Old York soldier gets the perfect send off as he travels to funeral – in a tank

Wally's last journey – in a tank made by his family. Photographs: the Laverack family
30 Apr 2015 @ 8.22 am
| News

Exactly 70 years after driving a Cromwell tank in the battle to liberate Europe, an old soldier made his final journey to York Crematorium… in a tank.

The unique funeral saw war hero Wallace William Laverack’s coffin placed in the mock-up of a tank, and conveyed on the back of a flat-bed truck. Followed by ordinary family cars it made an unusual cortège travelling slowly to Bishopthorpe on Monday (April 27).

The idea was hatched by his children as a way of paying tribute to his wartime service.

Sons Matthew and Robert Laverack designed and built the tank. Much of the bespoke bench joinery work was done by grandson Sam Laverack.

Travelling in style… no hearse, but a Laverack Joinery flat bed transit
Travelling in style… no hearse, but a Laverack Joinery flat bed transit

Wallace, known to all as Wally, was born in Layerthorpe, York. He was 15 when the Second World War broke out, and joined up with the British Army aged 18.

Only two years later he was driving a tank on the frontline in Germany and was lucky to survive when his convey came under attack.

After the war Wally returned to York and built up his own building business before retiring.

He died on April 14, aged 90.

‘A wonderful send off’

Wally's Cromwell tank and four of the crew. Wally is not in the photo – he's thought to be taking the picture
Wally’s Cromwell tank and four of the crew. Wally is not in the photo – he’s thought to be taking the picture

The funeral tank was part of a special, hands-on service created by the family, without the involvement of a funeral director or vicar.

“We did it all ourselves in our own special way,” said son Matthew, an architect and York businessman.

The coffin was removed from the back of the tank and carried in to the crematorium chapel on the shoulders of Wally’s five sons – Wallace, Geoff, Harry, Matthew and Robert – and his son in law Alf.

Daughter Jane led the procession carrying a single white wreath which was placed on top of the Union Jack draped coffin.

A collection in his memory raised £432 for Dementia UK.

Matthew said:

Wally had a wonderful send off. Quite different to the usual sombre affair.

The day was a fitting tribute to an old soldier and it seemed entirely appropriate as we approach the 70th anniversary of VE Day.

He said the modified tank was to be offered to local schools and children’s groups as a unique addition to their playground.

Perfect send-off: Wally's children say goodbye
Perfect send-off: Wally’s children say goodbye

A York life

War hero… Wally was only 20 when he saw action
War hero… Wally was only 20 when he saw action
Wallace William Laverack was born on June 20, 1924 at 98 Layerthorpe, York. He was one of seven children.

His dad was a coalman, complete with horse and cart.

Wally attended Tang Hall School, leaving at 14 to be an office junior at Rowntrees, before moving into the building trade.

He was called up aged 18 in 1942, joined the army and became a driver/ mechanic, first for the Royal Artillery and later with tank regiments. He was sent to France in 1944.

The following year he narrowly escaped death on the frontline in Germany. Suspecting a mechanical failure, his commanding officer told him to stop the tank. The rest of the convey journeyed on, came under attack and many were killed.

Wally and wife Mary
Wally and wife Mary
Wally (right) and brother John, who was also in the Tank Corps
Wally (right) and brother John, who was also in the Tank Corps

Wally married Mary Jane Frogatt while on leave in October 1945. Back in civilian life he created a successful building business and built his own house on Hawthorn Street, York.

He retired in 1984, spending his last days in St Catherine’s nursing home.