One of the things that appealed to the man and me about moving to Whangarei was its proximity to our family in Auckland.*
We wanted to be close enough to visit them and them to visit us. Easily.
So how has it worked out? The answer is exactly as we envisaged. The trip there and back can be completed comfortably in a day.
Having said this, we do tend to make it an overnight excursion. We have a lot to talk about when we meet! And we have got a wee granddaughter to keep close.
Family is important
Which brings me to the topic of family past.
We had a family mystery. Sharing my great- grandparents’, Annie (d. Sep 1941) and John Downing’s (d. April 1941) grave in London Road Cemetery, Coventry, were three other people.**
Two of these people were buried on the same day in 1952: a male, Percy, and a female, Dorothy. They didn’t share the surname of my great-grandparents, or of each other. The third person was a female, another Annie, buried 1969, and she shared the same surname as Percy.
Logically, there must be a connection. And, logically, the two who were buried on the same day probably died on the same day, you’d think?
Well, this is the premise I worked on.
Close to a year ago, I tried to solve it. I spent an inordinate amount of time going round and round in circles searching the online databases so beloved of family historians. I also tried to find the Coventry newspapers covering the relevant dates, but to no avail.
I gave up.
Last month I decided to give it another go. Within ten minutes of beginning my search, I had found the digitised copies of the Coventry Evening Telegraph covering the dates I needed, and the death notice of Percy and Dorothy.
And just like that, the mystery started unravelling.
Percy and Dorothy did not die on the same day. They died a day apart, and, their deaths were not connected. At all. Percy’s death was after a long illness. Dorothy died suddenly.
Dorothy was Percy’s sister-in-law.
Percy’s wife, Annie, turned out to be the third female in the grave.
And Dorothy and Annie (junior) were sisters
Their mother, was my great-grandmother, Annie Downing, nee Jones.
Their father, was my great-grandfather, John Downing.
Dorothy and Annie (junior) were, therefore, my great-aunts, and Percy, my great-uncle, through marriage.
Of course, I have never met any of these people. They all died, barring Annie, years before I was even born.
So does it even matter?
I think so.
After all, they are family, and, as such, are very much part of who I am.
*Being close to our Auckland friends was important too.
And this is exactly what the last seven days have been for the man and me. Here are the highlights:
My work days are beginning brilliantly; I am walking to work via the clifftop path and down past the beach. Yes, the views are amazing, but there is the other big plus, it allows me time to just be. This enjoyable stroll (no speed records here) sets me up for the day.*
Being back at my home site has also confirmed for me that I made the right decision to return and not seek any further promotions. The job is an excellent fit for where I am in life and I enjoy it. I will therefore happily stay in it until I am in a position to reduce my working hours as planned.
The second thing that has happened is that I have discovered the whereabouts of my paternal great grandfather’s grave.
The cousins in Coventry, England, contacted me after reading my posts about graveyards. They were looking for the final resting place of our great grandfather to no avail. Could I help? .
For those readers who don’t know, Coventry was a major player in the English engineering industry, making among other things bicycles, motor cars, and aeroplane engines. During World War Two, its manufacturing base tooled up to produce machinery for war. These included being a big player in the making of parts for British war planes, and armoured cars. It was therefore a no brainer that the German Air Force included this city on its bombing schedule.*
Seventeen small raids took place here during the Battle of Britain (August and October 1940). However, it was on the night of 14/15 November 1940 that 449 Luftwaffe bombers executed the biggest assault on the city. Understandably, my father, who was 11 years old at the time, remembered it vividly. Called Operation Moonlight Sonata, the bombs hit numerous factories, surrounding houses, and the 14th century Coventry Cathedral. Approximately 568 people died that night, including the baby sister of a friend of my father’s who was lying in her pram when the air strike happened. In addition to the deaths, there were another 863 badly injured and 393 people who sustained lesser injuries (http://www.historiccoventry.co.uk/blitz/stats.php )
Among the wounded was my 80 year old great grandfather, John George Downing. For five months he fought for his life in the No.1 Canadian General Hospital at Marston Green, near Birmingham; a battle he finally lost on 17 April 1941.
After four weeks of trying every avenue I could, including obtaining his death certificate, using the expertise of the family history librarian and trawling through databases, I resorted to using a process of elimination i.e. writing to every likely cemetery authority I could find. This rather tedious process provided the answer: he was buried in the London Road Cemetery in Coventry. It is a fitting place for his final resting place as this was where the mass funerals took place in the days after the raid. It is also where the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Civilian Memorial is situated remembering those who perished in this air strike.
The cousins will visit the grave shortly and we will in August 2016, which is a nice segue into the next momentous thing that happened this week.
The man turns 60 next year. To celebrate this auspicious occasion, he wanted to go to Alaska. This week we purchased airline tickets to Canada and the UK. Details are a work in progress for this six week trip. The sojourn to England will include catching up with family, both dead and alive, and friends (all breathing).
Now confession time: we have totally lost the plot regarding getting the yacht ready to sell. Weather has played a part in this, but the main reason it has taken a back seat is we have been busy doing other things including taking moulds off the Albatross, the man’s sea kayak design. This is for a collaborative business venture, but that is another story.
We are also getting ready for a family wedding for which we both needed new shoes: the man has held true to our commitment to buy NZ made, and is now the proud owner of a pair of McKinlays. And as for me? Well, I spotted some shoes that met my brief. Two pairs only left, with one in my size. They will look corker on my feet at the wedding. It was meant to be.
Life is good. The man and I are making the most of it. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
*From next week, with changes in hours, I’ll walk home most evenings too.
***There was further bombing of the city in over the nights of 8/9 April 1941. This resulted in 451 dead and 700 seriously injured. The final bombing was 3 August 1942, in which 6 people perished.