serving their country?
This has bought it to my attention and it’s a mission now to get to know people in this situation. The older generation of veterans tend not to talk so much and are private people. I don’t know how many there are but I want them to have the respect they deserve. It doesn’t have to be hundreds but there should be a few people going to any funeral, and I’ll be happy to.