The final take-off: WWII ace goes to his grave in a coffin shaped like a Hurricane fighter

10th May 2007
Daily Mail

A World War Two flying ace's funeral really took off when he was buried in a coffin in the shape of his beloved Hawker Hurricane fighter plane.

The family of RAF veteran Terry Prendergast built him the cardboard casket complete with cockpit, wings, propeller and tailplane.

They even painted the 7ftx5ft coffin in camouflage colours and wrote on the side 8608 - the number of the plane the flight lieutenant flew in the war.

The family of RAF veteran Terry Prendergast with the cardboard casket they built for him - complete with cockpit, wings, propeller and tailplane

It was then carried on its final journey to Mr Prendergast's local crematorium where his widow Rodica, 83, and four children and 10 grandchildren gave him a fitting send off.

Climbing in to the cockpit - Flight Lieutenant Terry Prendergast with his Hawker Hurricane in Burma in 1944

His son Andy Prendergast, 53, said: "It was a novelty way to say goodbye to dad but at the same time it was an act of love.

"Dad would have loved it. If he had been there he would have joined in the building of it and told us which bits should go where.

"I can tell you the funeral director was a bit taken aback when he arrived.

"We were thinking about having the Dam Busters music at the service but thought that would be a bit over the top and decided against it."

Flight Lieutenant Prendergast joined the RAF during the Second World War and was posted to Burma.

He was shot down in 1944 in a Hawker Hurricane after a dogfight with five Japanese planes.

He was rescued by local villagers in a jungle and posted to an air station nearby before being sent back to Britain.

After the war he became a mechanical engineer, married his sweetheart Rodica in 1946 and lived with her in Bradford Peverell near Dorchester, Dorset.

He died last week aged 85 following a short illness.

Mr Prendergast, a community film maker from London, said the family decided to bury him in a 300 pounds cardboard coffin as his father was a frugal man.

He said: "Dad was great fun, generous, thoughtful, very intelligent and very creative.

"He was also a frugal chap when it came to himself and would have thought it was a dreadful waste being put in a wooden coffin only for it to be burned.

"We wanted to decorate it and first thought about painting a blue sky on it but then my brother Ian suggested turning it into a Hurricane.

"Dad was a very self sufficient guy. Every single bit of cardboard we used to make the plane was cardboard he stored religiously in the garage for future use.

"We fitted wings onto it as well as the cockpit and tailplane and used rolls of cardboard to make the propeller.

"It was painted camouflage colours and had 8608 painted on the side - the number of his plane.

"Some people might think it is disrespectful to put your father in a cardboard coffin but he was 85 and would have liked it."

Mr Prendergast made the unique coffin with brother Ian, 49, and his two children Otto, 12, and Octavia, 15, and their niece Hannah Hay, a design and Technology teacher from Blandford.

Flight Lieutenant Prendergast's daughter Sue Hay described her father's wartime experiences.

She said: "He had his arm almost completely shot off - it was hanging off by a thread - and when he came too in the jungle he was in a bit of a dilemma.

"He thought: 'Should I cut it off and run or try to save it.' He didn't know where he was until some villagers came out and told him there was an air station nearby.

"He managed to patch his arm and get to the station and went on to be one of the first to have both skin and bone grafts."

Although her father lost some use of his right arm he could still write with it.

Despite being shot down and Flight Lieutenant Prendergast still harboured a love of flight.

Mrs Hay said: "He took up hand gliding and then later paragliding and he was presented with an award for services to hand gliding by Prince Andrew."

She added that her father continued to paraglide until he was 82.