A GUARDSMAN from Reading has an important role to play in the funeral of British icon Dame Vera Lynn today.

The adored singer, who entertained troops with morale-boosting visits to the front line during the Second World War, died aged 103 on June 18.

Crowds have gathered today in the picturesque village of Ditchling, where she lived, to say goodbye to their "special local lady".

Among the many paying their respects will be Guardsman Junior Smith who is one of the six members of the military Bearer Party who are walking with the hearse and carrying the coffin into the crematorium.

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The 19-year-old guardsman said: “This is an incredibly sad occasion to mark the passing of someone who has provided so much to the military.

"As a Guardsman in Number Seven Company Coldstream Guards, I am very proud to be one of the military’s representatives carrying Dame Vera’s coffin into the crematorium and feel privileged to be able to pay my respects in this way to her."

Junior Smith has been in Number Seven Company Coldstream Guards since January this year, and this is to be his first posting since joining the Army. He is currently based in Wellington Barracks, next to Buckingham Palace in London, and his primary role is ceremonial; guarding Royal Palaces, and providing State ceremonial on State occasions, such as the Guard of Honour for the visit of French President Macron a few weeks ago.

Dame Vera's son-in-law Tom Jones, a retired squadron leader in the RAF, initially approached his former Squadron in Odiham requesting military support, including a flypast, for the funeral.

Reading Chronicle:

Guardsman Junior Smith, from Reading, pictured by Photographer: Sergeant Donald Todd (RLC) / ©MoD Crown Copyright 2020

The British Army said this presented a unique opportunity for Defence to acknowledge Dame Vera’s support to the Armed Forces as a singer, songwriter and entertainer throughout her life, especially during WW2, but also her subsequent charitable work which her family estimates raised £50 million for Service charities.

As such, at midday, a Spitfire and a Hurricane - two of the most famous aircraft from the war - were due to soar over the adored singer's home village, as a procession went through the village before moving to the crematorium in Brighton.

The Number Seven Company Coldstream Guards, ratings from The Royal Navy, and airmen from The Queen’s Colour Squadron RAF are providing a tri-service bearer party and are accompanying the funeral cortege.

The Guardsmen - including Junior Smith - will then carry the coffin in to the crematorium.

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Military involvement with civilian funerals is historically only authorised in exceptional cases. The Army said Dame Vera has an 'unparalleled standing within the military community' and wider society so to honour her in this way, in particular in the year we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the end of WW2, was deemed appropriate.

Warrant Officer Class One Garrison Sergeant Major Andrew ‘Vern’ Stokes said: “Dame Vera has played such a pivotal role in supporting our Armed Forces, providing hope to all in the most difficult times when morale was waning.

"Having served on several operational overseas deployments over my long career, it means so much to soldiers to be able to think of home, when home is so far away, and this is how I will remember Dame Vera’s contribution.

"I am honoured to be coordinating the support of our Tri-Service guard at her funeral, to provide a fitting tribute to a national treasure."