By 1943, England had survived intense German bombing and needed a much-needed victory. Thus was born Operation Chastise, a daring air raid in which a handful of British Lancaster bombers flew into Germany and dropped specially designed bombs on several important dams. Once breached, the dams would flood the valleys below, hopefully causing vast industrial and agricultural damage. The raid was a success, gave the United Kingdom a morale boost, and instantly became a part of British military legend. A successful 1955 movie adaptation, “The Dam Busters,” followed, and the theme from that movie became iconic of the raid itself. It has since become a favorite British military theme, often played during military flyovers.
Harold Jellicoe “Coe” Percival worked on the ground crews serving the Second Bomber Command at the time, and worked on the Dam Busters bombers. He was very proud of that, and made a point of mentioning it to people later in life. He also expressed regret at leaving the Royal Air Force. After the war, in 1945, Percival left England and traveled extensively in Australia, often moving from hotel to hotel, never staying put for long, never starting a family. He was a loner, often living out of his backpack. He eventually did return to England, living on the Fylde coast. At one point later in his life, after he fell and fractured his hip, he moved into the Alistre Lodge Care Home in St. Annes, England in April 2012, where he was known as spirited, independent and likable. On Oct. 25, he died peacefully in his sleep, at the age of 99.
Percival’s obituary noted that he was a WWII veteran with no family or friends to attend his memorial service. Percival did have a single nephew, David Worsell, who was unable to attend the ceremony. Worsell, who only got to know Percival in his later years and described his uncle as an intensely private man, would send his own son to represent the family. But that would have been it. A single person for one of the Dam Busters.
Thus, the obituary went on to ask anyone in the public to attend. This being the age of social media and viral news, the obit was soon noticed by, among others, Sgt. Rick Clement, a UK serviceman who, in 2010, lost his legs in an explosion in Afghanistan. Clement went to Facebook and asked his network of veteran friends to spread the message.