A 101-year-old World War II veteran was given a rousing surprise send-off today as he boarded a train from Preston to London to mark the Armistice.
Ernest ‘Ernie' Horsfall, one of the UK's oldest surviving servicemen, was given a surprise guard of honour at Preston station by local Army Cadets and Royal British Legion standard bearers along with Network Rail and Virgin Trains staff.
He headed to London with his friend Margret to take part in the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall.
Members of the public also joined in with the hero's send-off at Preston, with many people touched when the 101-year-old became overwhelmed with emotion when a piper joined in with the ceremony.
Ernie served in the Army’s Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) from 1940 to 1946. He was involved in the North Africa campaign in which Bernard Montgomery’s 8th Army defeated the Afrika Corps.
Terry Cook, a former serviceman and friend of Ernie, said: “Not only do we all owe a great debt of gratitude to Ernest and his colleagues for their service and sacrifice, but he and his colleagues remain a great inspiration to me and a role model for so many of us.”
“Ernest and I are incredibly grateful to the wonderful people of Network Rail and Virgin Trains for their heart-warming kindness. And special thanks too to the Kirkham Grammar School Cadets, the Royal British Legion in Preston and to Bill the Piper for making the send-off so memorable”.
Phil James, Network Rail's route director for the North West, said: “It's only right that we make a fuss of Ernie. He and his armed forces colleagues have done so much for this country.
“Our thoughts and gratitude are with Ernie and his services colleagues, past and present, this weekend and on Monday, 11 November, as we mark the signing of the Armistice.”
Shirley Ross, Virgin Trains station manager at Preston, said: “All the team here in Preston, in Euston and along our route are so proud to have Ernie travel with us to the Festival of Remembrance. When we heard of Ernie's trip, we wanted to make it an extra special occasion and worked with his friend, Terry, and Network Rail to give him a memorable journey, and to say thank you for his service at this important time of year.”
The journey was made even more special thanks to a piper and army cadets from Kirkham Grammar School also taking part in the proceedings.
Unbeknown to Ernest today's special send-off has been weeks in the making – Network Rail and Virgin Trains organised the surprise after being contacted by his friend Terry in the summer.