THEY arrived far earlier than they needed to; men and women walking the hill towards the church in dark suits and coats brightened by splashes of red, white and blue from the football scarves wrapped around their necks.
Teenagers greeted each other almost defiant with bravado, though their eyes easily filled with tears as they hugged. They wore the blue school uniform of West Calder High, gold ribbons pinned to lapels, or they showed their allegiance in the blue and white striped football strips of Mid Calder Colts.
On the cusp of adulthood they looked the vulnerable children they still are beneath the acne and behind the mascara, unsure of how to react to the devastating loss they had suffered: the death of their team-mate, their band partner, their school friend, Jak Neil Walter Trueman.
Jak passed away on February 2, six months after the football-mad tuba-playing 15-year-old was cruelly diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer. Despite his determined battle he was told last month that the doctors could do no more.
His funeral yesterday saw the pews of 16th century Kirk O’Calder church in Mid Calder fill quickly with around 400 people; the only standing room available half an hour before the service began was outdoors on the damp grass.
There was no complaint. They were here to celebrate the boy whose brief life had touched them all – and thousands more who never met him but who followed his public journey and his immense fundraising efforts for cancer charities through his Facebook page.
Helium balloons in red, white and blue decorated the church while bouquets were laid at the door, many in the shape of stars, one even placed inside the bell of a tuba. Speakers were put outside so no-one would miss the tributes.
Jak arrived in a blue coffin, decorated with the insignia of his beloved Rangers Football Club and blue and white flowers spelling his name. The funeral directors wore bright blue ties; the glossy blue order of service was packed with pictures of Jak in good health, grinning his “amazing, infectious smile”.
He was played into church by West Calder High’s brass quintet, and it was his brass tutor of six years, Mark Traynor, who led the celebration service, saying: “While death leaves a heartache no-one can heal, love leaves a memory no-one can steal; my memory will be of his infectious smile.”
Jak’s best friend, Ben Smith, sang Amazing Grace and sister Aimie’s clear voice cut through the drizzly air with her rendition of Drop in the Ocean – both requested by Jak as he helped to plan his own funeral.
But when mum Allison, also dressed in royal blue, stood to speak about her “beautiful boy”, the floodgates opened. Tears flowed as her love for her only son cracked her voice and fractured the barely held-together emotions of the young mourners.
“This is the absolute nightmare of every parent, but there’s nothing we can do about it except honour my astounding, strong, brave, amazing, inspirational, handsome, intelligent beautiful boy. My son Jak.
“Heartbroken is an understatement of how I feel.”
She added: “He had so many plans and dreams for the future. These were all taken away from him in August but something remarkable happened. I don’t know where my boy got his strength from.
“As soon as he got the diagnosis he wanted to write about his journey. Sometimes he was too ill and I had to do it for him. And we couldn’t believe how many people started to read it and follow his story. People were inspired by his strength and positive attitude.
“If there’s any purpose to this tragedy, any good to come from it, it’s got to be that my amazing son has touched so many lives on so many levels.
“Jak has left a little bit of heaven here on Earth with his beautiful, dazzling smile which would melt any heart. He will be with me like a handprint on my heart.”
There were eulogies from his GP, Iain Macleod, who spoke of his amazement of Jak’s ability to “always think of other people first”.
“In the middle of his treatment he was asking me about my son’s knee operation. He was always concerned about those around him,” he said.
Grandad Walter Barr spoke of his love for the “sports-mad” boy who couldn’t pass up a bowl of his gran’s homemade soup and who was determined to go quad-biking the day before he died.
He added: “We went to see Rangers play the day the crowd broke the record for the biggest crowd at a lower league game. Jak said to me, ‘it’s really good to be part of history’. Little did we know how he would make history himself.”
Mr Traynor too recalled Jak’s love of sport, joking: “If there are tears in my eyes it’s not all about Jak no longer being with us, but because as a Celtic fan I’m wearing a Rangers tie – though I did warn him that I’d still be wearing Celtic boxer shorts!
“Football was a huge part of his life and it’s where he made a number of his friends. And when [his girlfriend] Hannah started to watch him play he was one of the first Mid Calder Colts to have a WAG.
“But Hannah has been such an important part of his life, especially these last six months. He found a great deal of comfort in her.”
Mr Traynor said that while Jak may have had a “typical childhood”, what made him “stand apart was what he achieved in the last six months – more than many will do in their whole lives.”
Jak spent the time since his diagnosis fundraising for leukaemia and lymphoma research, raising £50,000 by the time he passed away.
His plight touched many, including the footballers at Rangers, who took part in a charity game in his honour last weekend. He was visited in hospital by players from Celtic and Hearts, with goalkeeper Neil Alexander becoming a close friend, reading a poem at the funeral and agreeing to be patron of the charity Team Jak the family is now in the process of establishing.
“I didn’t know Jak that long but the time I spent with him I’ll always remember,” said Alexander. “Certain people come into your life and change it for the better and Jak was one of those people.”