Lee Rigby: Funeral tribute to ‘hero daddy’
THE young son of Lee Rigby paid tribute to "My Daddy My Hero" today as thousands of mourners gathered to remember the murdered soldier.
Members of the public applauded Fusilier Rigby's comrades and forces veterans as they arrived for the funeral service at Bury Parish Church, where comrades had maintained a guard of honour overnight.
Applause also greeted the 25-year-old's heartbroken loved ones, who joined about 800 mourners inside for the private service just a couple of miles from his home town of Middleton, Greater Manchester.
Fusilier Rigby's wife Rebecca, 30, walked in with the couple's two-year-old son Jack, who wore a blue T-shirt with the words "My Daddy My Hero" on the back.
His mother Lyn, 46, was in tears as she held hands with her husband, Ian, 54, Lee's stepfather. The soldier's sisters, Sara, 24, and Chelsea, 21, embraced each other in tears outside the church.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who told the Commons earlier this week that the whole of the UK will be mourning with the family, was among dignitaries attending the service. He arrived with London Mayor Boris Johnson to a ripple of applause.
Fusilier Rigby, a drummer in the 2nd Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (2RRF), was killed as he returned to Woolwich barracks in south east London from the Tower of London on May 22.
He had served in Afghanistan as a machine gunner and was attached to the regimental recruiting team when he was hacked to death in broad daylight in the street.
The horrific killing sparked nationwide shock and revulsion and led to an outpouring of support for his family from the public.
The family, who have been inundated with cards, letters and flowers in condolence from all over the country and abroad and from all faiths, wanted a private service, with well-wishers asked to show their respects by lining the streets outside, where they will hear the service on loudspeakers from inside the church.
The town of Bury, which has strong links to the Army, was full of old and not-so-old former soldiers in their regimental ties, blazers and caps, proudly wearing their campaign medals.
In his eulogy, Fusilier Rigby's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Taylor, said: "Fusilier Lee James Rigby, or Riggers to his friends in the Army, was an extremely popular soldier. A larger-than-life personality, he loved to perform and belonged in the Second Fusiliers' Corps of Drums. He was truly charismatic.
"To be with Lee was to be where it was most fun - the centre of good times and much mischief.
"People fell quickly under his spell. Whether it was in work or off duty, at a ceremonial engagement or on operations, Lee just knew how to lighten the mood.
"He could brighten a room within moments and, by all accounts, clear a dancefloor in seconds if a Whitney Houston track was playing.
"Lee had a natural swagger and the confidence of someone truly comfortable in their own skin.
"He was always happy. His smile was infectious, as was his enthusiasm for soldiering and his passion for life."
In April 2009 he put his drum down and picked up his machine gun when the Second Fusiliers deployed to Afghanistan, mourners heard.
It was a "gruelling tour" for the battalion with seven soldiers killed in six months.
Lt Col Taylor said Fusilier Rigby was "under relentless pressure from the insurgents".
"Lee proved himself to be dedicated, professional and incredibly brave," he said.
"He took part in numerous firefights with the enemy and regularly had to patrol across ground strewn with improvised explosive devices. His courage was tested every day. He was not found wanting."
On return to the UK he completed a second tour of public duties and moved with the battalion to Germany.
The soldier's final challenge in the Army was with the Recruiting Group in London, where he also assisted with duties at Regimental Headquarters in the Tower of London.
"The recruiting post was one that required just the characteristics that Lee possessed and had shown in spades in the short time he had served with the Fusiliers," he said.
"Namely, soldiering ability and charisma coupled with a cheeky outgoing personality that naturally endeared him to potential recruits.
"Based out of Woolwich, he helped to inspire many young people to join the Armed Forces.
"Tragically it was while Lee was performing these duties that he was so cruelly taken from us."
Lt Col Taylor said Fusilier Rigby joined the Army in 2006 on his third attempt, fulfilling his "lifelong ambition", and it was "an early indication of how doggedly determined he was when he set his mind to something".
Despite a passion for Westlife and other boybands, he had no musical background and no musical skills.
