We, as humans, are sentimental beings. We value many things we consider essential, memorabilia of fond memories, significant events, or valuable people. Moreover, we get an emotional attachment to others that are not easy to forego. Thus we hold ceremonies like funerals, burials, or cremations. Depending on where we came from, we have different customs and beliefs and cultures on remembering, paying respect, and grieving for the dead. We offer prayers, rituals, and even monuments to honor them.
For people with national significance and loved by many, a state funeral is usually held when the general public can attend and mourn the deceased. Usually, royals and members of the monarchy get these state funerals, but there were instances when ordinary people were given the public send-off.
Edward Henry Carson was an Irish unionist politician, barrister, and judge. He was the Irish Unionist Alliance MP for the Dublin University constituency and the leader of the Ulster Unionist Council in Belfast starting in 1905. Carson also tried to maintain Ireland as a whole union with Great Britain but failed. As a barrister, he was well-remembered for his open-ended cross-examination of Oscar Wilde during the libel trial, the action that led to his imprisonment for homosexuality.
When Carson died on October 22, 1935, at Cleve Court, Britain gave him a state funeral in Belfast at St. Anne’s Cathedral. His body was brought to Belfast through HMS Broke, with his flag-draped coffin on the quarterdeck.
Douglas Haig’s leadership during World War I became an object of criticism beginning in the 1960s. Others even gave him the moniker “Butcher Haig” for Britain’s two million casualties under his leadership. His name was also consistently associated with the Battle of Somme, one of the deadliest battles in history between France and Britain versus the German Empire. He was also the commander in the Battle of Arras, the Third Battle of Ypres, the German Spring Offensive, and the Hundred Days Offensive, which ended the war in 1918.
Before all the criticisms, he had a favorable and outstanding reputation in the years after the war. When he died from a heart attack at 21 Prince’s Gate in London on January 29, 1928, he was given an elaborate state funeral. Crowds lined the streets to see and honor him, including his friends and fellow soldiers. He was also given service at Westminster Abbey before his body was escorted to Waterloo station for its journey to Edinburgh. He was then buried at Dryburgh Abbey within the Scottish borders.
Edith Louisa Cavell was a British nurse who worked in Belgium, which Germans occupied during World War I. She became part of a secret network that helped hundreds of British, Belgian, and French men escape the country. She was also known to treat wounded soldiers, regardless of their fighting side.
She assisted around 200 Allied soldiers in escaping Belgium until she was caught and arrested. Cavell was charged with treason and was found guilty by a court-martial who sentenced her to death. There were international appeals and pressure to give her pardon and mercy. However, the Germans were not swayed, and she was still executed through a firing squad on October 12, 1915. The night before her execution, she said,
I have no fear nor shrinking. I have seen death so often that it is not strange or fearful to me … I thank God for this ten weeks’ quiet before the end. Life has always been hurried and full of difficulty. This time of rest has been a great mercy. They have all been very kind to me here. But this I would say, standing as I do in view of God and eternity, I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.
Her death received condemnation worldwide, and the press all over the globe covered her story extensively. However, it was not until 1919 that her body was returned to England. There, she was given a state funeral at Westminster Abbey to honor and thank her for her selfless acts and heroism during the war.