After thousands attended his funeral and burial, former airman Shahbaz Saleem has been commended by Senior Royal Air Force officials, who said that the RAF was ‘honoured to be able to call him one of our own.’
Shahbaz (28), died on Wednesday, December 21st following an arduous battle with bowel cancer, having raised over £17,000 for Pendleside Hospice, which he called ‘Heaven on Earth’ and where he spent his last weeks receiving palliative care.
The Reedley-born father-of-two dedicated himself to raising both funds for Pendleside and awareness of bowel cancer after being told by doctors he had just days to live in late November, with countless mourners attending the burial service at Nelson Cemetery just six days after his 28th birthday.
“Shabz’s family have every right to be exceptionally proud of everything he has achieved and the inspirational man he was,” said RAF Squadron Leader, Matt Kingsman. “The Royal Air Force is honoured to be able to call him one of our own, and we thank him for loyal and exceptional service.”
Touched by the volume of people keen to pay their respects, Shahbaz’s brother Shahzad (29) said: “The service, the ceremony from the RAF, and everything that the mosque did - it sums up Shabz. He was all about inter-faith and raising awareness - building bridges - between communities and faiths and he did just that even after he was gone.
“I was so proud of what he’s achieved not just in life, but even after his death,” Shahzad continued. “He brought communities together. I looked around and saw people from all walks of life and that was truly remarkable and sums up my brother.”
After the funeral at Ghousia Mosque in Nelson, Shahbaz - who served in the RAF for nine-and-a-half years - was given a guard of honour by RAF Leeming personnel at the burial, whilst a bugler played ‘The Last Post’. RAF Leeming Station Commander, Group Captain David Arthurton, who laid a wreath at Shahbaz’s grave, said: “Shahbaz was remarkable young man who always put others before himself. He was the epitome of the Royal Air Force airman, and he will be sorely missed.”
“[The RAF element] was very important,” said Shahzad. “My brother was a proud RAF airman; my elder brother was in the RAF before him and, when Shahbaz was 11-years-old, he used to try on my brother’s Number One uniform. He’d look in the mirror and say ‘When I grow up, I’m going to be an aircraftman.’ He did us so proud.”
Undeterred by the weather, hundreds of mourners attended Shabz’s burial on Friday, December 23rd, with Shahzad saying: “We were so proud as a family to see how many hearts Shahbaz’s has touched. It gave us an extra bit of comfort - we knew my brother was terminal but as soon as he passed away it came as a massive shock, so knowing that all these people were coming down to pay their respects and offer condolences gave us comfort and showed that this particular chap was a true friend of God.”
You can donate to Shahbaz’s JustGiving page at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Shahbazsaleem.