history

Remember - Service Graves

So, I've just had the excitement/terror of chatting live on my local radio station, BBC Berkshire about the service graves that Mum and I look after in St. John's Churchyard in Woodley.

You see, almost 80 years ago, my Grandad arrived at the RAF airfield in Woodley to learn how to fly. He did his first solo here and went on to fly with the RAF right through WWII. He flew on D-Day and then spent the days after landing in Northern France to evacuate casualties under fire. When he eventually left the RAF, he and my Gran returned to Woodley, set up home there and I spent my early years in that very house.

 A page from my Grandad's RAF logbook

A page from my Grandad's RAF logbook

Gran and Grandad are now buried together in the St. John's churchyard and a few years ago, on Remembrance Sunday, we noticed a couple of local Air Cadets laying poppies on two graves that are tucked next to the churchyard's boundary fence, under a tree.

When we looked into this a bit more, we found out that these two RAF officers had been killed on Woodley airfield when their plane, an Avro Anson, flipped over and crashed in flames on take-off. I doubt that these two came from Woodley so they've not been returned to their families, but left in a churchyard far from anyone who knew them.

 The graves surrounded by weeds and bare earth

The graves surrounded by weeds and bare earth

And so Mum and I started looking after them. At Christmas, at Easter, at Remembrance and any other time of year when we were at the churchyard, we'd bring plants and flowers and try to clean the mud and dirt on their headstones and clear the weeds. One Christmas, we bought some stones to put around the graves, just to cover up the bare earth and show someone cared.

 Me trying to weed!

Me trying to weed!

But now, the weeds are huge and clearing the tidying the graves is going to be a big job. However, it's a job that we want to do because after all, these two men were someone's sons and if you had relatives buried a long way from home, wouldn't you want to think someone did something, anything for them?

 After yesterday's ministrations - looking a little more cared for

After yesterday's ministrations - looking a little more cared for

So I spoke on BBC Berkshire today and asked for some help. For some help in identifying those giant weeds or for a little help from a local garden centre with weedkiller, bulbs or anything that could help us show these two men that they've not been forgotten. Because they haven't been.

If you can help, please get in touch. Thank you so much.

Wanderlust - France In Autumn

Now I know I'm very lucky to have an Aunt who lives deep in the French countryside but I felt even luckier last autumn when son and I escaped for a few days in France during the half term.

And really, we couldn't have been more fortunate with the weather if we'd wished for it. Blue skies, autumnal sunshine and all manner of glorious colours and seasonal beauty awaited us.

Not far from Aunt's house is Le Bois du Tay, a wooded hill that always reminds me of something from a fairytale - a deserted hilltop chapel, mineral water springs, a pretty arboretum, twisting paths through the trees and even horses in unexpected clearings. We love wandering round because you really never know what you're going to find when you round the next corner.

Son loves it there too. Aunt's dog and he run and run through trees and up and down hills for hours. You know where they are simply by listening for the combination of excited barking and happy laughing.

At the end of Aunt's garden is a field full of cows. This soft-eyed creatures amble up to their fence when we appear in the garden and moo gently until we pay them some attention. When you walk up to them, they back away until one or two brave cows edge forward and push their noses into your hand, hoping for some kind of treat.

For some reason known only to the powers that be, the airline we fly with stop flying to Aunt's local airport at the end of October so we had to sail home. I admit that I loathe boats but the opportunity for this history-loving girl to call in at Pegasus Bridge before boarding the ferry made the ridiculously long journey home bearable.

With our batteries recharged after a few days of French living, we made it back home with smiles on our faces and a last touch of sun-warmth in our bones.

Do - Wedding Dresses 1775-2014 @ The V&A, London

On Wednesday 30th April I was lucky enough (and, when I say lucky, I mean lucky) to attend the press viewing of the fabulous new exhibition at the V&A in London - Wedding Dresses 1775-2014 on behalf of Love My Dress.

As you'll probably gather from my feature on Love My Dress reviewing the exhibition, I thought it was simply brilliant. I'm a history geek so combining that with weddings sent me into raptures. However, I really think that there's something for everyone at the exhibition and it is, in my book, something to absolutely try and do over the coming months. I am actually going back for part of my birthday treat with My Mr in a few weeks time and I'm so excited to see all the gowns again. I have absolutely no doubt that different things will catch my eye next time.

