Fortuitous or accidental is one way to describe Chance. To take a chance is somewhat different but when it comes to a chance meeting, as in my case, it can only be seen as serendipitous.
It was not long after book seven in the Harrogate Crime Series was published that the chance meeting occurred. I had organised a Noir event at Ripon Library and I needed to drop some of the new books into Imagined Things Bookshop situated in the Westminster Arcade in Harrogate on my way home; it was a Sunday. I didn’t have much time so parking at Crescent Gardens allowed me to nip into the shop and get back to the car. However, on returning I noticed the Tourist Office, attached to the Royal Baths, was open so I thought I would pop in and mention the commemoration that I had planned for November 10th. It should have taken two minutes and no longer but then I had not planned on serendipity interfering and changing my life as it has in the past.
The lady behind the counter, Ruth Eagin, was most welcoming and I mentioned the event.
“I have planned singers, authors and Harrogate people coming together to commemorate the centenary of the ending of WW1 in original stories, songs and traditional poems,” I told her enthusiastically.
I had planned for one hundred tickets to be produced, one for each year since the armistice and each of those would be personally dedicated to one of the fallen. The main story to be read was, ‘The Penultimate Man’, a love story set at the end of the conflict. It has been published as both eBook and audiobook with all author royalties donated to the Poppy Appeal. (If you haven’t read it I would be grateful if you could support the appeal and download either. Thank you.)
“I hope to travel to the grave of my great uncle,” she announced. “He died on the 27th September, 1918.”
Her words left me stunned as my great uncle had died on 26thSeptember, 1918. I told her I was leaving to visit his grave on 24th September.
“I can only go in October. Archie Eagin is buried in Flesquières Hill Cemetery,” Ruth said clearly disappointed that she would miss the centenary of his death.
I do not know if it were my expression or the intake of breath she heard but she could obviously see I was surprised. My uncle was killed and buried but a few miles away, in the next village, in Bertincourt Chateau Cemetery. At this point I could see tears begin to grow along her lower lids.
“I shall be in the cemetery where your great Uncle Archie is buried and it would be an honour to place a cross or wreath on his grave for you,” I said.
Like me she was confused at the speed of this chance meeting. There seemed to be too many coincidences.
We quickly exchanged contact details and I came away reminded of the Bogart line… Of all the tourist offices in all the towns in all the world, he had to walk into hers… but for me it was meant to be, fate.
Two weeks later a parcel arrived with a beautiful cross, attached to which was a handwritten note of gratitude to the fallen soldier written by Ruth’s father, John, for his uncle. Armed with the wreath for Private William Hollingdrake and the cross for Archie Eagin my wife and I made the crossing.
The 26th dawned with a clear blue sky as we drove to Bertincourt Chateau Cemetery. It was a moving and emotional moment placing the wreath onto William’s grave. William is a stranger in many ways, as I have never seen a photograph of him neither do I know his story but somehow, like a salmon returning back to its place of birth, I knew I had to be there to honour the man.
Later that morning we were walking the stone steps to the immaculate Flesquières Cemetery in search of the final resting place of Archie Eagin MM. In the bright morning sunshine we found it, his grave proudly ending a row of white Portland graves, soldier straight and immaculate, as it had done for close on one hundred years. Birds sang and the church bell broke the morning silence as if welcoming our commemoration of this young Tommy. I took a few photographs and a short video and by the magic that is 2018 I posted them to Ruth so that she could be close to her loved one at this special time. On our return we arranged to meet in Harrogate, Ruth her mum and dad and Debbie and me. We met at Betty’s and talked about the visit.
In late October, Ruth and her brother made the same pilgrimage and reciprocated by adding a small cross to William’s grave. A gesture of the friendship that has developed from that chance meeting, a friendship that has come literally from the deaths of two soldiers one hundred years ago. We are meeting again on November 10th at the Library in Harrogate to remember not only William and Archie, but the thousands and thousands of others who gave their tomorrow so that we could have our today. I am also proud to say John Eagin, will be closing the commemoration by reading, ‘In Flanders Fields’ as the poppy petals fall and the strains of Nimrod focus our minds on the momentous moment the eleventh hour of the eleventh month 1918 was.
We should never forget the sacrifices made for our freedom.
Dedicated to William Hollingdrake and Archie Eagin MM
The Penultimate Man https://www.amazon.com/Penultimate-Man-Commemorate-Centenary-Conclusion-ebook/dp/B07BPVLXD3/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1540846191&sr=8-1&keywords=the+penultimate+man