31 August 2012

The Lady Who Survived a Train Crash, and the Man who Saved a Runaway Train

My Grandfather - Edward William "Billie"
Funny how the past keeps hold of our futures. I think of all the people I know and once knew. I am the sum of all of them, added to myself. I carry them around with me every day – even the ones I didn’t know well. Some influence me a little, some a lot. I have been touched by so many extraordinary lives – in good ways, and bad, but all have had their influence; made me stronger; made me who I am. They have all influenced me in my journey through life.

There are two people who are always with me; my guardian angels – if you believe they can exist. Maybe they are merely a strong memory embedded into my soul and welded with love. I didn’t know them well but their influence stays with me moulding my future, as it moulded my past. Who are these people? Nobel prize winners? History changers? Olympic gold medallists?

I remember their smiles, their love, and their kind hearts. I was only 11. They were my grandparents on my father’s side – I know - it doesn’t sound grand, or romantic. How can an 11 year old bond so profoundly with the older, wrinkling generation; find them interesting, let alone fascinating? That I cannot explain – there was just something special about them. The more I find out about them posthumously, the more I see why I had that feeling that they were special and why they remain with me; smiling at me and shaping my future.

My Grandmother - Ada
Ada Wimsey was a strong, yet kind lady with a wicked sense of humour. As an old lady you wouldn’t know she was any different from the rest – but she carried an aura with her which let me know that she was. I knew she’d lived, and I was always asking her what it was like to have lived through World War Two. Strange that I would ask her that – a woman staying at home, looking after her children. What interesting stories could she possibly have to tell? She fascinated me every time – there was so much more to her; she had been asked to return to her work as a teacher to fill the empty posts of those fighting. At one stage she taught a class of 96 boys.

Ada Wimsey just doesn’t make sense. Descended from an Irishman, who probably jumped ship at an English port – she was not rich – she was poor working class. By all accounts she had a horrible start in life. She had more siblings than I could count, and apparently a drunken father who was not kindly. Her father wanted her to stay at home to look after her siblings, and help raise the family. Her school had to fight for her and as a result she went to Leeds University 1918-1921, from where she constantly travelled back home to help with her parents and siblings. A woman; a poor woman; at university at the end of the First World War. That still strikes me as odd, but what do I know?

I recall a hardback copy of The Lord of the Rings being passed around in my grandmother’s living room, and a question being asked – “he was your tutor wasn’t he?” I knew that the book was being read to my brother, but I didn’t know what a famous book it was at the time – or even that it was a significant book. I knew my grandmother was special, but I never truly understood in her lifetime. At university my grandmother was taught by J.R.R. Tolkein, and we still have his reference for her. That I didn’t understand enough to ask more questions, I will regret forever – but that visceral feeling was a constant presence. There was something about my grandmother, and I always knew it, even if I didn't know what “it” was.

A press clipping of the crash Ada Wimsey survived.
The picture above is from the same story.
My Grandmother survived a train crash in 1929. I thank the Lord for that, or I would not be here writing this for you to read. I look back at the press cuttings in awe. I never saw these cuttings as a child, but I saw something in her eyes which told me these cuttings spoke the truth.

I look at the telegram sent to my grandfather telling him his beloved Ada was safe. He was a railway signalman, and had his own stories to tell. He was a hero – the man who saved a runaway train, and always had a twinkle in his eyes. A twinkle which stays with me even today.

I carry my grandparents with me, as I carry everyone who’s touched me. I think they influence me more than any other. They are my strength through bad times, and aid my joy in the good. They look over my shoulder and encourage me to battle on, to never give up, and to be happy. I hope I can live up to their legacy. Somehow I doubt it, but I’ll give it one heck of a try.

Who influenced you most in life? Was it someone you knew, or was it a character who you admire from history? Is it someone who is still here who you can talk to? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.

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Anonymous said...

C.S.Wimsey,That was a fascinating piece of writing. Please keep it coming,I want to read more. Fraser.

White Poppy said...

I loved that, I really really did. I almost got tears in my eyes, basically meaning you have talent beyond comprehension. You know, you are asking me how to get more readers, and I think definitely, you should be having more ways to "connect" as you may. But other than that, I realized, no one is going to "come" to you. You have to bring them here. Tell everyone! Have it as your signature on your email, tell your friends and family, go to other blogs and comment thoughtfully (haha much as I am) but, honestly, I really meant what I said. I am not being 'fake' nice. I love love love your blog and looked around a lot. The best way to get followers, is go to forums, go to the blogging community. Most people do not exactly read blogs (aka my friends), so they do not know anything about it. Go to people who are always scurring blogs, such as a blogging community like book blogs, but try joining several of similar sites (though book blogs ties in with my theme so I tend to use it most often). And OMGGGGGGGGG your grandmother was taught by J.R.R. Tolkien?!!!!!!!!! Can I FRIEND you?!!!!! Please accept! Oh and I don't have facebook, so I am following you via something (did it at the beginning so don't remember).

Jennifer Thompson said...

What a beautiful, moving piece about your grandparents, especially your grandmother. Just reading what you wrote, I want to know her more. It is a blessing to have such people come before us, paving the way for our existence. And, I do believe they watch over us, they are invested in us, so why wouldn't they. Thanks for sharing! (I'm ever-so-slightly jealous that your mother knew J.R.R. Tolkien, I almost swallowed my tongue. AWESOME!)

C. S. Wimsey said...

Thank you all so much for your comments - it means so much to me, especially on a personal piece like this which is so close to my heart. Thank you!

Shar Simms said...

Loved the piece. Really beautiful!