Sunday, 6 November 2011

Serendipity


Each month, the lovely Sian holds a Storytelling Sunday. I 'fessed up to her that I had been lurking around her blog and have only recently been brave enough to leave the odd comment or two. Bless her, she let me know that she was glad I had 'de-lurked', and so am I. Now I have the opportunity to join in the pleasure that is Storytelling Sunday, it's such a good read.


A couple of year's ago, I commenced researching my family history. Becoming a Grandmother made me realise how important it is to write down the things I can remember and the stories I was told while growing up. Little did I know what an adventure I was about to embark upon.


One of my ancestors, Temporary Lieutenant Thomas Wilkinson, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross after WWII. You can read about him in The Complete Victoria Cross, which is a chronological record of all VC holders, written by Kevin Brazier. He was my Grandfather's younger brother. The only information I had about Uncle Tom were the stories told to me by my mother; a book that was handed down to me called Stand By To Die written by A V Sellwood; and that his medal was held in Canada by a distant relative. 


Where to begin? Of course, I Googled in his name and up popped quite a lot of information. (I should mention, at this stage, that there are very few family members still alive and therefore no-one to physically ask.) One of the Google searches of his ship HMS Li Wo, led me to an article called 'Remembering Billy' written by a delightful lady called Diane Snow. I contacted her and was astonished to find that she lived but a twenty minute car ride away from me and had loads of information about the Li Wo and the events that took place on the 14 February 1942 on the Java Sea. We got together and I learned that she was in the process of writing a book about it and she shared with me various documents she had accumulated during that process. I also found out that she had contacted the owners of the Li Wo, Jardines, and was in communication with them. 


After several emails, I heard from one of the Company Directors in Bermuda, Harry Wilken, and he told me that Jardines had built two model ships of the Li Wo; one had been donated to the Imperial War Museum and the other was in the Board room of their Head Office in Hong Kong. Also, in Bermuda at Government House, Jardines had placed a plaque in recognition of Uncle Tom and four chairs that were donated in his honour! After more emails and a couple of long distance telephone calls, Harry and I realised that we had once danced together at a St Andrew's Ball when we were both living in Hong Kong. Also, I had been a guest in the Board room at Jardines to watch the Chinese New Year fireworks and would have seen the model ship. Even now, writing about it gives me goose bumps. What are the chances of this happening! Harry also generously gave me a Company book and magazine in which Uncle Tom, as a Jardine's man is graciously mentioned and I treasure them. 


Through Harry, I was put in touch with my distant cousin in Canada and we now correspond. We hope to meet one day. The Victoria Cross medal has been donated to the Imperial War Museum in London and the scale model of the Li Wo is presently at Duxford.


I have been on quite a journey that isn't over yet. I have still to visit the National Memorial Arboretum where a tree has been planted to commemorate Uncle Tom and HMS Li Wo


Thank you for letting me share this story and thank you to those who made it all possible, Diane and the late Harry Wilken. But for their interest, my journey would have been a very different one.         

11 comments:

Amy said...

I've thoroughly enjoyed your story today and I'm also really pleased that you de-lurked over at Sian's, there's not much more of a friendly place than hers on the internet.

Sian said...

Irene, what an absolute pleasure it is to have you join us this Sunday! Thank you for contributing this fascinating story, with its lovely coincidences and illuminating details. I too have thoroughly enjoyed reading and would love to think that you might have another tale up your sleeve for next time round. I love family history stories!

tidbitsandtreasures2011 said...

Wow, what an amazing confluence of events, especially the part about your having danced with someone who is familiar with your family history even before you were fully aware of it yourself! Thanks for sharing such a wonderful tale.

Nihao, Cupcake! by Margie said...

What a great story. And how exciting for you. What an adventure through the past. I live in China so even though it isn't the main point of your story, I especially loved hearing about your serendipitous coincidences in Hong Kong and watching the New Year's fireworks. Good luck with the rest of your journey uncovering this fascinating family story.

Ladkyis said...

As a fellow family historian I know the excitement of discovering those elusive ancestors. I am a teensy bit envious of your VC winning Uncle and wish I had a hero in my lot - I have actors.
Thank you for sharing.

Jimjams said...

What a wonderful account of the fruits of your researches. Well done for making the effort to document them - your (great-)granchildren will surely appreciate it too. I love the connections that you've made - this world really isn't all that big is it?

Angelfish said...

What a wonderful voyage of discovery and an amazing coincidence.Fiona x

Alison said...

How wonderful to have made all these discoveries..they made for a great story, and I too am looking forward to reading more of them! Thanks for stopping by my blog
Alison xx

Ifa said...

Fancy the coincidence! Sounds like you are on a truly fantastic journey. It so happens, I used to work for Jardines but sadly, only in London, where the company insure ships.

Lynn said...

Irene - firstly thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. I love story telling sunday as it leads me to many new blogs and stories. This one is fascinating with so many coincidences - thank you for sharing it.

Becky said...

Wow! This is an amazing story - fancy making all these discoveries and coincidences. Thank you for sharing them with us - absolutely fascinating.