Carried on the shoulders of the local fire brigade, draped in the Union flag and with Vera Lynn ringing out over the white caps of the local Sea Scouts, Sir David Amess could hardly have received a more traditional, patriotic farewell yesterday.
Nor a more heartfelt one.
From one end of Southend-on-Sea to the other, the murdered MP was applauded on his way by constituents of every political persuasion and none, united in their recognition of a man widely regarded as the exemplar of what a local Member of Parliament should be.
Pallbearers carried Sir David Amess’ coffin from St Mary’s Church in Southend yesterday following his funeral on a beautiful autumn afternoon
‘I’m just so glad that the last time I saw him I told him what a wonderful constituency MP he was,’ said Frances Neil, whom I met in the crowd during the two-mile procession.
‘And David replied: ‘You know me, Frances. I’ll help anyone’. And he did.’
Frances, it transpired, was a stalwart of the local Labour Party. That did not matter a row of beans yesterday.
I met everyone from local Tory luminaries to diehard socialists who had turned out on a bracing winter afternoon to pay their respects.
Sir David’s family at his funeral. From one end of Southend-on-Sea to the other, the murdered MP was applauded on his way by constituents of every political persuasion
After all, Sir David is the man they all have to thank for the fact that they no longer live in a town but in a city.
One of his many long-running campaigns had been to secure city status for his sprawling conurbation on the south Essex coast.
It was a measure of both the dedication of the man and of the shock which followed his killing in the midst of a constituency surgery six weeks ago that the Prime Minister unhesitatingly granted his wish as a posthumous tribute.
Carried on the shoulders of the local fire brigade, draped in the Union flag and with Vera Lynn ringing out over the white caps of the local Sea Scouts, Sir David could hardly have received a more traditional, patriotic farewell yesterday
Today, the political establishment will honour Sir David at a requiem mass at Westminster Cathedral.
Yesterday was the turn of the people of Essex who had sent him to Westminster on nine consecutive occasions (as MP for Southend West and, previously, for neighbouring Basildon).
His widow, Julia, and their five children had chosen the Anglican Church of St Mary the Virgin, Prittlewell.
Though Sir David was a devout Roman Catholic, this handsome old Saxon church is by far the largest in Southend (indeed, it may now be upgraded to a cathedral thanks to Southend’s new-found city status).
Members of the local Sea Scouts lined a path through the churchyard along which Sir David’s coffin was carried
St Mary’s was packed with 450 family, friends and representatives of the various organisations championed by Sir David.
The list was a long one, as his old friend and neighbouring Tory MP, Mark Francois, pointed out in his eulogy.
Quoting Tennyson’s Ulysses –’Strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield’ – Mr Francois went on: ‘The David Amess that I knew, never yielded on an important point of principle, to anyone. And so, neither shall we. Despite this awful tragedy, we are going to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’.’
Born on the edges of London’s East End just over six years after the end of the Second World War, Sir David was of a generation raised on an old-fashioned love of country, on tales of the Blitz, on the importance of looking after one’s neighbours. The day was peppered with references to those values.
Mourners paid tribute to Sir David, Conservative MP for Southend West, who was fatally stabbed last month while meeting with constituents in Leigh-on-Sea.
Sir David, we learned, had never been prouder than when he was invited to Windsor for his investiture in 2015.
‘I never dreamt that, one day, a boy from Forest Gate would be made a knight, by a Queen, in a castle,’ he had told his local paper.
‘David had recently joined a campaign to help raise funds for a memorial to Dame Vera Lynn,’ his family explained, in a statement which was read out by his old friend and ex-MP, Ann Widdecombe.
‘To him, she epitomised the strength and courage of our nation.’
Sure enough, the choir sang Dame Vera’s signature tune, ‘We’ll Meet Again’, as the coffin made its way out into the sunshine where hundreds more people had been following the service on speakers in the churchyard.
Sir David was then placed on an old-fashioned hearse drawn by four black-plumed horses in true East End style.
He had arranged an identical send-off for his mother, Maud, after her death at the heroic age of 104 in 2016. Now, he would ride through Southend in similar style.
Police motorcycle outriders cleared the way as the procession made its way down Victoria Avenue past the offices of the local council.
Sir David was a much-loved constituency MP, and many local people have spoken fondly of their interactions with him over the decades
There, staff came out on to the street to applaud Sir David. Past the railway station and on through town he went, making one unannounced detour to travel past the family home.
There, Julia and the children had reassembled to see him pass his front door for the last time.
I noticed an unusually large number of mourners with dogs. Sir David loved his pets and would often stop for a chat with anyone on the other end of a lead.
‘I don’t think we could have asked for a better MP,’ said retired builder Mike Capp who had brought his eight-year-old bulldog, Matilda, to say goodbye since Sir David had once admired her jowls at the local dog show.
Musician Andy Schurer had come to honour ‘a different sort of Conservative’.
Sir David – whose coffin was seen arriving at St Mary’s yesterday – was stabbed to death during a constituency surgery he was holding at Belfairs Methodist Church
Jan Oliver had come to honour a man who had worked tirelessly to repatriate the body of her son when he died unexpectedly overseas, aged 30.
‘David even got the coroner’s report translated for me and then came round to the house to pay his respects at the coffin.’
Peter Spencer-Lane, headmaster of St Pierre primary school, had brought his pupils to pay their respects.
‘They actually got to know David quite well,’ he explained.
‘He was always attending school events and trying to talk them all into becoming MPs!’
Christina Kyprianou said that Sir David had been a regular at her father’s café and that three generations of her family had been happy to go out canvassing for him.
‘I used to bring him Greek cakes when he was holding meetings in there,’ she said, pointing to the local Conservative Association headquarters, Iveagh Hall.
Members of the public lined the streets as the horse drawn funeral cortege for Sir David Amess passed this afternoon
‘In fact, I used to go to pilates classes in there under his portrait.’
Local association chairman, John Lamb, took me inside to see the portrait, by a local artist, which hangs alongside photographs of the Queen, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Boris Johnson.
Unusually, it shows Sir David looking serious. A point made by everyone I met yesterday was that Sir David was one of life’s smilers.
Later today, Sir David will be buried alongside other family members in his native East End.
Only then, will his local Conservative Association, with heavy heart, set about trying to find a new MP.
An even harder task now confronts Southend. How does a town immortalise the man who made it a city?