Hundreds turned out today to pay their respects to a World War Two veteran who almost slipped away unnoticed.
Former RAF flyer George Thompson passed away at 96 with no family members and few surviving friends. But the Royal Air Force Association urged people to attend today’s funeral to give him the send-off he deserved.
People around the country helped to spread the word, and this afternoon around 300 turned out to Hutcliffe Wood Crematorium in Sheffield.
Before the service Australian visitor Wally Walsh, 72, said: “We had come over from Australia on holiday and were staying in Berkshire.
“We saw the appeal for people to come in the news and my wife and I decided we would make the trip to pay our respects. It’s fabulous to see so many people gathered today.”
As the coffin was brought up to the church, servicemen, led by the sound of bagpipes, saluted Mr Thompson.
The coffin was then brought inside and at least 300 people – comprising servicemen, war veterans, members of the emergency services, and many journalists – packed into the tiny chapel.
With little room inside, many other mourners waited outside and heard the service relayed on loudspeakers.
Civil funeral celebrant David Hayes led the service and began by thanking people for the “phenomenal” attendance and read memories of Mr Thompson’s long life.
Mr Hayes then read the poem High Flight, by John Magee, before recalling the close love between Mr Thompson and his wife Millie, who died in 2004 after 56 years of marriage.
He then read the poem Flying West, by Michael J. Larkin , which closed by saying Mr Thompson his passed his “last test” and was now in heaven, with his wife and friends.
One of Mr Thompson’s only remaining friends Joan Hunter made a brief speech to thank attendees.
She said: “I am pleased you are all here, I would like to thank all of you individually – I am overwhelmed.”
A young serviceman then played the final salute on the trumpet to tearful attendees and the curtains closed around Mr Thompson’s coffin – which had his service hat, a picture of a young George, and a Union Flag upon it.
As the mourners left the chapel, We’ll Meet Again, by Dame Vera Lynn, was played.
After the funeral David Hayes said: “It was an incredible achievement that so many people came to pay tribute to an amazing man.
“It was an honour to be a part of it and I am so pleased we gave George the send-off he clearly deserved.”
Mr Thompson, from Sheffield, was in a “reserved occupation” working with wife Mildred at Laycock’s Engineering Works, which made aircraft parts. After numerous attempts he was accepted into the RAF for pilot training aged 24, flying solo just 17 days after he started training on April 13, 1942.
Mr Thompson and fellow trainees were earmarked to fly bombers and he was sent to Canada and the USA.
While training with the American Army Air Corps it was discovered he had incredible night vision. He recalled: “We were supposed to be going onto bombers but, when it was recorded about my night-sight, I went onto night fighters. That most likely saved my life because thousands of bomber crew were killed.”
He and his squadron flew night interception and patrolled the skies above the Burmese jungle looking for any Japanese incursions until VJ Day in August, 1945.
He was finally demobbed in May 1946 with the rank of Warrant Officer. Mrs Thompson died in 2004. Mr Thompson spent his final years in a care home and died on May 14.