That was the powerful message from the 100 or more strangers who turned up to give Royal Marines veteran John Harley Campbell, known as Ian, the send-off befitting of a distinguished serviceman at Portchester Crematorium.
The 78-year-old, who died at Queen Alexandra Hospital on July 14, nearly went to the grave in the most underwhelming fashion – with an unmarked grave. The penniless marine, who had no family nearby, was set to be given an environmental health funeral from Portsmouth City Council, previously known as a pauper’s funeral.
But after being alerted of the ‘sad’ predicament involving the decorated former Paulsgrove resident – who received a Good Conduct medal and the Malaysian Service Medal during his career – the Royal Marines Association together with Forgotten Veterans UK united to ensure Ian was given a just send-off.
On a sunny day at the crematorium, the place was lit-up by Armed Forces veterans in full military regalia as they showed solidarity for one of their own as he was laid to rest.
Standard bearer Charles Pearce, of the Royal Engineers Association Solent and District, said: ‘I understand he had no family nearby and was going to be given a pauper’s funeral after he died penniless but that all changed once everyone heard and rallied round.
‘I won’t have a squaddie who served his country going to the grave unrepresented. He should have some recognition.
‘We’re all comrades no matter what service or branch we are from.’
Pete Mower, of the Royal Marines Association, said it would have been a ‘crying shame’ if Ian was not given a proper send-off. ‘We wouldn't let a marine be buried without saying goodbye,’ he said.
‘There are a lot of people here today – not just Royal Marines – but people from all the Armed Forces.
‘It says everything about being in the service...the companionship, the friendship. It binds you all together.
‘At the funeral directors I saw his medals and found out he had served in Borneo, Aden and Northern Ireland. So he had been and seen and done it all.’
Peter Halsby, also of the city marines association, revealed the wheels of motion started when a contact at the hospital contacted founder of Forgotten Veterans Gary Weaving. He then put out the call before the central branch of the Royal Marines Association got involved and decided to pay for the funeral.
However, all was not straight-forward to begin with amid confusion over Ian’s name – with a former Southsea veteran called Ian Campbell initially thought to be the deceased before it transpired he was ‘alive and kicking’.
Eventually the late Ian was recognised by a fellow former serviceman in a picture on board HMS Belfast.
Peter added: ‘We wouldn’t see a veteran be given his final resting place without a Royal Marines presence. We look after our own. When this sort of thing happens all the military come together.’
Paul Hickman, a RMA member who delivered the service, said: ‘I heard Ian was going to be given a pauper’s funeral and I said, “no I will do service”. Then the whole RMA jumped in and we had a full turnout for the service.’
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Anne Bradley, a former Wren who lives in Waterlooville, said: ‘I came to give the poor chap a proper send-off.
‘This is what service people do. We are all one big family, especially in Portsmouth. It’s a good turnout.
‘It would have been awful if he wasn’t given a proper funeral. It’s sad he was left penniless. I think veterans need to ask for support more. Maybe some are too proud.’
Doreen Wilce, 86, of Waterlooville, who was married to a Royal Marine, said: ‘You expect the military to do this for one of their own. It’s nice the bikers came out in support too.’
Tony Lofthouse, Norman Wareing and Bob Stinton, members of the riders branch of RMA, were also showing their respects.
‘I’ve come from Andover today. Once the call came out we wanted to show our respects,’ Tony said.
‘We’ve also taken part in the Ride of Respect and have visited all the graves of those who have fallen in the Falklands. Next year we will go out there to visit the final 15 graves.’