Grief as a life theme

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FLAG: Nigel Reed now has a tangible reminder of his father. Photo Sven Carlsson OB2081-01

NIGEL Reed has just come back to Opotiki from Germany after visiting his father’s grave.

Like his father, Nigel was once a soldier. He used to be in the Queen’s Guards and left England in 1971 for Australia. Nigel got to Opotiki in 2013 with his wife Jocelyn Wijs-Reed, who also wrote the book about Nigel’s walks for charity.

“When my 11-year-old was dying, I told her I would walk the world for her,” Nigel says. “In March 1994 Zoe lost her battle with cystic fibrosis and I promised I would walk from the UK to Australia via the USA.”

Nigel’s walks are described on the walkyourowntalk.yolasite.com website. “I ended up raising a few million dollars,” Nigel says.

The money had helped establishing Zoe’s Place in Brisbane, a hospice for terminally ill children.

However, Mrs Wijs-Reed explained that not only had her husband suffered a lot of grief in his life, he was also a sufferer of “the cuckoo syndrome,” which meant people would swoop in and take the glory after Nigel had done the hard work, often leaving him with nothing. “He gets pushed out of the nest and others take over,” she said.

But his start in life was modelled on a slightly different theme of isolation. “I was born on April Fool’s Day in 1944,” Nigel says. “My father died following the crash of his Stirling bomber in Germany on September 27, 1943.”

Soon after his father’s death, his mother had met somebody else and when he was 18 months old she left.

“I was raised by my grandparents,” Nigel says. For many years, it was believed his father had died among the rubble of a Hanover hospital when it was bombed to smithereens. “The plane had dropped their bombs and were returning when they were shot down.”

Frank Edward Reed was the flight engineer aboard Stirling EH945, which took off from RAF Chedburgh shortly before 8pm on September 27, 1943. The plane was shot down over Germany later that same evening.

“According to witnesses, the other crew members died, but my father was taken to hospital in Hanover, badly injured,”

Nigel says. As the hospital was destroyed in a bombing raid shortly thereafter, it had long been believed that Frank Reed was killed during the bombing and that his body was most likely lost.

However, new research conducted by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission had established that a grave marked “officer Reed” was that of Frank Edward Reed.

“Three of his crew mates are buried in the same cemetery,” Nigel says. “They had been trying to find his wife, my mother, for two years.”

With the advent of the internet, the War Graves Commission had finally connected with Nigel in Opotiki after he put up his father’s number, name and rank on an air force website, seeking information.

“One of the women who were investigating the grave saw the post and contacted me,” Nigel says. “They are now convinced it is him.”

Thus, a rededication service for Flight Sergeant Frank Edward Reed was held at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Hanover War Cemetery in Germany in June. Nigel paid for his flight to England, but the military had paid for his trip to Germany and all the arrangements.

“On the day, there was a trumpeter, a padre, and representatives of the air force, and also my cousin from Nottingham,” he says. “My father was his uncle.”

The War Graves Commission had arranged for a ceremony at the grave, which now had a new headstone, bearing the full name.

“When I stood at his grave and they gave me the Union Jack, I sobbed like a child,” Nigel says. “I asked him if I was making him proud.”

Included in the ceremony was a visit to the crash site. A television crew was also part of the entourage. When visiting the crash site, which was near a railway crossing, the television camera man had beckoned Nigel toward him.

The camera man was pointing toward a road sign that said “Im Reid.” “He asked, what are the chances of that,” Nigel says. “The spelling was a bit off, but 20 metres away from where my father had died was a sign that basically said I am Reed.”

Reverend James Mealy said it had been a privilege for him as an RAF Padre to lead the rededication service. “This is the first rededication service I have had the honour of leading and I will remember this day for the rest of my life,” he said.

To further honour Flight Sergeant Reed’s memory a simultaneous ceremony was held in Chedburgh, Suffolk, where his squadron was based. It was organised by former members of The Blues and Royals, Nigel Reed’s former regiment and attended by his regimental brothers.

Nigel says that during his life, he has come to learn that when one door closes, another opens. “But that was not the case when standing at my father’s grave,” he says. “When they gave me the Union Jack, they gave me my father.”

 

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