This is the touching moment hundreds of strangers turned out for the funeral of a retired soldier who died with no living friends or relatives to give him a hero’s send off.
Nursing home bosses launched an appeal for mourners to attend the service of Alex McDougall, who died aged 77 on June 8.
The brave gunner served his country for 30 years – surviving being shot at and almost starving to death on limited rations – and was described as being “married to the job” in the Army.
Mr McDougall passed away at Beeston Lodge Nursing Home, Notts., after suffering from dementia and cancer.
Staff at the care home put out an appeal for anyone with a link to the military or his beloved Rangers Football Club to attend his funeral.
But they were overwhelmed when over 500 people from across the UK turned up at Bramcote Crematorium on June 26 to remember the “forgotten” solider.
Members of the Armed Force, Royal British Legion, and emergency services filled the grounds of the crematorium for the service at 3.45pm
Standard bearers lined the route to the Reflection Chapel as a RAF piper Andy Mackey played the bagpipes as he walked in front of the hearse.
Mourners crammed into the 46-seater chapel and there was standing room available with hundreds of people left outside trying to listen to the 20-minute service.
The Scottish national anthem ‘Flower of Scotland’ was played as the coffin, which was draped in a Royal Artillery Association flag, entered the room and ‘Scotland the Brave’ was also played during the service.
Paying tribute to Mr McDougall, civil celebrant Keith Brown, who conducted the service, said: “Alex was a man who was loved by all those who knew him.
“Alex touched the hearts and lives of so many people in his own way.
“Thank you all for such a wonderful turnout. I expected to be here with four people not 400.
“It is a remarkable show of affection for one soldier so God bless you all for that.”
Mr Brown also read out a tribute from staff at the nursing home which said the ex-soldier was well known for his love of Rangers FC and a cup of tea.
They added: “Popular with the staff and residents alike, Alex was a big part of everyday life at the home.
“People have remarked how much they have missed his voice echoing down the corridors.
“Alex was one of life’s true characters who had a great 77 years living life just how he wanted to.”
John Gordon, from the British Legion, also read the ‘Last Post’ as standard bearers lowered their flags inside the small chapel.
The Acker Bilk classic ‘Always On My Mind’ was then played as mourners, several of them in tears, left the room at the end of the emotional service.
Mr McDougall, who had three sisters, was born in Glasgow and moved to Beeston, when he was aged 21, signing up at Chetwynd Barracks after his parents died in a car crash.
He was a gunner and toured Cyprus and Portugal with the Royal Ordinance Corps and nursing home staff believe he may have been awarded the British Empire Medal.
Paying tribute to Mr McDougall outside after the service, Deborah King, a staff nurse at Beeston Lodge who looked after the pensioner, said: “We are all overwhelmed.
“It is so nice that people have taken time and come from far and wide just to say goodbye.
“He deserved this send off. No soldier should go to their final resting place. His duty has been done and he’s had his last send off.”
Andy Gregory, county chairman of the Nottinghamshire branches of the British Legion, added: “We heard about the appeal and had to organise to come, it is brothers in arms.
“The saddest thing in the world is somebody living and dying on their own.
“Fortunately he was cared for so that was his family but now he has got his brothers here which is absolutely magnificent.”
Andy Mackey, who played the bagpipes as the hearse made its way to the chapel, said: “I saw about the appeal and was about to look into it when I received a call asking me to play.
“It is an honour to be here and be part of this occasion. He sounds like the kind of man who deserves to be remembered this fondly.”
Mr McDougall will have his ashes scattered at Ibrox Stadium and several supporters of the club travelled hundreds of miles to attend the service.
Jim Hannah, Rangers’ fans liaison manager, who flew with Glasgow yesterday, said: “There are quite a few boys who have come from Glasgow to be here.
“I thought it was such a sad story and he deserved as many people here as possible.
“I shared it as widely as I could and it went viral with all the Rangers fans. A load of people who couldn’t make it but knew soldiers nearby asked them to come.
“No doubt he would have been over the moon with the turnout. There are two families here, there is the veterans family and the Rangers family.
“I loved the fact that nurses told me Alex had a picture of the Rangers stadium by his bedside.
“A small amount of his ashes will be buried in the pitch and the rest will be scattered at the ground.”
Scottish athlete and Commonwealth Games 800m silver medallist Lynsey Sharp also made the short journey from her training base in Loughborough, Leics., to attend the funeral.
She said: “It is so sad that someone who fought for his country might have no-one there.
“It is only 25 minutes from me and nothing out of my day so it was the least I could do. It is an amazing turnout.”