Pupils pack church for fond farewell to five-year-old Joe

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SCHOOL children cheered, clapped and sang hymns as they celebrated the life of their five-year-old class-mate Joe Gower at his funeral yesterday.

Joe’s grieving family had organised for the service, at St Mary’s Church Alverstoke, to be carried out as an assembly, with parents bringing their children from Alverstoke Infant School.

His parents Elise and Alan, of Prince Alfred Street, in Gosport, had arranged for Joe’s coffin to be decorated as a toy box. It was placed at the front of the church with bright flowers and soft toys.

Speaking to The News after the service, Joe’s dad Alan, 44, said members of the community have supported the family, including Joe’s twin brother Jay, throughout. He paid tribute to his son.

‘The community have been brilliant – they’ve been supporting us,’ he said.

‘The school have been brilliant, they’ve looked after Jay.

‘Joe was very caring. He loved his brother, he always wanted his brother, even when he was at hospital.

‘Jay’s at the wrong age to realise what’s going on. In later years he’ll realise.’

It was a few days into a family holiday in Ibiza that Year 1 pupil Joe was diagnosed with a brain tumour on July 28.

He underwent surgery at Southampton General Hospital and chemotherapy treatment for the cancer but died on November 30.

Stacey Hodson, the deputy head teacher at Alverstoke Infant School, shared pupils and teachers’ happy memories of Joe with the congregation.

She said Joe was ‘fiercely independent’ and said he had ‘a caring, kind side’, adding, ‘Joe was such a popular member of the class and year group.’

Dozens of his class-mates were invited by Reverend Andy Davis, who led the service, to stand up on the church pews and stretch out in the shape of a star as they gave Joe three cheers.

They sang hymns including He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, Kum Ba Yah, and Give Me Oil in My Lamp.

Mourners were visibly moved as the children cheered for their friend. A service was held at the crematorium.

A children’s party had been organised at Thorngate Halls, in Bury Road, for youngsters to enjoy yesterday afternoon.

Nick Carter has been running a collection for Joe at his shop in Stoke Road.

He said: ‘It affected a lot of people in the community.’

The family asked for any donations to be paid to Wessex Children’s Hospice Trust, care of Ruby Funerals.