As the rain teemed down from the skies he flew in with such honour, they turned out in their hundreds to pay tribute to distinguished veteran airman Sidney Marshall.
Serving and veteran members of the Royal Air Force and other services, strangers to Sidney from all across the country as well as throughout Fylde all joined his younger brother, nephew and other relatives in saying a moving farewell to the Second World War veteran who died at his home in St Annes, aged 90.
Eight months after an appeal in The Gazette’s sister paper – the Lytham St Annes Express – prompted more than 500 to turn out at the funeral of veteran soldier Harold Jellicoe Percival, funeral director Eddie Jacobs made a similar plea in The Gazette after Sidney’s death at his home in Caryl Road, St Annes – and even more rallied round.
An estimated at 1,000 people, many who had travelled hundreds of miles, braved yesterday’s dreadful weather to pay their respects to the D-Day hero and recipient of the Distinguished Flying Medal.
Nephew Trevor said: “It’s a bit overwhelming but so good of everyone to come along”, while Bill said: “I never knew Sydney had so many friends – he would have been so proud.”
Funeral director Eddie said: “It’s a fantastic turnout and thanks to everyone who came along, Sidney’s family members really appreciate it.”
Liz Robinson from St Annes, a veteran of the women’s Royal Navy service, the Wrens, was among the crowd.
“I just had to come and say goodbye,” she said. “I was in the Fleet Air Arm category of the Wrens so worked closely with the RAF and feel an association with them.
“I was just a few weeks old at the time of D-Day and without the service of men such as Sidney, who knows how things might have been? This our way of saying ‘thank you’”.
Representatives of 9 Squadron of the RAF, in which Sidney served as a Mid Upper Gunner on Lancaster aircraft in the Second World War, travelled from their base at RAF Marham in Norfolk, while RAF sergeant James Rogers, raised in north Fylde, arranged an overnight trip back to his home patch especially to pay his own tribute.
“I was looking for Blackpool news on the internet and saw the story about the funeral on the Gazette website,” said James, a former pupil of Cardinal Allen School, Fleetwood, who was accompanied buy his mother Lynda, from Stalmine.
“I have no courses on at the moment so I asked for the time off to travel up for the funeral and it is an honour to be here.”
A dozen members of the Royal British Legion Riders Club travelled north by motor cycle from Warwickshire while the Veterans Honoured organisation had representatives from as far afield as Darlington and Aldershot.
Members of the Royal Air Force Association and organisations such as the Royal Marine Association and the Royal British Legion formed a guard of honour as the hearse bearing Sidney’s coffin arrived at Lytham Park Crematorium for a service conducted by the Rev David Phillips of Fairhaven’s White Church.
Sidney’s 84-year-old younger brother, now the only one remaining of nine siblings, recalled Sidney’s life, which began in Newcastle in 1923, and saw him complete 28 sorties over heavily defended targets in Germany during distinguished Second World War service, being involved in attacks on the German battleship Tirpitz as well as the D-Day landings.
As Sidney’s RAF cap sat atop his coffin, it was standing room only in the crematorium chapel for a ceremony which concluded with the strains of Jerusalem, Amazing Grace and finally and so touchingly, the Last Post.
Michael Turner, the Royal British Legion’s Lancashire county chairman, recited the Ode Of Remembrance at the service and said afterwards: “We are all so grateful for what people such as Sidney Marshall did for their country and it is wonderful that so many people have turned out to pay tribute.
“The reaction to this appeal and that a few months ago for Harold Percival have been marvellous and who knows how many more such appeals will have to be made for people to help pay respects for war veterans with few if any relatives? I suppose hey are going to increase in number with the passing of the years..
“Remembrance isn’t just about a few days in November and the past. The Royal British Legion is an organisation for every day or every years and very much of the present. It is always so encouraging to see tribute paid in this way.”
Eddie Mansfield, a former RAF man who was brought up in Lytham, travelled from Shropshire, which has been his home for more than 30 years, for the funeral and said: “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world and I was so proud to be present and involved.
“It is important we remember people such as Sidney Marshall and the distinguished service they gave.”