A WAVE of spontaneous applause rippled down the street as hundreds united in paying their respects to Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox this morning.
Moments earlier silence had fallen across Heckmondwike’s town centre, with traffic stopped and just the sound of a helicopter overhead.
The blue lights of a police motorbike signalled the imminent arrival of the funeral cortege carrying the coffin of the 42-year-old Labour MP, who was shot and stabbed outside Birstall Library on June 16.
Many wore a single white rose in memory of a proud Yorkshire lass, while a bunch had been tied to a signpost beneath one of the #LoveLikeJo posters dotted along Market Street.
Tears rolled down the cheeks of one lady clutching a bouquet of flowers after the vehicles had passed by and the crowds slowly began to disperse. She was not alone in shedding tears for a woman who had made a tremendous impact on the community she served in little over a year as their MP.
But many of those present knew Mrs Cox as more than a passionate politician and campaigner – she was their classmate, the girl who grew up round the corner and, above all, a wife and mother-of-two.
Kirklees Council leader David Sheard, who is also ward councillor for Heckmondwike, helped put up #LoveLikeJo posters last night.
Visibly moved by the emotion of the day, he said: “I haven’t been able to express myself at all. Myself and my wife went to school with Jo’s parents and when she came back she was a breath of fresh air.
“It’s hard to believe. That’s all I can say really.”
Wayne Gallagher, 42, was in Mrs Cox’s class at Heckmondwike Grammar School.
You’ve got to pay your respects. It’s all you can do.Wayne Gallagher, former classmate of Mrs Cox
“She was always the brightest in our year. She had something about her. She was a lovely lass.”
Mr Gallagher was one of several who had brought along a sunflower for the MP.
“I went to watch the Batley vs Dewsbury match and they had sunflowers in the middle of the pitch for her. She must have liked them.”
Reflecting on the horror that many still feel about Mrs Cox’s murder, he said: “It’s terrible really. I’d rather not be here. You’ve got to pay your respects. It’s all you can do.”
The act of gathering together had been as much a sign of respect for Mrs Cox as for her family, whose dignity over the past month has been inspiring.
They have sought hope in the wake of an act of brutality, focusing on the message Mrs Cox shared in her maiden speech to parliament: “We have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”
It was a message that Mrs Cox’s husband, Brendan, shared again as the world reacted to the terror attack in Nice, France.
He wrote: “Jo would ask us not to fight hate with hate but draw together to drain the swamp that extremism breeds in. Thinking of all victims of hatred today.”
Mrs Cox’s death has united people in smaller ways too.
Michol Kendrick, a former classmate of Mrs Cox, had travelled over from Huddersfield.
“A lot of us have been in touch on social media. We hadn’t talked to each other for 20 years,” she said.
“It’s surprised a lot of people how upset they’ve been because we hadn’t seen Jo for a long time. It’s the shock of it and how it happened was just awful.”
Fellow classmate Lindsey Usher, of Norristhorpe, said: “With her being in the public eye, you felt as though you were still in touch. I’ve been to the Joseph Priestley statue in Birstall to lay some flowers.”
The cortege travelled on through Batley before taking Mrs Cox’s immediate family to a private funeral, which was followed by a function for invited guests only.
It marked the beginning of much needed time to grieve together, away from the world’s media, and rebuild as a family.