Seaman’s last journey was on the Calder and Hebble Canal

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A former seaman and boat lover who died after a battle with cancer had his perfect send off in a “barge” coffin.

The funeral cortege with a difference involved popular Robert Boothroyd’s family following him to his service along his favourite canal.

Robert, 60, was an ex-merchant seaman and boat engineer who dedicated his time to a charity which runs canal trips for disadvantaged children and community groups.

He taught volunteers and fixed boats for the Safe Anchor Trust - a charity which provides access to canals for special needs groups.

Over 200 people attended the service in Elland, following his death on April 9.

Robert spent 14 years travelling the world with the merchant navy and in a fitting tribute to the former seaman, his casket, decorated as his own canal boat, was taken by boat on a two-hour journey from Brighouse to Park Wood Crematorium, Elland, via the Calder and Hebble Canal.

Boats with his closest friends and family on board followed Robert’s coffin up the canal and a guard of honour, who were volunteers at the charity, met the procession at each of the four water locks along the way.

At the end of the sail, the group stopped at one of Robert’s favourite pubs, The Collier’s Arms before heading to the funeral service.

At the service, “Don’t cry for me Argentina” was played - harking back to his time spent there during his years in the navy.

Les Moss, who was Robert’s close friend for over 20 years and is chairman of the Safe Anchor Trust, said: “It was a very unusual funeral and if you didn’t know Robert and heard about it out of context then it would sound very odd indeed.

“For those of us who knew and loved him, it was a very fitting tribute to a man who spent his life on boats and dedicated his time to the charity.

“He planned the whole thing before he died and that shows just what sort of character he was.

“He was a great man. He was so kind and donated so much of his time to help others.”

Robert lived in Meltham, Huddersfield, where he fixed boats and took people out on boat trips at Sowerby Bridge.

Les, 64, said: “Robert had been helping out at the charity for years but after retiring from his full-time job as a self-employed boat engineer five years ago, he spent almost all of his time contributing to the running of the place.

“What he really loved was teaching new volunteers at the charity how to take out groups on the boats.

“He was a gifted trainer and people of all ages loved him. He had been on the water all his life and so the knowledge he was passing on to others was invaluable.”

The Safe Anchor Trust was set up in 1993 and has taken over 150,000 people out on canals. They rely on over 100 volunteers to provide free access to waterways for special needs groups.

Les said: “He was diagnosed with cancer one year ago but he just got on with it. He continued his work at the charity and carried on training volunteers, even when he was ill.

“For me, that speaks volumes about his character. He never complained and was always keeping busy. He is an example to people in terms of how to handle illness.

“He was certainly the biggest character on the canal. I’ll remember him fondly with a pint in his hand and a smile on his face.

“He was a great man who died too young.”

Robert, who never married, was very close to his mother, Mollie, his brother, David and his nephew, Robert.

Les said: “Although he didn’t have a big family, from all his years in the navy and then working round canals in the area, Robert made a lot of good friends and got to know a lot of people round here.

“Robert was a stereotypical Yorkshireman. He enjoyed a good pint and had a great sense of humour.

“The number of people at his funeral reflects how much he was loved and respected in this community. He will be missed by many people.”

Words and pictures: Ross Parry