Lancashire bids a final farewell to 'fearless' female World War II veteran Connie Sharples
More than 100 people have honoured the memory of a Lancashire woman who famously served in an all-female regiment during World War II.
Family and friends of war hero Constance 'Connie' Sharples came together to celebrate "a truly unique life" at St Aidan's Church in Station Road, Bamber Bridge this morning (Friday, June 7).
The "fiercely independent" 94-year-old, who joined the women's branch of the British Army at the age of 17, died in a car accident in Duddle Lane, Walton-le-Dale on May 14.
Her brave service in the Second World War earned Mrs Sharples the respect and admiration of her community, especially her fellow veterans.
Around 20 veterans from the British Armed Forces attended the service, where they formed an solemn guard of honour at the entrance to St Aidan's.
The stirring notes of a bagpipe playing Flowers of the Forest signalled the start of the service as four veterans assumed the role of pallbearers.
The sound and sight of the bagpipes, played expertly by a serviceman in traditional Scottish military attire, set the scene for a solemn but celebratory service.
More than 100 people filled the polished wood pews of St Aidan's before the sudden, sharp notes of a military bugle signalled the start of the service.
Following her triumphant return to Lancashire and civilian life at the close of the war in 1945, Mrs Sharples had become a familiar and friendly face around South Ribble.
Mrs Sharples had been widely admired, but not only for her military service.
The spirited pensioner would never cease to amaze friends and family with her active lifestyle.
Connie was "mad for dancing" and had still been happily waltzing and swinging her way through weekly dance classes until her death last month.
Her faithful friend and dancing partner Kristina Parkinson said Mrs Sharples' active lifestyle was 'awe-inspiring'.
She said: "I feel totally blessed to have known Connie and to have shared so many happy memories together.
"Connie was from a different age and her wisdom shone through everything she said.
"She taught me the ethics of hard work and patience. She was always fiercely independent and active and was never in the house."
Phil Burton, a former Royal Artillery Lance Bombardier and founder of Leyland Veterans' Cafe, said Mrs Sharples was the 'Mother Hen' of the veterans' group.
Mr Burton proceeded to read a personal history of Connie Sharples' war service, penned by the veteran herself.
He recounted the true tale of how a daring 17-year-old girl 'ran-off' to join the war effort and serve her country in an all-female anti-aircraft unit during the Blitz.
Reverend Steve Johnson invited those in attendance to celebrate the life of a "truly extraordinary woman".
"What a life", began the Reverend.
"Connie Sharples was never 94-years-old. She was always 94-years-young.
"And what an action-packed life she lived."
Rev. Johnson recalled how his parishioner enjoyed "a life fully lived" and one in which she always enjoyed her independence.
"There was no dance she couldn't do. She knew and enjoyed them all.
"She had an endless thirst to learn new skills and experience new things."
Praising her 'warmth and kindness', the Rev. continued: "There was always a twinkle in her eye. And she was a fierce advocate of those in need.
"And if Connie took to you, that was you made for life. She would do anything for you."
The service came to a fitting close with the sound of a military bugle playing The Last Post, before the bagpipes burst forth with a rousing rendition of Amazing Grace.