Hundreds pay farewell to hero of nations, Jim Auton, whose Royal Air Forces Association military funeral took place at Newark Parish Church
He was a brave fighter of the second world war, a lovely friend, a hero for Britain, for Poland and my hero.
These were the words spoken by seven-year-old Daniel Michalak at the funeral of Jim Auton, a hero of the Warsaw Uprising.
There was concern that having no family and being 95 years of age that the highly-decorated Auton's funeral might not be well-attended.
An appeal featured in the Advertiser saw to it that wasn't the case as every seat in Newark Parish Church was filled, leaving some to stand while others waited on the street outside.
Jim, of Newark, received a full military funeral thanks to the efforts of the Royal Air Forces Association who stepped in after it was learnt he had no known family.
Representatives from a number of grateful nations were in attendance, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Canada and South Africa.
Former RAF Bomb Aimer Jim died last month.
Many of those who attended today's (Thursday) service came out of respect, having never met him.
Among them were Michelle Woodruff and Pauline Williams, from Newark.
"We came out of respect. We saw it in the Advertiser and were worried that there wouldn't be many people here.
"We couldn't let that happen given what he did for the country."
Colonel Jiri Niedoba, Defence Attache to Britain from the Czech Republic, said: "He was a friend to Czech pilots in the second world war and it is our honour to be here."
Derek Wardally, a former Corporal in the Royal Engineers, said: "It was unbelievable to have known someone of that stature. He always had plenty of stories to tell — an amazing man."
Former RAF policeman Chris Gangel said: "It was a privilege to have known him. He deserves everyone's respect."
Jim was understood to be the last surviving British member of the 1944 Warsaw Air Bridge — an allied air forces operation to drop supplies to the Polish Resistance.
The dramatic 63-day battle cost the lives of over 150,000 civilians and destroyed large parts of the city.
The service was conducted by the Rev Paul Franklin who told the story of the man and the wartime exploits.
The story was of a man of great humour who had at times been tormented by his wartime service and sought out former opponents afterwards in reconciliation.
Jim's Warsaw Uprising was explained by Dave Baliol-Key. It heard how that when many others turned back, Jim's crew persisted for 50 minutes on the night of that first air drop over a burning city, and amid heavy flak to locate the drop zone and ensure their cargo of supplies reached the beleaguered Polish resistance.
The Consulate General of the Republic of Poland, Leszek Rowicki, spoke of how he had had the honour of meeting Jim in December when it was near to the end and decorated him with Poland's highest military honour that can be bestowed on a foreign national.
"He was a hero and someone I would like to call a friend. May the bravery of Francis James Auton never be forgotten," he said.
Jim was wounded during his 37th mission with 178 Squadron at the age of 20, and lost sight in his right eye.
After the war, he was awarded 20 medals by six different countries, including the Polish Presidential Gold Order of Merit and the Soviet Union War Veterans’ Medal.
He turned down the opportunity to work for British Intelligence and became an entrepreneur, exporting goods around the world. He also helped to raise substantial amounts of money for military charities and received an MBE from Prince Charles.
Jim was responsible for the creation of the Warsaw Air Bridge Memorial in 1989 — another name for the airlift — in Newark Cemetery, which stands next to the Polish and Commonwealth War Graves section.
After the service, he was interred in a grave next to it that his treasured late wife Peggy already occupied.
The memorial cross was erected to commemorate both the Home Army and the 250 British, Polish and South African airmen who died in support of the freedom fighters of Warsaw.
Standards were lowered, the Last Post and Reveille sounded either side of the silence as many nations bid farewell to a hero.
Daniel Michalak threw and handful of soil over Jim's coffin.
It was at the Airbridge services that he and his parents befriended Jim.
"He was a brave fighter in the second world war. He was a lovely friend," said Daniel.
"He was always telling stories, which I loved.
"He was a hero for the Poles and for the Brits."
Three Polish friends, Przemyslaw Makowski, Daniel Wozniak and Mirek Przetacznik waited at the side of the grave to lay flowers shaped in the Polish flag.
Przemyslaw said: "He was our hero.
"We are very proud of people like Jim."
Daniel said: "We came to say thank you and goodbye on his last journey."
Mirek said: "We make sure that the memories for us never die."
Mick Jeffrey befriended Jim while documenting his experiences for the RAF Bomber Command Archive some ten years ago and looked after him until he moved to Newark and Paul Trickett became his primary carer.
Mick and family proudly carried Jim's medals and looked after his beloved dog, Lester, who they'd taken along for his final goodbye.
"He was a brave and a modest man at the same time and you very rarely get that," said the Polish Defence Attache to Britain, Colonel Mieczyslaw Malec.
"There is seldom such a man.
"He was a son, father and grandfather of Poland.
"Without men like Jim we would not be free nations. He is a great example to follow.
"Today, in the sunshine, where the birds sing, it is a sad day but also a lovely day because we salute a hero. It is what he deserved for a funeral."
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More by this authorDan Churcher