Hundreds of people have attended the funeral of a “true hero” aid worker killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza.

James Kirby, 47, from Bristol, was one of seven World Central Kitchen (WCK) workers fatally injured in the attack, including two other Britons.

The group was travelling in a WCK convoy leaving one of its warehouses when Israeli armed drones fired munitions at their marked vehicles on April 1 this year.

Mr Kirby, who previously served with the Rifles, was remembered during a packed service at St Mary Redcliffe Church in his home city of Bristol on Wednesday.

James Kirby had previously served with the Rifles (World Central Kitchen/PA)
James Kirby had previously served with the Rifles (World Central Kitchen/PA)

More than 500 people attended his funeral, with mourners from across the world filling the pews and standing at the back of the church for the service, which lasted just over an hour.

His coffin, draped in a Union flag, was brought past flag bearers before entering the historic church where family, friends and colleagues had gathered.

At the conclusion of the service, mourners wept as the Last Post sounded, then each lit a candle which they held up as Mr Kirby’s coffin was carried outside ahead of a private burial.

Canon Dan Tyndall, vicar of the church, described Mr Kirby as “a remarkable man, a true friend, a son”.

He said: “We remember all seven men and women who were killed while undertaking humanitarian activities on that road in Gaza by lighting seven candles at the altar as we sing our first hymn.

“Those candles will be taken from here to the funerals of Jim Henderson and John Chapman and will then be distributed to each of the families of those killed.”

The first hymn sung at the funeral was How Great Thou Art, which was followed by a family tribute read by Mr Kirby’s cousin Adam McGuire.

Emily Roberts, of security service Solace Global, and John McClellan, of World Central Kitchen, both gave readings during the service.

Mr McGuire thanked those in attendance on behalf of Mr Kirby’s family, and said they had received cards and messages from many, including the King and Queen.

He described how Mr Kirby had aspired to join the Army from a young age and worked hard to achieve that, with a “passion for adventure” and a willingness to help everyone he met.

“James’s diverse experiences ultimately led him to a career in security, where he encountered unforgettable moments – from his work on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here to guarding luxury yachts and forging lifelong friendships,” he said.

“James’s decision to go to Gaza, driven by his innate desire to help others, exemplified his selflessness and courage.

“He, along with six fellow aid workers, made the ultimate sacrifice in their mission to bring aid to those less fortunate, cementing their legacy as true heroes.”

Mr Kirby's coffin was carried out of the church (Ben Birchall/PA)
Mr Kirby’s coffin was carried out of the church (Ben Birchall/PA)

Nicky Wallace described dropping Mr Kirby, whom she described as her best friend, at Heathrow Airport ahead of his trip to Gaza, giving him a hug and kiss “in the hope you would turn around and come back”.

Reverend Laura Verrall-Kelly led prayers for Mr Kirby and the other aid workers killed in the attack.

She said: “We remember their courage in walking towards dangerous situations for the sake of humanity.

“We honour their lives and sacrifice by pledging to show love and dignity to those in our world with the greatest need.

“We continue to pray for the work of World Central Kitchen.”

Major General Tom Bewick read the Rifles Collect before the Lord’s Prayer was said.

Mr Kirby’s mother, and close members of his family, then placed their hands on his coffin as Canon Dan Tyndall gave the prayers of commendation.

Many of those in attendance at the funeral, which was also live streamed, wept as the Last Post sounded.

Five hundred white candles were handed to mourners, with these lit and held high in tribute to Mr Kirby as his coffin was carried from the church as Nimrod by Edward Elgar played.

Mr Kirby’s family asked for donations made in his memory to be sent to the Help Bristol’s Homeless charity.

Mr Kirby's Order of Service asked for donations to be made to a local homelessness charity (Ben Birchall/PA)
Mr Kirby’s order of service asked for donations to be made to a local homelessness charity (Ben Birchall/PA)

Brendan Forbes, 46, from Edinburgh, described how he had been friends with Mr Kirby since they were aged 13 and became Army cadets, later joining the Light Infantry in 1994.

He said it was “wonderful” to have known Mr Kirby, known as Kirbs, who would make people feel comfortable and had “a great sense of humour”.

“Selfishly, I thought he was my best friend but he was everyone’s best friend,” Mr Forbes said.

“We spoke before he left, he said ‘I’ll see you when I’m back’.”

Veiner Gaston, 36, also living in Edinburgh, served on a tour of Afghanistan with Mr Kirby in 2011.

“He was my cover man,” he said. “He was the one physically protecting me. We would say ‘you keep me from blowing up, you keep me from being shot’.

“He had this energy and aura around him. People gravitated towards him. He would always treat everyone the same. He would make them laugh, make them smile. He was an absolutely amazing person.

“When we were in Afghanistan, we would see little kids walking along. He would have two chocolate bars at all times, he would be like ‘here you go, mate’, or he would hand them his rations.”

In a tribute issued through Avon and Somerset Police before the funeral, Mr Kirby’s mother Jacqui Kirby said he was a true friend to so many, as well as being her son.

“I will miss him beyond measure and cannot comprehend a future without his presence,” she said.

“But I take great comfort from knowing he died doing something that really mattered to him, and the knowledge that he was loved by so many people from all walks of life.”

Britons John Chapman, 57, and James “Jim” Henderson, 33, were also killed in the attack.

The relief team’s leader, Australian national Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom, 43, also died alongside dual American-Canadian citizen Jacob Flickinger, 33; Polish national Damian Sobol, 35; and their driver, Palestinian Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, 25.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) dismissed two officers and reprimanded three others over the incident, calling it a “serious mistake”.