AN air of solemn calm descended on the centre of York as the city came together in mourning for a hero.

Flecks of rain and the tolling of the York Minster bells greeted the cortege carrying the coffin of Marine David Hart to the 23-year-old’s funeral service, with hundreds of people lining the streets in grief and gratitude.

They were joined by members of the Royal Marines and the Royal British Legion, as well as York’s dignitaries and political leaders, and the area around the Minster fell almost silent as the family of the serviceman from Upper Poppleton followed his coffin, draped in the Union Flag and adorned with his cap, into the cathedral.

As it was carried out following the hour-long service, a spontaneous burst of applause broke out within the Minster.

Inside the hearse, there were floral tributes and messages of love and respect from friends and family members, with a message from Marine Hart’s mother and father, Dilys and Chris, saying: “Dave, we will miss your cheerfulness and your smile.

“We love you so much and you will always be in our hearts. Love you forever.”

Marine Hart’s sister, Sarah, wrote: “I’ll always remember you as the very best brother.

“I’m so impressed and proud of everything you’ve done. Miss you so much, bro.”

And his uncle Stephen’s card read: “A young life sadly given in the help of others. I will always admire and remember you.”

Diane Tewton, 53, from Huntington, was among those gathered to pay their respects to the fallen marine and said: “On days like this, the whys and hows of the war are forgotten because it is all about paying tribute to a brave young man.

“It’s such a tragic loss and I only hope the number of people who are here today show his family what York feels about him.”

Martin Wilson, 48, from Acomb, said: “We can only guess what his family are going through, but we all share their grief because this man served his country and we all owe him and the other servicemen across the world an awful lot.

“He did his duty proudly and York will always remember him.”

People pay their respects

Margaret Moore, 56, a support assistant from Halifax: “David Hart is the godson of a friend, so we’ve come to York for the funeral to pay our respects.”

Gill Singleton, 60, retired, from Upper Poppleton: “I wanted to come and pay my respects to the family because I’m from the village where his parents live and my son is organising the wake.”

Mr Stancer, 40, a forklift truck driver, from Peterborough: “We’re on holiday in York, but when we heard about the funeral we felt it was right to come and give some of our time for all that the men and women in the forces do for us. Our future son-in-law is going back to Afghanistan today, so it’s very close to home for us.”

‘I can’t complain about dying aged 23 as I have lived an absolutely class life...’

MARINE David Hart wrote a poignant letter to his family shortly before his death, explaining why he was not scared of losing his life.

Mourners listened as the message was read out at his funeral yesterday. The 23-year-old wrote: “I cannot complain about dying at the age of 23/24 because I have lived an absolutely class life and there is not a part of it I would change.”

His mother and father had said “his love for us shone out” in the “kind, loving and thoughtful” words in his letter, which they said they would cherish forever.

Marine Tim Sage, who met Marine Hart during their training together, paid his own tribute to his close friend on the steps of the Minster before the funeral, describing him as “the life and soul of every party”.

“He was always smiling,” he said.

“He was the guy who made all the cups of tea for everybody, which meant he was potentially the last one on any detail. He had a cheeky smile and that is how everybody will remember him.

“He won the commando medal, voted for by the troop, for the best guy in the troop, and he never had anything to moan about. He was the life and soul of the party, and if you needed morale, he was there to pick you up.

“We all feel his loss, and the biggest shame is that the lads he served with in Afghanistan are not here. Hopefully, we can represent them today.

“We are one big, close family and it ripples through the core from the top to the bottom. David died doing the job he loved, but we are not letting it affect our job – we just have to keep on.

“I have got my memories of him from training and I was in contact with him while he was away. His morale was always high and he was doing a good job. My thoughts are with his family and friends.”