Hundreds of people gathered at a London church on Thursday for the funeral of one of the last Black Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots to have fought in World War II.
Flight Sergeant Peter Brown, born in Jamaica in 1926, was one of the so-called “Pilots of the Caribbean,” a group of Afro-Caribbean RAF volunteers.
The veteran died alone aged 96 at his home in London in December, according to the United Kingdom’s PA Media news agency.
Brown’s funeral was held at St. Clement Danes Church, used by the RAF as a place of remembrance to those who served, where his coffin was draped in the Union Flag in front of hundreds of guests.
The ceremony was initially set to be much more a modest affair, until an appeal by the local council to give the veteran a more “fitting send-off” was picked up by archivists and historians, which then captured the public imagination.
Since the appeal went out, “there has been a search spanning the globe for his relatives and a number of leads were followed up by council officers and genealogists,” Westminster City Council said in a statement in April.
British defense secretary Ben Wallace, and Members of Parliament Tom Tugendhat and Johnny Mercer – who have each served in the military themselves – tweeted their support for finding his family.
After organizers were “inundated with requests to attend the service,” a new date and venue were arranged “to accommodate the very many well-wishers” the appeal had reached.
“Arrangements were made to ensure Mr. Brown received a dignified send-off worthy of his life story,” said a statement from Westminster council.
Hundreds of mourners responded to the call, with many flying thousands of miles to pay their respects.
Brooke Alexander, a relative of Brown’s contacted during the appeal, traveled from Kingston, Jamaica’s capital, to attend the funeral.
“Flight Sergeant Brown is an example of the selfless contribution of all Commonwealth personnel who have served throughout the RAF’s history,” an RAF spokesperson said.
Donald Campbell, 71, founder of The Forgotten Generations charity and a former RAF pilot, told PA Media: “When I joined the Royal Air Force in the 1970s, I had no idea there were African and Caribbean people like Peter Brown who served in World War Two.”
“I wish I’d known about people like Peter because it would have given me the confidence to say, my forebears fought for this country, some of them died, so I have a right to be here,” Campbell added to the news agency.
“There are so many Peter Browns out there whose stories are of benefit to future generations.”