The Royal Air Force and Lancashire Muslim communities came together in Nelson, Lancashire, to say goodbye to the 'epitome of the Royal Air Force airman' after a brave and selfless fight against cancer.
SAC Shahbaz Saleem was laid to rest at Nelson Cemetery just six days after his 28th birthday. The RAF Leeming MT driver touched the hearts of thousands in recent weeks as he dedicated his final days to raising awareness of colon cancer in young people, and succeeded in raising almost £17 thousand for Pendleside Hospice - which he described as 'heaven on earth'. His story reached Downing Street, and Prime Minister Theresa May wrote to him in praise of his courage.
On Friday, hundreds of mourners gather at Nelson Mosque to pay tribute to a young man who had been a prominent member of his local community, and extremely proud to serve his country. Squadron Leader Matt Kingsman said: “A few weeks ago I met Shabz for the first time, when I accompanied the Royal Air Force Leeming Station Commander to present him with a commendation. I was overwhelmed by the generosity he displayed, as well as his determination to put on his No. 1 Dress Uniform and medals for the occasion. He was clearly so proud of his Service and it was an example to us that that it was he who was wearing the shiniest shoes which, of course, he had polished himself.
“Shabz’s family have every right to be exceptionally proud of everything he has achieved and the inspirational man he was. The Royal Air Force is honoured to be able to call him one of our own, and we thank him for loyal and exceptional service.”
Following the funeral service at the Mosque, Shahbaz was taken to the Cemetery where a bugler played ‘The Last Post’, used traditionally to signal the end of the day’s duty or battle. A short silence was then followed by ‘The Reveille’ traditionally played to signal the start of the day, but on this occasion calling for his spirit to rise and prepare for another day.
Laying a wreath at the grave was RAF Leeming Station Commander, Group Captain David Arthurton. He said: “It was with great sadness that I learned that SAC Shahbaz Saleem had passed away after an exceptionally brave fight against his illness. I would like to offer his family and friends the thoughts and prayers of all those at RAF Leeming at this incredibly difficult time. Shahbaz was remarkable young man who always put others before himself. In my eyes, he was the epitome of the Royal Air Force airman, and he will be sorely missed."
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