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The Globe and Mail

What prompted hundreds to attend this lonely war veteran’s funeral?

A floral tribute lies on the floor after the funeral of war veteran Harold Jellicoe Percival at Lytham Park Crematorium in Lytham St Annes, northern England, Nov. 11, 2013.


They had promised to come and they did.

On a day of Remembrance, Harold Jellicoe Percival was not forgotten.

In a case of the present faithfully serving the past, hundreds of people who found his story as it moved across social media hands, stood in the rain today to ensure the 99-year-old war veteran was properly put to rest.

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Percival, known as "Coe," served as ground crew for the 617 Squadron which carried out the raids on German dams in May, 1943. But he never married or had children, and when he died in a nursing home last month in Lytham St Annes in Lancashire, England, he had few family who lived close enough to attend his funeral. The funeral home placed an ad, asking for people to attend.

The newspaper ad was scanned and placed on the Internet, and passed around through social media, tweeted over and over again.

As the BBC reports, the nursing home was soon fielding dozens of calls – among them, a soldier on leave from Afghanistan who wanted to attend, and an 80-year-old woman from London who had also served with the Royal Air Force.

"We marvel at the power of the printed word," said Reverend Alan Clark, who conducted the service, "whether on paper or screen."

Today, his funeral, which included a band playing the Dambusters March, was attended by school children, local families, active soldiers and retired veterans.

"He was a quiet man, he was an ordinary man who did his duty and served in the war," Mr. Percival's nephew, Andrew Colyer-Worrsall told the BBC. "And to see so many people turn up, it's just overwhelming."

But this is the day, after all, to honour the past actions of ordinary men and women.

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And perhaps the life of Harold "Coe" Percival offers one final lesson: Tweets may tell a story, but standing up in person is still the most powerful contribution.

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