Leeds & West Yorkshire

Standing room only at lonely WW2 soldier funeral

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Media captionStewart Cooney's funeral was no quiet affair

It was standing room only at the funeral of a World War Two veteran following a social media appeal for mourners.

Stewart Cooney, 95, served with the Royal Artillery and died in a care home in Leeds last month.

Hundreds attended his funeral earlier, including Royal British Legion standard bearers, a piper and soldiers from his old regiment.

One organiser, Martyn Simpson, said: "We never let a brother go alone."

'Old soldier'

Other mourners included Army Reserve soldiers, a motorbike escort from the Royal British Legion Riders and members of the public.

All the seats inside the crematorium were taken and mourners left outside watched the service on television screens.

When the funeral was arranged it was believed Mr Cooney had no surviving relatives, however two women understood to be his sisters came forward after hearing of his death.

As the mourners stood outside the chapel awaiting Mr Cooney's final journey to Pudsey church, Barry Fretwell, president of Mirfield Royal British Legion, said: "It was incredibly heart-warming how people had responded".

Stacey Williams, carer at Carlton Lodge where Mr Cooney died, said he would have been overwhelmed by the turnout from strangers.

"He was the kind of man who just didn't expect that kind of thing."

At the scene: Alex Moss, BBC Online, from Rawdon crematorium

Image caption The crematorium was full after social media appeals

Hundreds of people rallied round to ensure soldier Stewart Cooney got the send-off he deserved.

This tide of strangers stood together, united in effort to ensure Mr Cooney's passing was marked by more than just a gathering of social workers, care workers and a priest.

The hearse was escorted to the crematorium by dozens of motorbikers from the Royal British Legion - clad in leather, regimental numbers on their arms identifying them as former servicemen.

Recalling Troop Sergeant Major Cooney's military life, celebrant Lynda Gomersall described how he had served in many places including Egypt, Syria and Italy's battle of Monte Cassino. She spoke of his deep love for his wife 'Barnsley Betty' and his adopted son Niall.

Quiet laughter filled the chapel when she recounted his days at the nursing home, he was described as a "cheeky chappie" who "tried his luck with the ladies".

Read more: The man with no-one to mourn him

Image caption Mr Cooney's service number was displayed in flowers in the hearse
Image copyright Alamy
Image caption Mr Cooney's funeral had military pomp to recognise his part in World War Two
Image copyright Cooney family
Image caption Stewart Cooney during his wedding and on service

Who was Stewart Cooney?

  • Enlisted in the Royal Artillery in 1943 and fought in Egypt and Sicily, before taking part in the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944
  • Married Betty, a telephonist in the Royal Artillery, at Dalmeny Church in Midlothian in 1944
  • Adopted a son, Niall, in 1953
  • Worked as a loom tuner (looking after weaving machines) at a mill in Farsley, near Leeds
  • Died at Colton Lodges Nursing Home in June 2016

Mr Simpson, who served in the RAF and is a Royal British Legion standard bearer, said having seen the online appeals he also helped spread the word and had been amazed by the response.

"It's a marvellous thing, I feel quite emotional. He served in World War Two and I don't know his history but anybody who served deserves this," he said.

Dougie Eastwood, who works for the company that runs Colton Lodges in which Mr Cooney died, started the appeal after he noticed Royal Artillery insignia in Mr Cooney's room.

Mr Eastwood, who also served in the Royal Artillery for 25 years, said: "He outlived his wife and son."

He added: " I got in touch with 269 Royal Artillery based in Leeds and it just went viral.

Image copyright Cooney family
Image caption Mr Cooney's coffin was draped in the Union flag and bear World War Two medals and a Royal Artillery cap

"I couldn't see his funeral only attended by a couple of care workers, a social worker and a priest.

"I'm quite happy he'll go the way an old soldier like him should do."

The Yorkshire Evening Post also appealed for mourners to attend the funeral.

Lynda Gomersall offered her services after seeing the appeal on Facebook. She spoke to Mr Cooney's carers and looked through old records to write the eulogy.

"I don't think anybody should go without recognition, especially soldiers," she said.

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