The daughter of an “adventurous” 93-year-old has fulfilled her mother’s wish to have her ashes scattered using a drone and said it was the most fitting way for her to “go out in style”.
Pauline Polhill, from Evercreech, Somerset, died on Christmas Eve 2022, after a previously undetected cancer spread to the outside of her lungs.
It only began taking effect in September last year, leaving her feeling breathless and with fluid on her chest.
The adventure lover – who travelled to Florida to meet Mickey Mouse at 89 and swam with dolphins at 90 – wanted to have a memorable send-off, with news of a drone being used to scatter ashes sparking her interest in her final months.
Mrs Polhill’s daughter, Beverley Charnley, 65, who works as a secretary at the family business, Charnley Publishing, told the PA news agency: “I went into the kitchen, leaving the radio on in the lounge, and when I came back, (my mother) asked whether I had been listening to the programme.”
“I said ‘No’ and she said ‘Did you know you can have your ashes scattered by a drone?’
“And she said ‘I’d really like that’, adding ‘I’ve been in a helicopter but I’ve never been in a drone’.”
Mrs Charnley’s husband, Richard, 64, director of Charnley Publishing, said the drone send-off summed up Mrs Polhill’s personality and lust for life.
“Her helicopter flight happened because she used to have a job where she delivered new cars for a living and all the drivers used to keep the return fare and hitch-hike to get back home”, he said.
“And somehow she managed to hitch a lift in a helicopter – she was always up for anything.”
Mr Charnley said he and his wife did not think about the idea too much until they began looking for a funeral director and thought: “Oh crikey – the drone.”
They came across Co-op Funeralcare’s Aerial Ashes service – which uses drones to help people scatter their loved ones’ ashes across different locations over land and sea – with the team in Radstock arranging for the send-off to take place on April 13.
Mrs Polhill’s other daughter and granddaughter, friends, neighbours and members of the Co-op team witnessed the drone scattering the ashes over and around Mr and Mrs Charnley’s garden, which was chosen because Mrs Polhill “loved” it.
“She would have been so cross she missed it because we were all in the garden, we had the champagne and the sky was clear,” Mrs Charnley said.
“I don’t know what we expected, but it was so spectacular and everybody said that it was just the best thing they’d ever seen.
“It was a way of celebrating her life. That’s what she would have wanted and now she’s gone out in style – I think she would have loved it.”
Mr Charnley said the fact that the drone was controlled from an iPad would have also brought joy to Mrs Polhill.
“She had in her head this idea that there’s nothing you can’t do with an iPad and if she looked down and saw the tablet, she would have said ‘Told you it could do anything’,” he said.
Mrs Polhill’s funeral took place on January 26, with Mr Charnley adding that having the drone scattering her ashes a few months later was a “good thing” as it allowed people to get over the shock of losing her.
Mrs Polhill had been a drummer for the Wessex Military Band since her 70s and one of her closest friends from the band attended the event in the family’s garden.
She had played with the band across Europe, including Germany, France and Malta, and at landmark venues including the Royal Albert Hall, and they also made an appearance at her funeral.
“They were all there at the crematorium and came in their red uniforms and played during the service,” Mrs Charnley said.
“(Mum) wanted to have a big party for her 93rd birthday in November and said she might need to retire from the band as she couldn’t carry the drum anymore, but they always used to get her a chair to put the drum on.
“In the end she wasn’t well enough to attend a party so the Wessex Military Band came to her instead and played on the drive outside the house.”
The family have worked with the Co-op before, but in a different and more humorous capacity.
“About five years ago, my daughter Emma was at drama school. She had an agent who was looking for older people,” Mrs Charnley said.
“My daughter suggested her grandmother, who was cast in a Co-op Halloween TV advert which led to a few other film appearances.”
Mrs Charnley said she hopes that sharing her mother’s story will spread awareness about the service.
“If somebody hears about it and thinks it would suit them, my mum would be very happy,” she said.
“This was perfect for her and hopefully for someone else.”
Radstock Co-op funeral director Stephen Coke said: “We were absolutely delighted to be able to help Beverley in arranging such a special tribute to her mother.
“Having heard all about the type of person Pauline was, and her incredible energy for life, it seemed like the perfect fit to memorialise her in this way.”
To ensure that the event took place without a hitch, regulations were followed, which included getting permission from the householders in the vicinity of where the drone was flown.