Appeal for mourners to attend war veteran’s funeral

Bob Neale
Bob Neale

An 88-year-old war hero looks set to get the send off he deserves – thanks to a kind-hearted neighbour.

Robert ‘Bob’ Neale, who lived in Belchford, died on March 27 without having any relatives.

Neighbour Sam Curtis was desperately worried only a handful of people would attend his funeral later this month, so she has launched an appeal for mourners.

Sam became Mr Neale’s closest friend in the latter stages of his life after his wife, Joan, died six years ago.

Sam told the News: “They were a lovely couple. They didn’t have any children. They were devoted to each other. They loved horse racing. They liked a bet and they loved gardening which is how we got to know them,

“When Joan died, Bob had no-one. We took him under our wing.”

Mr Neale spent hours talking to Sam and her partner and daughter Holly. He also became firm friends with the family’s dog Hadley.

Sam added: “He started to open up to us about his time in the Army. Apparently, he was wounded in Tripoli.

“His unit was caught in a bomb blast. Bob was injured but drove all his colleagues back to base. It was then his commanding officer noticed blood pouring from Bob’s uniform. When you looked at his hands, you could see the shrapnel wounds. To us. he was a hero but he didn’t think like that. He was just a lovely, modest and charming man.“

Worried about his health, Mr Neale admitted himself into a care home in Tetford some weeks ago.

He suffered an aortic rupture and when Sam - alerted by a phone call - arrived, he was being treated by paramedics.

He was rushed to Boston Pilgrim Hospital and Sam drove there in.

She explained; “I had to sit outside the ward. I kept asking if he was OK.

“After about two hours, a doctor came out and said I could go and see him.

“She took me to a bed but unfortunately it wasn’t Bob.

“He was in the next bed. He’d died a couple of hours earlier.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was angry, hurt and upset. After everything we’d been through, he’d died on his own.

“Apparently, he’d been asking for me.

“At least, when he was being lifted into the ambulance, I’d managed to say: ‘I love you Bob’ and he held my hand and told me; ‘I love you too.’”

Sam, who helps counsel modern-day soldiers, admitted she ‘wept buckets’ after Mr Neale’s death.

However, that made her even more determined to arrange a fitting send off.

She posted brief details on Facebook and that alerted the Horncastle branch of the Royal British Legion.

Sam admitted she had been ’amazed’ by the reaction and with support from the RBL, it could be standing room only at his funeral.

Mourners will include staff from Mr Neale’s favourites bookies’ in Horncastle - and hopefully Hadley the dog.

Julian Millington, chairman of the Horncastle branch, said: “I never met Robert but thanks to Sam. I believe he deserves people to be at his funeral.

“It might be a strange request but we need the support of the general public to show Robert that his contribution will not be forgotten. “Please, spread the word and see how many mourners we can get to attend. Robert deserves to be remembered.”

*Mr Neale is leaving substantial amounts to the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and Great Ormond Street Hospital.

*His funeral will be held at Alford Crematorium on Thursday, April 20 at 10am.

*Michelle Rhodes, Director of Nursing at Pilgrim Hospital, said: “We would like to offer our sincere condolences to Ms Porter.

“Due to patient confidentiality we cannot discuss individual patient cases. We are currently arranging to meet with Ms Porter to discuss her concerns.”