Some of my earliest memories are related to weddings - I remember being a bridesmaid at my Aunt's wedding and loving my dress but reverting to tomboy ways during the reception and running up and down the riverbank in a most unseemly manner. I remember listening to a discussion prior to my cousin's wedding where they were decided if I could still be bridesmaid should the cast on my broken arm not be removed in time (it was and I was). I remember watching the wedding of Lady Diana and being amazed by her gown and I remember copying the sketches of royal wedding dresses from my childhood collection of Ladybird books. All of those memories and all of that childlike wonder came flooding back to me as I wandered around the V&A on Wednesday.

It still surprises me that the short-haired tomboy who liked to play rough with the boys has become the short-haired tomboy who works in a world of pretty. But, I guess, that's part of the joy of weddings. The prescriptive 'church, buffet, disco' pattern of the past has gone and now, whoever you are, whatever you like, you can have a wedding that works for you. That's borne out by the V&A exhibition - the full-on attention seeking gowns of the celebs, the restrained elegance of the royal outfits, the traditional gowns, the opulent gowns, the make-do-and-mend gowns all hold their own next to each other. One dress, one wedding or even one life is not automatically better than another. If it suits you, it's perfect.

The Wedding Dresses 1775-2014 exhibition opens on 3rd May and you can find out more information & book tickets on the V&A website.

 This gown, by Aida Woolf, is from 1914 and features a detachable train that would allow the wedding dress to be converted into a gown suitable for the newlywed bride to be presented at Court after her wedding. The silk brocade shoes are also beautiful and the outfit reflects the influence of evening dress fashions on the bridalwear of the time.

This gown, by Aida Woolf, is from 1914 and features a detachable train that would allow the wedding dress to be converted into a gown suitable for the newlywed bride to be presented at Court after her wedding. The silk brocade shoes are also beautiful and the outfit reflects the influence of evening dress fashions on the bridalwear of the time.

 This outfit was worn by a farmer's daughter at her wedding in 1775. What strikes me is the low-cut neckline of the gown! The shepherdess style silk covered hat was also very 'of the period' and the little silk shoes have survived amazingly well.

This outfit was worn by a farmer's daughter at her wedding in 1775. What strikes me is the low-cut neckline of the gown! The shepherdess style silk covered hat was also very 'of the period' and the little silk shoes have survived amazingly well.

 I remember watching the Duchess of Cornwall's wedding to Prince Charles and thinking 'well played Camilla'. I loved this outfit then and I still love it now. The dress and coat are beautiful - elegant, refined and totally in keeping with, what was, a very understated occasion. The Philip Treacy headdress is stunning and the LK Bennett shoes are a perfect finishing touch.

I remember watching the Duchess of Cornwall's wedding to Prince Charles and thinking 'well played Camilla'. I loved this outfit then and I still love it now. The dress and coat are beautiful - elegant, refined and totally in keeping with, what was, a very understated occasion. The Philip Treacy headdress is stunning and the LK Bennett shoes are a perfect finishing touch.

 This is some of the detail on the skirt from Ian Stuart's 'Flower Bomb' gown and it was certainly spectacular. It would take a bold bride to wear this I think but if you've got a big personality, why try to pretend that you're demure and quiet on your wedding day?

This is some of the detail on the skirt from Ian Stuart's 'Flower Bomb' gown and it was certainly spectacular. It would take a bold bride to wear this I think but if you've got a big personality, why try to pretend that you're demure and quiet on your wedding day?

 Kate Moss's Galliano gown was attracting a lot of attention and for all the right reasons. The 'phoenix feather' emblems on the skirt are just great and the sequins that cover the dress and veil look absolutely stunning.

Kate Moss's Galliano gown was attracting a lot of attention and for all the right reasons. The 'phoenix feather' emblems on the skirt are just great and the sequins that cover the dress and veil look absolutely stunning.

 As I was leaving I (naturally) had to have a look in the dedicated exhibition shop and what should I find there? Only Style Me Vintage: Weddings by Annabel Beeforth, the founder of  Love My Dress  who had sent me to cover the exhibition! Such an honour to be included as part of this iconic exhibition.

