I woke on Sunday morning with a start. I thought I had heard someone calling my name. Then I relaxed because I realised Mum was home as she had pulled the duvet cover over me, still with all my clothes on.
The first thing I did was to turn on my computer and see whether I’d had a reply to my email. After all, the message asking who I was, was probably sent from Canada, and they were seven hours behind us. I looked at the time on the computer, only seven o’clock, so midnight in Canada.
I logged onto the Unwin forum again and saw that another one line message had just been added:
“What does it say on the cross?”
I knew this answer off by heart, so quickly replied:
“G-K-T-W-J-U, which I think stands for the initials of John’s family plus it says on his gravestone God Keep Thee Well John Unwin.”
There was no response for a few minutes, and then:
“I believe you but I don’t understand how you can be his Great Granddaughter?”
So then I wrote quite a big paragraph explaining about Margaret being put into an Orphanage and her name being changed, and that she had never found her birth certificate and we were now trying to trace our family tree. After a few moments came back another message:
“Oh my goodness, my father tried to look for her and he was told she was dead.”
“Yes!” I shouted out loud, and felt my heart racing. I quickly typed back, “Are you one of William’s children?”
The answer came quickly:
“Yes, I’m his daughter, Carol Stannard, and I was born in 1948. Then there’s Matthew, the oldest, Anita my sister, and then myself. We all have children and grandchildren. You have lots of Canadian cousins.”
“I’d love to come and visit,” I replied.
“You’d be welcome. So tell me about your family, Lacy?”
I explained about Mum and I being on our own, and that I didn’t know any of my Mum or Dad’s family until now. Then I asked, “Were John and William identical twins?”
“They were indeed. They even had the same odd coloured eyes.”
“Wow! My Mum has got them, too.”
“So have I.”
Now I was really excited. “Please can you send me a photograph of your father?” I gave her my main email address.
“Yes. Of course, he is no longer with us, he died in 1995. Just a moment, I will have to search for one.”
A few minutes later I checked my email account and found she had uploaded a picture, which I quickly opened. Smiling right back at me was the photo of an elderly man with white hair and very distinctive eyes; the right one blue, the left green. So this is what John Unwin would have looked like when he was older! I typed back:
“He has a very kind face.”
“My Pop was a lovely man, and I’m sure that John was, too. You know they were very close, and when John was shot in the war my father felt such a pain in his leg that he fell over in the street. He said they shared an unbreakable bond.”
Now this was getting seriously interesting.
“How did you know about the cross?”
“My father gave that to his brother before he left for Canada. Pop was always saying ‘God Keep Thee Well’ to us, it was his family motto because it was also their initials.”
“So why did they emigrate to Canada?”
“William’s father, your Great Grandfather, was offered a job as Station Foreman on the Vancouver Railway. And my father was a Signalman.”
I felt goosebumps all down my spine.
“John was in the Royal Corps Signals in the war. And he received a Military Cross for bravery.”
“Really? Oh my, we never knew. My father paid for John’s gravestone and he would have put MC after his name if he’d known.”
“Do you know why John never emigrated to Canada with his family? He must have wanted to be with his brother?”
“Oh he did, my father always said it was the hardest decision they ever made. But John had met the love of his life, Catherine, and she didn’t want to move so far from her family. And Grandma’s family had moved from Holland to Canada.”
“You mean Trudy? I didn’t know she was Dutch?”
“Trudy De Vries. So the plan was, Dad’s parents sold their house to John very cheaply on the understanding that if things didn’t work out, they could come back to live there.”
“I see. Thank you, that explains a lot.”
“Father was deeply upset when his brother died in 1944. So he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force so that he could be stationed in England. He wanted to find out what had happened to the rest of the family.”
“And maybe he could have got the house in Lavender Road back?”
“Well yes, he did try, and apparently he called round there and spoke with some of the neighbours. He knew that Catherine and Margaret had died, because John had told him.”
“He spoke to John?”
“Yes, they had a telephone call about a week before he died. But John could not accept that Margaret was dead, because some neighbours told him that Catherine had died but Margaret was seen alive and getting into an ambulance. So my father tried to find out what had happened, but the Council insisted that she had died in the bombing raid and was buried. That’s why I didn’t believe you at first.”
