"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.
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...
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.
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.