"The drums training lasted six months, during which he drove everyone crazy with his incessant tapping of tables, steering wheels - in fact, anything he could find to practise on while he mastered a new skill."
He arrived in the Second Fusiliers in Cyprus in 2007, having earned the much- coveted title of Drummer, said Lt Col Taylor, and quickly his "naturally flamboyant character" made him popular in Fire Support Company and across the whole battalion.
Ending his eulogy, the commanding officer said: "We have a saying in our regiment that 'once a Fusilier, always a Fusilier.
"Today we, his regimental family, salute a fallen comrade. A talented soldier and musician. A larger-than-life character. A loyal friend and brother-in-arms. A gentle soul.
"Above all a true Fusilier - daring in all things. We all feel his loss keenly. We will remember him with pride always.
"Today we stand shoulder to shoulder with his family and friends. We will continue to do so in the years to come.
"So, thanks be to God for Lee Rigby - father, husband, son, brother, friend, Fusilier.
"We will remember him."
In London with the Second Fusiliers Fusilier Rigby conducted ceremonial duties outside Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Tower of London.
His commanding officer said: "As a Drummer, the pace of life for Lee was relentless.
"Through it all, Lee wore his scarlet tunic with pride. He loved entertaining the crowds outside the Royal Palaces."
The highlight of Fusilier Rigby's time there was when he was invited to take part in the Household Division's Beating Retreat, mourners were told.
"This is a real honour for a line infantry regiment like the Fusiliers and no-one was more pleased than Lee that it was bestowed on his platoon," Lt Col Taylor said.
"He was widely regarded in the Drums Platoon as one of the best drummers in the battalion.
"He was also competitive and mischievous during the performances. He often tried to make the drummers either side of him drop a stick during a stick beat through his more skilful and incredibly energetic performance.
"Many of the drummers remember finishing events relieved that they still had both sticks in their hands but with incredibly bruised fingers. Lee found this highly entertaining."
Personal friend and fellow soldier Sean Sheer also gave a eulogy, bringing laughter from mourners.
Mr Sheer said he first met Fusilier Rigby when he was posted to the Fusiliers in 2008 and found him the "most annoying, campest man I have ever met", citing his singing and love of boyband Westlife as the reason.
Mr Sheer said his comrade's young son came "crashing" into his life but Lee "took to fatherhood instantly".
"Everywhere Lee went, Jack went with him," he said.
"Lee's time on this earth was tragically cut short" but he was a "loving father and devoted husband".
"We will love you and miss you," Mr Sheeer added.
The service was officiated by the Rev Dr John Findon.
The hymns were Who Would True Valour See, Lord Of All Hopefulness and I Vow To Thee My Country.
The choir sang Deep Peace Of The Running Wave.
On the front of Jack Rigby's T-shirt were the words: "My Daddy's A Fusilier. Lee Rigby."
Floral tributes filled one car in the funeral cortege, including one in the shape of "Daddy" with the message "My Dad, My Hero. Always proud. Lots of love, Jack."
A message on another tribute from his widow said: "My husband, my hero. Forever in my heart. Sleep tight baby. Love always, Becky."
Another in the shape of a drum came with the message: "Beloved Grandson from Nana and Grandad Seville. Rest easy" and one from his mother and stepfather, spelling out the word "Son", had a message ending with the words: "Sweet dreams our beautiful boy."
Crowds outside stood in the sunshine, singing along with the hymns and saying the Lord's Prayer before the 50-minute service came to a close.
Fusilier Rigby's coffin, draped in the Union flag and with his bearskin on top, was borne out of the church by six pall bearers in their ceremonial scarlet tunics and placed in the hearse for his final journey.
His wife, mother and stepfather watched from the steps, his young son clutching his mother's hand and looking bewildered as he scanned the crowds outside.
Fusilier Rigby's mother fought back tears, holding her husband's hand, and spontaneous applause rang out as the family left after the service and the hearse drove away.
A private committal followed the service which was attended only by close family and friends.