Roy Exum: Hundreds Honor Unknown Vet

Tuesday, November 12, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Late in his life at the nursing home, nobody ever called on Harold Jellico Percival. When you live to be 99 that is sometimes the case, especially since “Coe” lived a rather solitary life as it was. He had outlived his children and every other family member to anyone’s knowledge, yet when final rites were said for the World War II veteran in the small town of Lytham St Annes, in northwest England yesterday, hundreds ignored foul weather to pay their final respects.

Not a one had ever met him – mind you -- save for a handful of nursing home employees, but there was such a crowd that many stood outside the chapel in the cold November rain. As others around the world celebrated their veterans on what was once called Armistice Day, now Remembrace Day in England and Veterans Day in the United States, scores of people in and around Lytham St Annes paid homage to this totally unknown hero.

In a dazzling display of mankind’s heart, many wore military uniforms and carried red poppies after the Alistre Lodge Nursing Home posted a small “advert” in the local newspaper announcing Percival’s last rites. You see, in the small ad was a line, “A single man, Harold has no close family who can attend his funeral. He served in RAF Bomber Command as ground crew during the Second World War. Any service personnel who can attend his funeral service would be appreciated.”

That is all it took. A sharp-eyed newspaper reporter spied the announcement and a Page One story appeared. That triggered the social media – word spreading fast on the Internet and Facebook. Sgt. Rick Clement, a badly-wounded Afghanistan veteran, wrote to his Facebook friends, “If you’re in the area give him the send off he deserves. This guy needs and deserves your help” and within hours hundreds answered the call.

When Armistice Day was first held, it was to celebrate the armistice signed by England and Germany to end the fighting on the Western Front in World War I. The agreement was signed at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, so at 11 a.m. sharp on Monday – 95 years ago to the minute -- the casket bearing the remains of Percival, draped in the blue flag of the Royal Air Force, was hoisted onto stout shoulders and carried into the overflowing chapel of the Lytham Park Crematorium.

As the casket was brought forward, soft strains of the Dambuster’s March could be heard, since “Coe” had helped with the bombers involved in the daring attacks on dams in Germany back in 1943. Then the crowd, pressed in tightly, listened to parts of Laurence Binyon’s poem, “For the Fallen,” which has since been adopted in Britain as “The Ode of Remembrance:”

“They went with songs to the battle, they were young. 
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow. 
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted, 
They fell with their faces to the foe. 
 
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: 
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. 
At the going down of the sun and in the morning, 
We will remember them.

“They mingle not with their laughing comrades again; 
They sit no more at familiar tables of home; 
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time; 
They sleep beyond England's foam.”

At the end of the reading a line is added by the leader, “Lest we forget” and – as is the custom – hundreds attending Percival’s funeral repeated the line together as if by oath, “Lest we forget.”

The Rev. Alan Clark, his hands holding a Bible, told the crowd, "You have come in numbers surpassing anything that was expected, not because you knew him, but because each of us has a common humanity." The crowd recited “The Lord’s Prayer,” sang the hymn “Jerusalem,” and then stood as the bugler sounded “The Last Post.”

"It was completely overwhelming, something we did not expect at all, this huge turnout," Lorraine Holt, matron of the nursing home, told reporters afterwards. "We have lots of veterans at the home and each and every one of them should be remembered like this."

Yes ma’am, they certainly should. We should honor all veterans the very way total strangers did “Coe” Percival in England yesterday. “Lest we forget.”

royexum@aol.com



Managed Hunting Is Necessary In Maintaining A Stable Deer Population - And Response

I enjoy seeing the whitetail deer that we have in so many areas here in East Tennessee, but here in Hamilton County we have been approaching the maximum habitat sustainability in some places including the Enterprise South area. I make this statement due to the fact that I have seen up to 20 deer driving around in Hixson in one evening during the summer. I believe that TWRA is doing ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: At Last! New Schools

In this me-me-me-only-me world of today, we-we-we-finally got a thrilling $125 million facility plan for the Hamilton County Department of Education on Thursday night. The School Board unanimously approved a well-thought-out “first Band-Aid” that will provide a new elementary school in Harrison, middle schools in East Hamilton and Howard, and a quite-satisfactory answer to move ... (click for more)

Signal Mountain To Hold Public Meetings On Idea Of Setting Up Own School System

Discussion about follow-up public meetings regarding the Signal Mountain School System Viability Committee (SMSSVC) report dominated the council’s work session on Friday afternoon. Council member Dan Landrum’s opinion about how to proceed differed from the other four council members. Mr. Landrum argued to end the study and to hold no public meetings. His reason was that of the 738 ... (click for more)

Man Shot Multiple Times In Cleveland; Jesus Teague, 14, Is Wanted

On Saturday, at 6:12 a.m., Cleveland Police Department responded to 1210 Elrod Place SE in reference to a domestic disturbance.   A man sustained multiple gunshot wounds and was transported to Erlanger by Life Force. His condition is stable, at this time.   The suspect, Jesus Tyler Teague, 14, is still at large and considered armed and dangerous. ... (click for more)

John Gilpin Dominates Signal Mountain Pie Run

You can almost be guaranteed of one thing when John Gilpin approaches the starting line of a road race. Chances are better than average that the former Chattanooga Moc track and cross country standout is going to win. Such was the case at the annual Signal Mountain Pie Run Saturday morning as the 25-year-old Nashville resident covered a hilly and challenging 10K course in ... (click for more)

Bears Rout William Blount To Set Up Title Showdown With Maryville

Bradley Central didn’t succumb to a look-ahead scenario Friday night. The Bears exploded for 41 first-half points behind strong efforts by wide receiver Nick Howell and quarterback Dylan Standifer and routed visiting William Blount, 51-27, at Bear Stadium in a Region 2-6A football game. Howell scored five touchdowns, three on runs of 1, 31 and 13 yards and snagged two ... (click for more)