The funeral of one of the RAF’s last black second world war veterans is to be moved as large crowds are expected to attend the service.
Organisers were inundated with requests to attend the service for Ft Sgt Peter Brown, who died alone aged 96 in Maida Vale, west London.
The service had been due to take place in a 140-capacity chapel in Mortlake, south-west London, on Wednesday. However, Westminster city council said a new date and venue were being arranged and it was working with the RAF and Ministry of Defence to ensure Brown was given the “sendoff he deserves”.
Born in Jamaica in 1926, Brown enlisted in the RAF Volunteer Reserve in September 1943. He trained as a wireless operator/air gunner and was posted to RAF Scampton. After the war ended, he re-enlisted in the RAF, working as a signaller.
A Westminster city council spokesperson said: “Details of the future date and venue are still being finalised but will be announced as soon as possible. We are looking to secure a venue closer to Mr Brown’s home in Westminster. Westminster city council, which is legally responsible for the funeral, said it became clear that the original plans were too small after a hugely successful callout for mourners by the media and online.
“We really want to thank the group that has convened to support the council in making arrangements. Additional time will allow the council to work with well-wishers, community groups and the military to give Mr Brown the sendoff he deserves.
“The priority remains providing Mr Brown a fitting, dignified funeral and allowing everyone who wishes to pay their respects the chance to do so.”
The council said it believed the chapel would not hold the large number of people expected to turn up.
A campaign had been launched in the Sun to find Brown’s surviving family members so that they could attend his funeral.
Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, alongside the MPs Johnny Mercer and Tom Tugendhat, who all served in the armed forces, tweeted their support in the search for his family.
Rishi Sunak said Brown was an example “of the selfless contribution of all Commonwealth personnel who have served the RAF. I hope that the nation gets behind this Sun campaign. We’ve also arranged for a RAF trumpeter to attend the funeral, alongside a senior RAF officer.”
Jamaican authorities reportedly had been searching for any living relatives of Brown.
An RAF spokesperson said people should “never forget” the sacrifices made by armed forces personnel such as Brown.
“Ft Sgt Brown is an example of the selfless contribution of all Commonwealth personnel who have served throughout the RAF’s history,” the spokesperson said. “We should never forget their sacrifices which have defended our freedom and kept us safe.”
The lord mayor of Westminster, Hamza Taouzzale, said he would attend the service.
“Mr Brown was one of the many servicemen and women who volunteered from the West Indies and across the former colonies to fight for the UK and the world at a time of its greatest need,” he said. “We owe him – and the many others like him – a huge debt of gratitude. His obvious modesty meant that we did not know of his actions until after his passing.
“Despite extensive efforts, no family members have been traced. As the first citizen of Westminster, I shall attend his funeral and I know many others are also taking part. I would ask that you think of him.”