On July 24th 2019 I covered a story for the Belfast Telegraph about a Northen Ireland war hero who’s funeral took place in Shrewsbury. Sometimes it feels that there is surplus of things going on in the world are, to say the least, unpleasant. Its therefore uplifting to cover an act of kindness such as is highlighted in this assignment. RB
Northern Ireland-born war hero who died with no family given full military funeral.
The funeral of Harold ‘Lee’ Tracey in Shrewsbury yesterday Photographs: Richard Bishop
More than 250 strangers yesterday attended the funeral of a former airman and intelligence officer from Northern Ireland who died in England without any family.
War hero Harold ‘Lee’ Tracey passed away in May aged 93 after suffering a stroke.
As there were no next-of-kin to pay funeral costs, it was feared he would receive a pauper’s funeral.
But the Shrewsbury RAF Association intervened to ensure he was given a full military funeral at the town’s crematorium.
Yesterday’s service, led by Rev Wing Commander Alastair Bissell, featured hymns and a reading, and ended with the Last Post played by RAF buglers.
It was a fitting tribute for a man who worked for MI6 and later passed on his interest in coding and surveillance to air cadets in the Shropshire town of Oswestry, where he lived.
Mr Tracey was born in Northern Ireland in 1926. When his father died five years later, his mother put both him and his sisters up for adoption and he grew up in an English orphanage.
He worked for Kodak and joined the Air Training Corps, and served in the RAF between 1943 and 1947.
Later he worked for the security services and launched a surveillance equipment company.
Mr Tracey married the singer and actress Maria Wagg in 1961. They moved to Oswestry in 2002 but following her death, Mr Tracey became lonely and isolated.
He died on May 16, with no known family.
Yesterday, standard bearers from local RAF associations, the Royal British Legion and the 1165 Air Cadet squadron, walked in front of the hearse containing his coffin, draped in a Union flag.
A guard of honour was provided by cadets from the RAF 60 Squadron at RAF Shawbury.
Retired squadron leader Shawn Marston, the RAF Association’s national standard bearer, said: “When we hear stories such as that of Lee Tracey, it is deeply humbling.”
Stan Wilkinson, Don Somers and John Henry Plumridge, buglers from the Rifles and Buglers Association, took part in the service.
Mr Wilkinson said: “We go to many funerals, among other events, and they are very special.
“Mr Tracey served his country well.”
Nick Nicholson, retired wing commander, was the RAF Association befriender who knew Mr Tracey in the last 16 months of his life.
“He had an incredible life, in intelligence for the RAF and out of the RAF,” he said.
“There are stories he told me that I could never retell.
“He was a very gentle man and extremely intelligent.”
Cadet Sergeant Nell Hayward also had fond memories of Mr Tracey.
He recalled: “He would tell us about his time in the RAF and would set us decoding challenges, which were so difficult to work out.
“One day he even brought in special keys that had tiny cameras in and gave us one each.”
Reporter: Mark Bain Photographer: Richard Bishop