Hundreds of people from across the world attended the funeral of a Sheffield war veteran they never knew after The Star called for him to receive the send-off he deserved.
George Thompson fought bravely in the Second World War but died with no close family members and few surviving friends.
The Star joined calls earlier this week from the Royal Air Force Association to give George, 96, of Woodseats, a fitting send-off.
The appeal quickly gathered momentum and the invitation went viral.
And yesterday as many as 300 wellwishers from around the globe gathered at Hutcliffe Wood Crematorium to bid a fond farewell to George.
Wally Walsh, from Australia, said: “We had come over from Australia on holiday and were staying in Berkshire. But we saw the appeal for people to come, and my wife and I decided we would make the trip to pay our respects.
“It’s a fabulous to see so many people gathered.”
Before the service John Bullivant, from Beauchief, and Denis Williams, from Woodseats, paid tribute to the friend they worked with at Laycock’s Engineering Works.
John said: “He was a very loyal man, a good man. He was an intelligent man and you couldn’t ever take him away from his purpose.
“The turnout is unbelievable. I wouldn’t have believed this many people would come.”
Little Christopher Brown was among the youngest who lined the drive up to the crematorium. The 15-month-old from Halifax was there with his ex-serviceman dad Colin and mum Sarah Noke.
Sarah said: “We saw the appeal on Facebook. Colin was in the engineers, and this was one of the closest funerals of ex-servicemen, so we thought we’d attend.”
As the coffin was brought up to the chapel, servicemen, led by the sound of bagpipes, saluted the hero.
The coffin was then taken inside and the congregation – servicemen, war veterans and members of the emergency services - packed into the pews.
The chapel was so full that many people listened to the service outside on speakers.
He was a ‘quiet, methodical man’ - who would have been ‘overwhelmed’ by the attention his funeral attracted. That was the verdict of amazed friends of war hero George Thompson - whose final farewell was transformed from a modest service into a sensational send-off with mourners from across the land.
Civil celebrant David Hayes read aloud the poem High Flight, by John Magee, before recalling the close love between George and his wife Millie, who died in 2004 after 56 years of marriage. He said George had passed his ‘last test’ and was now in heaven, with his wife and friends.
One of George’s only remaining friends, Joan Hunter, made a brief speech to thank attendees.
She told the assembled mourners: “I am pleased you are all here, and I would like to thank all of you individually – I am overwhelmed.”
Following the service, she told The Star: “I want to thank everyone personally, but there are so many. I even had an email from China from someone sending their best wishes.
“George would have been overwhelmed.”
Keith Wilson, who lived near George on Ashbury Drive, Norton, and is a distant relative of Millie, said: “He would have been laughing his socks off at this, and Millie too.
“It’s overwhelming for everyone concerned.
“We heard about the funeral on Facebook, and by the time we found out it had already gathered momentum, so we thought there would be a good turnout.”