FLAGS were lowered and guns raised to mark the funeral of a naval officer who dedicated her career to helping others.

Dozens of uniformed colleagues from the Royal Marines and the Special Boat Service (SBS) attended St Anne’s Church in Turton, to celebrate the life of Chief Petty Officer Michelle Hewitt, who died of ovarian cancer aged 49.

A guard of honour was formed as Michelle’s coffin was led into church, draped in a union flag, with her naval hat and white lilies placed on top.

Michelle’s two small dogs were also brought to join the mourners who gathered outside in the rain, as the church bells tolled. Father Simon Beveridge, Navy Chaplain, conducted the 80 minute service and read aloud a letter written by Michelle for her funeral.

In it she said she felt ‘blessed’ to have had an ‘amazing life’, with ‘a wonderful family, career and colleagues’.

It also read: “Perhaps as a Christian I have achieved what I have been sent to do, and that is support, guide and nurture people’s lives.

“Perhaps it is time to move on to the next stage of my life, whatever that means.”

Warrant Officer Dug Hickin, said: “There are children and young people out there now who will go on and achieve great things as a direct result of the support received from Michelle.”

“She knew what was coming and she took it on with dignity, courage and full of cheerfulness.”

Adressing Michelle’s family, he added: “Some people achieve many things in their lives. Michelle Jean Hewitt achieved it not only for herself, but for countless others.

“Colin, Jean and Andrew, your daughter, your sister, made a difference and we will always, always remember her.”

As Michelle’s coffin was brought out of the church, colleagues from the SBS fired three times into the air.

As the sound of the shocks faded, a bugler played the Last Post.

Michelle, one of the first sea-going women in the Royal Navy, also worked as a welfare officer with the Royal Marines and the elite Special Boat Service (SBS) - the Navy's version of the SAS - in some of the world’s worst conflicts in the past decade.

She also served in conflicts in Kosovo and Northern Ireland.