Friday, 29 January 2010

Poor old Burwell

Sue and I attended today the funeral service at St. Mary's Church, Burwell, of the late Private Robbie Hayes, of Burwell and the 1st Battalion, the Royal Anglian Regiment, who was killed in Afghanistan on Sunday, the 3rd day of this month.

I don't believe that Burwell has ever seen such a large gathering of mourners and sympathisers on any one occasion. The church was, of course, packed, with many standing, and there were many more outside in the cold and sleety weather. We were fortunate in that, whilst the service was due to start at 1 p.m., we were in the village by 11.15 a.m, had soon parked our car in the grounds of Brian and Hilary Marsh's house (with permission), and had arrived at St. Mary's by 11.30 a.m., when we were allocated good seating in a side aisle.

Our grandson, who was a Bottisham Village College school mate and a Newmarket Rugby Club friend of Robbie Hayes, also arrived in time to obtain a seat.

The opening hymn was 'I Vow to Thee My Country,' and here follow the words that were sung:

"I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

And there's another country, I've heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness and all her paths are peace."

The event was most moving and all who had a part to play played it well. We commend especially our friend, the Revd. Canon Stephen Earl, Vicar of Burwell, whose every word was well chosen, clearly and kindly delivered, and meaningful in every sense. How on earth some of the readers - Robbie's mother and girl-friend, for example - coped with the situation, I'll never know, but cope they did, and well.

Scores of military personnel, both veterans and serving soldiers, were in attendance, as was my friend, Councillor John Powley, the vice-chairman of Cambridgeshire County Council, and my friend, Councillor Peter Cresswell, chairman of East Cambridgeshire District Council. Burwell itself was represented by many hundreds of individuals, some known to me, others not. All had come to pay their respects and all had reason to regard Robbie Hayes as a hero, which he was.

Sadly, though, our local hero is dead, and so are 250 others, killed over more than eight years of the appallingly wasteful Afghanistan adventure.

My reaction, both during the service and afterwards, was to think and to say to a few long-time friends, 'Poor old Burwell.' The village, which is only about four miles from where we live and which I represented as its County Councillor, is a sad place today and will be for many a day in the future.

Here is the link to the Cambridge News report of the funeral -

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