Thanks go to Brian Whitaker and Nigel Bean for escorting the EMB standard.
Also present were Gary Preston, Tony Ford and Mike Chidgey.
 

 

Thousands line Melton streets for funeral of serviceman killed in Afghanistan

Saturday, October 31, 2009, 09:30

 

It was a day Melton will never forget – a day of pride and heartbreak that no-one wants to go through ever again.

They stood seven or eight deep in places, crammed on corners, jammed in doorways, hushed; some weeping, all united in a show of solemn respect for a fallen hero, one of their own.

Corporal Marcin Wojtak, a gunner in the Royal Air Force Regiment, was killed by the Taliban while out on patrol in Afghanistan.

"He was much loved and respected by all who had the honour of serving with him," said Marcin's commanding officer Wing Commander Shaun Ryles. "He will never be forgotten."

That was to be demonstrated in a remarkable show of public sympathy which brought Melton to a standstill.

They turned out in their thousands. Many seemed to know him or knew someone who did. Countless lives had been touched by the "gentle giant" whom everyone affectionately called Ted.

Eleven-year-olds Charlotte Ball and Emily Hill were taught by Marcin's mum Teresa Woods.

"We met Marcin," said Charlotte. "He came into school and talked to us. He was really, really nice. He let us try his helmet on and have our photographs taken with him."

Emily nodded somberly. "Miss Woods was really proud of him," she said. "She used to have lots of pictures up of him in the classroom. We got special permission to come out of school, so we could pay our respects."

Yesterday, the 24-year-old from Croxton Kerrial came home, laid to rest in Melton's Thorpe Road Cemetery after a full military funeral of almost unbearable poignancy.

A lone bugler sounded a desolate Last Post after Marcin's flag-draped coffin had been gently lowered into the damp earth.

RAF comrades fired three volleys of shots into the air.

Two Harriers streaked overhead through the slate grey sky.

Marcin's friends from the air force, square of shoulder, backs ramrod straight, swallowed down their emotions, eyes fixed on a distant nowhere.

His family could not hold back their grief.

The day began with a private family service in the town's Our Lady of Czestohowa Polish church.

Marcin's RAF comrades, too many to fit into the small church, heard the service piped through a PA system in the club next door.

After this came the procession through the town. Many residents said they had never seen anything quite like it.

Andrea McQuaid was there with her two daughters and baby grandson.

"All my family are in the military," said the 39-year-old from Whissendine. "It is 'There but for the grace of God' isn't it? We could have been in the position of that poor young man's family today.

"We're here today, not just for him, but for all the others who have died. For all those who are still over there."

Andrea smiled down at her grandson asleep in his buggy.

"He won't remember today," she said. "Hopefully, he'll never have to take part in something like this."

Former servicemen and women stood proud sentry with their Royal British Legion Standards.

"We are proud, proud to honour Marcin and all our servicemen and women," said Keith Hassall, county standard bearer for the Legion.

"He was killed on active service. He made the ultimate sacrifice. He deserves this recognition from all of us."

From Burton Street, around the corner into Sherrard Street, all the way to Thorpe End and beyond the mourners stood – a thick thread of observers, stretching as far as the eye could see, massed ranks of shoppers, workers, locals and out-of-towners, the old and the young.

Many, like David and Ivy Ellis, had poppies sprouting from their lapels.

"We're both ex-services," said74-year-old David from Leicester.

"We just had to come. We wanted to show our support for his family. You can't imagine it, can you?

"It's just such a shame, so many young lives being lost."

Silence fell as the hearse and three long black limousines inched into view.

And then something quite remarkable.

A ripple of applause ran down the line, keeping perfect pace with the funeral cortege.

It was entirely spontaneous – and felt absolutely right.

"He was 24 years old," said Carol Wade, as she blinked back the tears.

"He had just started his life. It seems so awful that someone of that age has had his life taken away.

"Coming here was the least I could do, that all of us could do. I'm so pleased to see so many people here."

Cheeks were streaked with tears. Staff from Tesco snuffled into paper handkerchiefs. A little girl cried into the crook of her mum's neck; too young to properly understand what was happening, but understanding enough.

If Marcin's family needed to know their son's sacrifice had not been in vain, then it was there for them to see.

People do care. They care a lot.