FROM early yesterday morning, people gathered at the Square in Comber.
Bright sunshine – used by many to describe Channing Day’s smile – brought some warmth on what was a very sombre day for the town, which has provided so many sons and daughters for military service throughout its history.
Many of those who spoke to the News Letter did not know Channing or the Day family, but they knew the value in lending their support.
Yesterday’s funeral was not the first outpouring of grief in Comber for Channing, who lost her life two weeks ago.
On Saturday the Royal British Legion organised a special service at the war memorial, which stands prominently in the Square of the town.
Several hundred people turned up that day to pay their respects to the 25-year-old medic.
Yesterday more than a thousand lined the streets in an emphatic display of solidarity rarely, if ever, seen in Comber before.
The impact of the soldier’s death on the community was clearly visible, even before the horse-drawn hearse arrived for Channing’s body.
A solitary framed picture of a smiling Channing in her Army fatigues stood below a large Remembrance poppy in the window of a chemist store on the Square.
Like every other shop and business in the town, the chemist store rolled down its shutters and closed its doors as a mark of respect.
By 11am, several hundred people had arrived in the town.
Charles Spence and his wife Margaret were among the first public mourners to take their place along the Square.
The couple – who are from the Killinchy area – know Channing’s father Leslie.
“We wanted to be here for the family and to show our respect and sympathy,” said Mr Spence.
“It has been a terrible two weeks for the family and we all hope that today will help bring some comfort to them – to see so many people coming out.
“When I heard that a soldier from Comber who was serving in the Army medical corp had been killed I feared it would be Channing, and then I spoke to her father.
“There is very little either you or I can say, except show our support to her family.”
Channing’s body was removed from the funeral parlour and carried behind a glass-fronted hearse, drawn by two magnificent black horses.
Her coffin was draped with the Union flag, with her 3 Medical Regiment beret sitting atop.
The family emerged and followed behind as they began the first leg of their final journey with Channing.
After travelling less than 100 yards, the cortege stopped for a minute’s silence at the war memorial.
In truth, there was almost complete silence for the duration of the funeral procession to the doors of First Comber Presbyterian Church, which sits overlooking the town. The silence was broken only by the hooves of the horses and the low idling of the police motorcycles.
Tony Baker MBE from Castlereagh was among the many former servicemen and women who turned out for the funeral.
“It is a very, very sad occasion, and it must be the worst feeling to lose someone you love, in a faraway country,” said Mr Baker, who served with the Queen’s Regiment.
“Places like Comber have a great level of support for the armed services and on days like this it is great that they come out and show that support.
“It is at times like this when you realise the regard that our armed forces are held in, and it is remarkable the percentage of those serving in the British Army who actually come from Northern Ireland and places like Comber,” added Mr Baker.
As the funeral procession continued on its way to the church, the crowd continued to grow steadily.
The church, which seats up to 700 people, was filled to capacity.
Two packed church halls accommodated at least another 300 people, with many more people waiting outside for the duration of the thanksgiving service.
By the time the service ended, the entire mile-long route from the church to the cemetery was lined with people.
The funeral cortege stopped outside Channing’s family home, a few hundred yards from the church.
Another minute of silent reflection was held, and only the sobbing of her relatives could be heard before Channing continued on the final part of her journey through the streets of a town where she has left such a lasting impression.
It was fitting, therefore, that the people of Comber should transform their streets into such a poignant scene of solidarity for a remarkable person and soldier.