The vast, vaulted interior of Tamworth’s historic St Editha’s Church was bathed in candlelight as hundreds of people remembered their loved ones at Christmas.
United in the loss of a relative or friend, they bowed their heads in silent reflection with the town’s festive illuminations twinkling through the stained glass windows.
The moving tribute was the centrepiece of Tamworth Co-operative Society’s Memorial Carol Service which attracted a record turnout this year.
Now in its seventh year, the service organised by the funeral division gave families the chance to honour those they miss, while celebrating the start of Christmas.
Among the many remembered was Frederick Stokes, a veteran of the First World War. For nearly a century the Tamworth soldier lay in an unmarked grave until this November when the Tamworth Co-op funeral service provided a headstone bearing his name and regiment.
The grave in Amington Cemetery is now a fitting resting place for the private who survived multiple gas attacks only to die months after returning home.
Two of his relatives were in the congregation to hear Glen Speak, deputy manager of the funeral division, recount the tragic story of the 23-year-old who had just married his sweetheart Grace when he went off to war.
Tamworth Mayor Ken Norchi and his mother and consort, Jean, also attended the service conducted by vicar of Tamworth, Reverend Alan Gordon.
It began in time-honoured tradition with Scottish piper, Paddy McGowan, welcoming guests at the door. Every visitor received a goodie bag which included a candle, chocolates, notebook, mini torch, raffle tickets and pack of remembrance wildflower seeds to plant in their gardens.
Amanda Woodward, general manager of the Tamworth Co-op funeral service, gave the opening address, saying it was ‘wonderful to see so many new and familiar faces here tonight.’
The Tame Valley Co-operative Learning Trust Choir took part in the event for the first time. The young children, wearing reindeer antlers, gave a stirring rendition of Shoulda been a North Pole Elf.
During the most poignant part of the proceedings bugler Caitlyn Keets-Davies played the Last Post, and Paddy MacGowan walked up the aisle playing his bagpipes amid the sea of lit candles.
Funeral staff also read a selection of poems, some on a Christmas theme and others offering words of comfort to the bereaved.
Bringing the evening to a close, Tamworth Co-op chief executive Julian Coles said: “For my own family, it is very close to the time of year we lost my father and this service has become a very important date in my diary. I feel tremendously moved as we remember all our loved ones with candles lit.”
He added: “We have links with the church going back to when the society started operating on the 10th of December, 1886. In a few days time we will be celebrating our 130th anniversary. I think this service shows we still care very deeply for the local community as we look to our future while remembering our past.”
Mr Coles also paid tribute to the ‘tremendous’ professionalism and dedication of his funeral staff for being there when they were needed and their hard work in organising the event.
Afterwards the gathering enjoyed drinks and mince pies in St George’s Chapel. A collection was also held for Tamworth Samaritans and St Editha’s Church, while the mayor drew the winning raffle prizes.
Jodie Carter, from Wilnecote, whose daughter Freya performed in the choir, said: “It was a beautiful service and very moving. I remembered my grandmother, Audrey Bocking. It was so nice to have that opportunity and I definitely plan to come back in future. It’s an amazing event.”
Earlier this year, the Tamworth Co-op funeral division won a major national award in recognition of the support it offers to the bereaved.