“Do you think William would have taken Margaret back to Canada with him?”
“No question! It’s really very sad, but I suppose a lot of sad things happened during the War. And then he called on Catherine’s parents, who lived in the same road, and of course they had been killed as well, and Catherine’s brother was away in the Navy.”
“Paul Brent! We were wondering what had happened to Paul.”
“As far as I know he survived the war, but I don’t know where he went afterwards. There was already somebody living in their house when father called.”
“Oh really? Who was that?”
“I’m laughing here, I keep wanting to say ‘Mr Bed Wetter’.”
I thought back to the article in the local paper.
“Could it be a Mr Leadbetter?”
“Yes, I do believe that’s right. So Pop went back to the Council and asked about 25 Lavender Road, and he spoke with a man who worked there who told him it was all perfectly legal to requisition their house for the war effort. And of course, the family were dead, he said.”
“I don’t suppose you would know who he spoke to at the Council?
“Well, no, I’d have to look in Father’s diary.”
“He kept a diary? That’s wonderful.”
“That’s how I know so much about what happened. But I think he spoke with somebody high up, a Councillor.”
I thought for a moment. The Council had purchased our house in 1949, so before that date it must have been... “Councillor Duncan,” I replied.
“Maybe. Well Lacy, it’s been lovely chatting to you and I will log on again very soon but I need my bed now.”
“Of course, thanks so much for answering my message.”
“And tell your Mum I received her letter too, and I shall be answering it soon.”
“Oh right, I will, thanks.
So after that I was really wide awake and buzzing, and had to wake Mum up too and tell her.
“Mum – sorry to wake you but I’ve heard from William Unwin’s daughter.”
“Mmm sorry love, who?”
“John’s brother, William – his daughter has emailed me back.”
“Hold on.” Mum rubbed her eyes and sat up sleepily. “What did she say?”
“Come and look on my computer, Mum, we’ve had a long conversation, and she’s told me lots of stuff.”
Mum pulled on her dressing gown and came into my bedroom.
“Did you have a nice time last night?” I asked, looking at her carefully. She still had her makeup on, I noticed.
“Yes, a lovely time, thanks. Sorry I was a bit late getting back, but Tom really is the perfect gentleman.”
I felt a surge of relief. Mum sat at my computer and read through all the messages, then I clicked onto the photo of William Unwin which I had saved onto my desktop.
“Well, look at that! He’s got my colour eyes, on the same side as me!”
“I know. John had the same. And what about Paul Brent, can we start looking for him now?”
“Of course, Lacy. What we’ll do today is search for details of 31 Lavender Road to see if the Brent’s owned it, and then I’ll send off for a copy of Paul’s birth certificate so at least we can get some more information on his age.”
I gave her a hug. “I’m really excited. And can we go and visit Carol in Canada?”
“We’ll both start saving up, okay?”
“You won the bet, you heard back on the internet first,” Mum noted.
“I think Carol got your letter first and then she looked on the internet,” I said tactfully.
“Okay, so it’s a tie.” We both laughed. “I’m going to print this conversation and the photo off and take it with me to the C.A.B., along with anything else we find out before tomorrow. It’s really great evidence.”
I spent the rest of the day indoors as the weather had taken a turn for the worse, but sent messages to both Karina and Annabel. Karina was especially excited, and asked to see the photo of William Unwin. We both agreed it was uncanny the way that his eyes looked like Mum’s. Then she texted:
“Just imagine if your cross is haunted by both brothers. That would make it twice as strong!”
I laughed as I remembered her running out of the graveyard screaming. We both thought it was odd that John hadn’t told his brother about being awarded an MC, but maybe he didn’t know at the time they spoke or it wasn’t the most important thing to him when he was still in shock about his family. Thinking about my Great Grandfather made me want to go back and visit his grave again. I felt brave enough now to have a proper look, perhaps with Mum next time, when it wasn’t raining. After Sunday dinner the sky had cleared, so I suggested going there.
“Why not? And while we are there we can have a look at the houses in Lavender Road again.”
I smiled. That Mr Pritchard had made Mum so angry I knew she was going to try really hard to get the house.
