DRAPED in a Union flag, the coffin of Arnhem veteran Joe Hardy is carried to its final resting place by fellow paratroopers.
Mourners stood, heads bowed, as the funeral cortege arrived at Sunderland Minster, which was filled with the sounds of Battle Hymn of the Republic, a favourite song of war-time Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill.
The coffin of the 93-year-old, which was carried by members of the Parachute Regimental Association, also held his military cap and was lined with floral tributes.
The ex-Para, from Springwell, Sunderland, was among the last survivors of the ill-fated Battle of Arnhem, which saw 10,000 airborne soldiers parachute into Nazi-occupied Holland.
Speaking at the service, Reverend Stephen Hazlett paid tribute to the courageous great-grandfather.
“He was a quiet, unassuming family man,” he said. “He was held in high esteem.”
The Battle of Arnhem claimed the lives of nearly 2,000 Allied troops and was later retold in the film A Bridge Too Far.
However, Joe still regarded volunteering for the Parachute Division as “the best thing I ever did”.
Rev Hazlett added: “He was mentioned twice in dispatches for bravery in the field, but he did not regard himself as a hero. He regarded himself as a survivor.”
After landing at Oosterbeek, three miles away from the target at Nijmegen, Joe and his comrades were forced to take cover from unexpectedly heavy German resistance. He eventually managed to join fellow survivors at an airfield.
As well as the huge death toll, thousands of soldiers were taken prisoner.
The ex-corporal served with the 1st Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry from 1940-43 and had seen two years of desert warfare when the battalion was transferred to Malta and the call came for volunteers for the Paras.
After training in Palestine, he came home in January 1944 to join the 1st Airborne Division.
Joe was then on his way to Holland for Operation Market Garden, which started on September 17, 1944, and aimed to capture a series of strategically important enemy-controlled bridges. It was on the second day that his battalion set off – but the element of surprise was over and the enemy was waiting.
Joe, who had been suffering from Alzheimer’s, died on Monday, December 12.
The Echo attended his funeral with the permission of his family.