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.

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.