The day before, quite by chance, I popped in to see an old 14th century English church. I'd spotted it as I was driving along during a holiday. Wandering among the graves, there were various stories behind the grave stones: the survivor of HMS Victory; the Postman Poet; two families who each lost five young children; the 100 or so Air Force graves.
After a while some other visitors arrived, including an old woman of 80 or more, who came to pay their respects at one of the military graves. Chatting to one of the group, I found out that, since the old woman's brother was killed and buried here in St. Augustine's churchyard in a little place called Heanton Punchard, this was the very first time she or any member of the family had visited this young man's grave. The first family visit in 66 years. This young man, only 20 years old, had been piloting a Lancaster Bomber from RAF Chivenor, a mile below, on the estuary of the River Taw. Flying over Brest in France, his plane was badly damaged by anti-aircraft firre and he headed back. At his home air base, he was refused permission to land and told to fly to another nearby air base. Here, too, he was refused permission to land. I don't know why in either case. Shortly after that, his aircraft broke apart, possibly in trying to land and the young man and presumably his crew, died.
His mother refused permission for any family member to visit his grave. Perhaps it was anger over the manner of his death, I don't know.
I felt privileged to be there for this moment. I shook the old lady's hand and said that that she must be both sad and proud. She was in tears, as were her two nieces on her arms. Moments before, a large RAF helicopter, flying the Ensign, flew past in tribute, a blue-uniformed RAF officer standing in the doorway, saluting a fallen comrade.
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