THROUGHOUT his life, Falklands veteran Craig Bryden brought happiness and laughter to everyone he met.
And even from beyond the grave, the inspirational dad-of-two was able to raise a smile as hundreds of mourners celebrated his life at his funeral.
The 58-year-old former Royal Navy steward from Copnor died last week following a two-year battle with lung cancer.
Craig had become an internet hit after going to chemotherapy sessions dressed as a pirate in April 2016, soon earning the nickname the ‘Pompey Pirate’ by his fellow Portsmouth FC fans.
But his funeral was far from a sombre affair, with scores of mourners arriving in fancy dress or wearing the colours of his beloved Pompey.
His family were blown away by the outpouring of love during the emotional service at Oaks Crematorium, in Havant.
His loving wife Rae Bryden said: ‘Craig touched so many hearts. He inspired so many people.
‘He was just easy to love.
‘The support we have received from friends has been invaluable and it’s lessened the heartache and sadness we all feel at his loss.’
Friends and mourners dressed as pirates and wore Pompey shirts at his funeral.
A large cohort of his old shipmates were in fancy dress. Among them was Roy Anderson, who served with Craig during the first Gulf War on HMS Gloucester.
He and about 15 other men from the ‘Fighting G’ were dressed as women in honour of their fallen shipmate.
Roy, 57, of Hayling Island, said: ‘He was Miss Gloucester while we were in the Gulf War so we’re dressed in honour of him and to celebrate his life.
‘Craig was a top, top guy and this epitomises what he was like. He’s a big loss for everyone.’
Steve Jenkin, 63, of Bournemouth, fought with Craig on Gloucester during the Gulf War, when the ship scored the first missile-to-missile kill in history while defending American warship USS Missouri.
He said: ‘Craig was “Mr Morale” who put smiles on the faces of everyone around the ship when we were at war around the Gulf. He was loved by everyone.’
It was standing room only as scores of people packed in for Craig’s funeral, greeted by the rousing tunes of Queen’s The Show Must Go On.
Tributes were paid during the service to a ‘courageous and fun-loving family man’ who was ‘proud’ of his two decades of naval service.
Craig’s dad Bill Bryden read out a heartbreaking poem in honour of his son during the service.
Speaking to The News afterwards, the 84-year-old praised the support from Craig’s friends and said: ‘It’s been fantastic. It lifts your life and makes your heart feel good. It really was an uplifting experience to come here and see so many people.’
He added: ‘I’m just so, so proud of Craig – I’ve always been proud of him.’
Craig grew up in Darvel, south west Scotland where his dad still lives. He joined the navy at 16 and fought in the Falklands War, surviving the sinking of HMS Sheffield in 1982, and later fighting in the Gulf. In his civilian career he became a painter and decorator.
After his funeral, his family and friends held a reception at Pompey’s home, Fratton Park.
Craig leaves behind wife, Rae, two children, as well as his father, Bill, and older brother, Gordon.