We didn't know you. We will remember you11 March 2020
By all accounts, Brian Stanley William Fortune would have been quite sheepish about all the fuss.
The mysterious British World War II veteran – who fought on the battlefields of Palestine in 1944-45 as a member of the Durham Light Infantry – was an intensely private man. He didn't like talking about himself, and even those who were acquainted with Brian didn't know much about him.
So, when the 94-year-old veteran recently passed away at Ipswich Hospital, he died without anyone by his side. Brian has no known family or next-of-kin. It was a lonely death, and tragically, that's almost where Brian Stanley William Fortune's story ended.
And then the Ipswich RSL Sub Branch got involved.
Ipswich RSL Sub Branch Secretary Debbie Wadwell was sitting at her desk when she got a call for help from a social worker at Ipswich Hospital. The social worker wondered if Ipswich Sub Branch could do anything to honour Brian and give him a proper send-off.
"Immediately, we said yes, because that's what RSL Queensland does," Debbie said.
With the help of Ipswich RSL Sub Branch Deputy President Michael Blaine, Debbie set about organising a poppy service for Brian. The poppy service – a traditional farewell RSL Queensland can provide to any veteran who served their country – includes a eulogy, a reciting of the Ode, the sounding of The Last Post and The Rouse, and poppies for mourners to place on the coffin.
"You don't have to be a member of RSL Queensland to receive a poppy service, and we felt it's the least that Brian deserved," Debbie said.
Debbie then put the call out on Facebook asking for a handful of veterans to attend Brian’s funeral to ensure he wasn't farewelled alone.
"Almost straight away, the post went off. We got messages and support from everywhere, including overseas. By Monday, the post had been viewed by over 200,000 people," she said.
"It was a fantastic feeling knowing that Brian would get a proper farewell."
On Monday afternoon, close to 300 people crowded around Goodna Cemetery's Heritage Chapel to honour him. Veterans in full uniform stood beside schoolchildren, active servicemen and women, community members and a throng of media.
So many people turned up that most had to stand in the pouring rain, but nobody seemed to mind. The day was about honouring Brian, and a bit of rain wasn't going to stop them.
Though little is known about much of his life, we do know Brian lived in Rockhampton until last year, where he was a regular at an Irish pub. Other patrons remember him as a quiet, caring, private man who loved telling a story and offering advice when he felt it was needed.
He was very respectful of women, and enjoyed a glass of Guinness, but only one poured with a perfect head. Sometime last year, Brian moved into the Bundaleer Lodge aged care home at North Ipswich.
Beyond that, Sub Branch Deputy President Michael told mourners little else is known about the WWII veteran.
"Sadly, much of (Brian's) life will remain a mystery, and his life story has passed with him," he said.
"Though we didn't know you, we will remember you."
By the time the bugle and bagpipes fell silent, hundreds of poppies laid atop Brian’s coffin. Debbie said she'd never seen anything like it.
"We feel overwhelmed and so humbled. The Ipswich community always support us tremendously, but to see this type of response from people who didn't know Brian personally is incredible," she said.
"We're going to keep researching Brian so we can find out more about his life and his service. We owe him that.
"But today, we did him proud."