FRIENDS and family gathered from far and wide to pay their respects to a former RAF bomber who became a colourful anti-war protester.

Chicago-born Bertie Lewis died last month at the Royal Bolton Hospital after a heart attack at the age of 90.

The former Royal Air Force bomber, who flew in more than 40 flying missions during the Second World War, had been in hospital for an operation on his hip.

Former Bolton South East MP Dr Brian Iddon, local councillors Frank White and Noel Spencer, and union chief Bernie Gallagher were among the mourners at a packed Overdale Crematorium.

During the 30-minute service, his son Roger described how Mr Lewis loved being contrary, often championing the minority opinion. He said: “I thought at times that if I agreed with him on a matter too much, he would take the opposite opinion. He loved engaging in contrarianism.”

Mr Lewis also described how his dad — who would also place a wreath of white poppies at the town’s war memorial during the Remembrance Day service — was determined to have a hip replacement operation, despite the risks involved at his age.

“He said the chances were better than during his days in the RAF as a bomber. Even though he never returned from that final operation, he always did say that it was ‘better to die on your feet than live on your knees’.”

His friend Malcolm Pittock, himself a staunch anti-war protester, also spoke at the service of his respect for Mr Lewis, despite the former RAF man’s less-than-peaceful past.

He said: “He had physical and moral strength and it was his determination that ensured that Bolton was the only place in the country where the laying of white poppies was part of the official service. It would be a tribute to Bertie if that was allowed to continue.

There are many other stories I think we could all tell about Bertie and I hope we will have a chance to after the funeral.”

After the funeral, friends and family travelled to the Derby Ward Labour Club in Deane Road for a reception.

Cllr Noel Spencer said: “It was a lovely service, very fitting for Bertie.”