As I was leaving I (naturally) had to have a look in the dedicated exhibition shop and what should I find there? Only Style Me Vintage: Weddings by Annabel Beeforth, the founder of Love My Dress who had sent me to cover the exhibition! Such an honour to be included as part of this iconic exhibition.

The Day I Found My Family

"Excuse me, I think you're my Uncle Laurie's grand-daughter..."

When we booked our Dorset trip, I was hoping to find the time to visit somewhere that has been calling to me for years. Tucked almost at the tip of the Isle of Purbeck, within sight of Corfe Castle and the sea at Swanage, is Langton Matravers. It's a small and insignificant little Dorset village, like many others scattered along the coast and to most people, it's a blip on the journey from sea to scenery.

For me, its meaning is almost indescribable. My grandfather, my adored Grandad, was born in Langton Matravers, on a dairy farm to be precise. He left, became a pilot, flew throughout World War II, dropped paratroopers on D-Day, met my Gran who was nursing in India and returned to England via a three week boat trip down the Suez Canal in the late forties with the baby who became my Mum in tow. I love my Grandad - his medals hang above my desk, my son has his Grandad's name as his middle name and when I was looking to change my surname after my divorce, it was his name I chose.

So today was a pilgrimage of sorts. I wanted to see the church where he was christened and where my great-grandparents are buried. My great-uncle who also joined the RAF and was killed in action in World War II was returned to Langton Matravers after his death and his grave also sits in the cemetery. This was all I hoped for - a visit.

We found the church quite easily - it stands on the high street in the village, built of solid local stone. We wandered through the churchyard, unable to find the headstones I was searching for so we went into the church and there, by the door was a memorial.

 Richard Eastment, RAF, remembered.

Richard Eastment, RAF, remembered.

I felt incredibly content - my great-uncle was remembered, his sacrifice was recorded and as long as the church in Langton Matravers stands, he'll always be there.

At this point, we thought our journey was complete. We were walking down the steps from the churchyard, back to the car, looking at the headstones again, just in case we'd missed something, a inscription hidden over time, when a man's voice called out "Are you looking for someone in particular?" I explained my story, my family connection with Langton Matravers. "Oh yes," he said "I knew your Grandad."

My heart almost stopped beating - this man who just happened to see us knew my Grandad. A moment later or earlier, and this meeting wouldn't have happened. "Come with me," he said "we've got things in the museum about the family." We followed him to the little village museum and there was my family - photos of my great grandparents on their farm, photos of my grandad, of my great aunts and uncles and a book written by my great-aunt. This man, this amazing ninety year old man, told us stories of my family. He told us where my great-grandparents and my great uncle were buried - in the cemetery further along the high street.

We walked down the street, lifted the latch into the cemetery and there they were...

 Ernest and Amelia, my great-grandparents

Ernest and Amelia, my great-grandparents

 My great-uncle.

My great-uncle.

I wished I had taken something to leave on their graves, to show they hadn't been forgotten. I had nothing with me but I was thinking of them in that moment and had been for a long time. It was a good place to be for eternity - looking out toward the sea, surrounded by the village you knew so well.

 Langton Matravers cemetery

Langton Matravers cemetery

Outside the cemetery, I stood for a while, looking at the village map, trying to find my family's farm when I heard a voice, a warm voice, saying "Excuse me, I think you're my Uncle Laurie's grand-daughter." I turned around to see a woman, not unlike my Mum, smiling at me. My second cousin. My relative who I've never met, who I barely knew existed was there, right in front of me.

We hugged, we talked, we stood by the side on the road on the high street in Langton Matravers, clasping each other's hands with mistily moist eyes and we found each other. We kissed goodbye having made arrangements to meet again.

So, today I went to Langton Matravers, today I fulfilled a long cherished ambition to connect with my grandad and today I made a bit more sense of me, of where I came from and who I am.

So, today, I found my family. 

 Me. In Langton Matravers. After all this time.

Me. In Langton Matravers. After all this time.

 My second cousin and me. Do we look really rather shell-shocked at finding each other? We were.

My second cousin and me. Do we look really rather shell-shocked at finding each other? We were.