One beautiful summer morning in 1954 when I was seventeen, I decided to visit my grandmother by myself. This was quite an undertaking as she lived on the other side of the British River Thames, a two hour journey I normally made with my Mother by train, ferry boat and a bus ride. This time I was going to find my way by Green Line Bus, a long distance, rural network similar to the American Greyhound. I had all day to explore this new route and the beautiful weather made it an inviting adventure. I could not know it would be the only time in my life I would ever travel by Green Line.
Half way there, on a whim, I decided to leave the bus, alighting on the crest of a hill in farmland mainly planted with wheat and fruit trees and dotted with sheep in pastures. It is a famous beauty spot near the town of Routham in Kent. I left the bus stop on the main road and walked at a right angle, down a verdant country lane beside an orchard, passing no one.
The birds were singing and there were hundreds of flowers growing naturally in the hedgerows. Those were the days before they were decimated by spraying. I picked a variety of wild flowers as I walked about a mile, until I had a small bouquet. I realized they would soon wilt, and at that point reached a small country church with an ancient graveyard, so I thought whimsically to place the flowers on one of the graves.
I walked through the old gate, reading the inscriptions on half a dozen graves until I found one that belonged to a young sailor who had drowned at sea, aged 17 like me. I was full of compassion for his precipitate early death, denying him the beautiful world I now stood in. My foot stumbled against a small vase lying in the long grass beside his unkempt plot, and I put the flowers into it, bending to arrange the tribute on his grave. I imagined his mother’s anguish and prayed for the repose of his soul.
At this exact moment the church bell chimed midday. As it slowly tolled, I read the date of this young man’s death and discovered it was this very day, one hundred years ago, in July 1854. I felt goose bumps on my arms at this remarkable coincidence, and I feel them every time I recall that scene.
I retraced my steps to the bus stop, in need of human company, and completed the journey to my grandmother’s house. I wish I had made a note of his name and the exact date. I could never find that church again, but I’ll never forget that remarkable coincidence.