“Before that shall we have a look to see who owned number 31?” I suggested.
“Okay, good idea.”
We brought up the Land Registry website and Mum paid some money to look at their records.
“Well that’s a bit disappointing,” she said, looking at the screen. “Apparently during the war it was owned by a Mr Petrie, and then the Council took it over in 1949.”
“So the Brent’s must have been renting it, do you think?”
“Yes, they probably were. But we can still try for number 25.”
I thought about the name ‘Petrie’. “That’s an unusual surname, isn’t it?” I asked.
“Yes, I don’t know of anyone else with that name, do you?”
“Well, actually I do. There’s a Stephen Petrie at school, but he’s in the year above me.”
“Perhaps not a complete waste of money then,” Mum replied, printing the page off. “You can give him this piece of paper on Monday and tell him to do some research.”
“Oh, okay.” That would be embarrassing, he would probably think that I fancied him, or something.
After another half an hour we set off for Elham Cemetery on the bus, with umbrellas in our bags. I was a bit tense in case anything extraordinary happened, but I needn’t have worried. I showed her John’s grave, and the communal area where Catherine, her parents and all the other unclaimed victims were buried.
“Would it cost a lot to add ‘MC’ to a gravestone?” I queried.
“It might do, but what a nice idea. I also think there should be some sort of plaque here with the names of those buried in the communal grave.”
“And what about Nan’s grave?” I asked. “She needs a completely new headstone, with the right name and date of birth on it.”
“Now you are talking serious money, Lacy.” Mum paused. “But you are right. I’ll add that to my list of things to ask the C.A.B. tomorrow.”
“Next time we come, can we bring some flowers?” I asked.
“Yes, we’ll be a bit more prepared next time. Now let’s see, John died on 8 September 1944, so maybe we can have a rededication ceremony on 8 September or the nearest Sunday this year when we update his gravestone, and hopefully we can do the communal plaque and Mum’s gravestone at the same time. If we can’t afford it this year, next year will be the 70th anniversary of John’s death.”
“I’m sure he would like that,” I replied.
“You mean, would have liked that,” Mum laughed. I made a non-committal ‘maybe’ noise.
It was only a short walk from there to Lavender Road, and we had great fun peering through number 25′s windows, because it appeared empty. There was a lovely big front room and nice open fireplace that we imagined sitting in front of at Christmas time. We also had a look at the outside of number 31, but it was obvious that somebody was living there as there was a car on the front drive. As we walked back to the bus stop we passed an estate agent, so we looked at the houses in the front window and gasped at the prices. Mum pulled open the front door and we went inside.
“Excuse me,” she asked the young man at the front desk, “can you give me an estimated price for a house in Lavender Road?”
“Which end?” he asked, looking interested.
“The bottom end, opposite the park.”
“Oh yes, I know. Hmm. Well, we had one for sale a few weeks ago and it was in bad condition, but we sold it for 495.”
“Four hundred and ninety five thousand?” Mum said, matter-of-factly.
“Yes, that’s right. They’ve all got off-road parking, nice outlook, the road is blocked off at the bottom so it’s nice and quiet. If the place had been done up and if they’d had an extension at the back or went into the loft it could have gone for 650-700.”
I was trying to keep it together, but I was making funny sort of excited noises.
“And what about houses in Cavendish Road?”
I couldn’t control a quick laugh. That was were Annabel lived.
“Let’s see, nice houses but no off-road parking, near the main road so quite noisy, no view – probably a hundred grand less.” He gave Mum his card. “Please let me know if you are thinking of selling, Madam.”
Then he very smartly jumped up and opened the front door for us to let us out. We went round the corner and both burst out laughing.
“Mum!” I said in a scolding voice, “Why were you asking about Cavendish Road?”
“I couldn’t resist,” she chuckled. “I suppose it was a bit mean. But just imagine that, living in a nicer house than Annabel.”
“That would be a turn up for the books,” I said, thinking out loud.
Mum gave me a puzzled look. “That’s a really old saying, my Dad was always saying that.”
We went back home and I spent the rest of the day revising, in-between checking my mobile ’phone and messaging some friends. There was still no word from Barry, which was a bit of a disappointment, but I thought I’d try him again in the morning.