Former Advertiser reporter visits a Rugby cemetery to find sister who died in 1944, and is moved by a kind comment

Former Advertiser reporter John Phillpott visits a Rugby cemetery and tastes the milk of human kindness along the way…

Thursday, 3rd June 2021, 9:49 am
Updated Thursday, 3rd June 2021, 9:50 am
In days gone by... an archive photograph of Clifton Road, Rugby.

When you switch on the television every night and watch the news, it’s no wonder the world can appear to be such a depressing place.

Wars, famine, freak climate conditions, the widespread inhumanity to man… and that’s not even counting the ravages of Covid, which has brought heartbreak to thousands of homes in this country alone.

But occasionally, someone out there makes a gesture that warms the cockles of your heart.

The milk of human kindness doesn’t have to come in large doses, for experience always tells me that the merest drop will inevitably suffice.

Anyway, I recently posted a picture and caption on Facebook with reference to Clifton Road cemetery. I chose the photograph carefully, because it showed the wonderful avenue of trees that line the path up to the southern perimeter of the grounds.

If you follow that path, and turn slightly to the right, the visitor comes across a section of the cemetery devoted to children who have either died at birth or in infancy.

In the summer of 2019, my younger daughter and I caught the train at Worcester, changed at Birmingham New Street, and – before you could say “biggest junction town in the country” - were soon back treading on Tom Brown’s sacred turf.

There were quite a few places to see on the list, and only a relatively short time to cram it all in, as we were returning to Worcester that day. But the most important visit was Clifton Road cemetery, where I had determined to find my little sister’s grave.

I knew roughly where it was because I had earlier made inquiries with the relevant Rugby cemetery departments, which had obligingly and kindly sent me maps with plot numbers.

From these, I deduced that my sister was buried on ground adjoining the southern wall of the cemetery, which adjoins Paradise Street - but more about that in a while.

My little sister Celia Helen was born on December 31, 1943, but lived for only a few hours, passing away on New Year’s Day, 1944.

This poor little mite had entered a troubled, war-torn planet, and stayed for just a short time before leaving it, hopefully for a better world.

I don’t know why she died because both my parents are long gone and I can’t therefore check.

All I know is that my mother blamed the medical staff who she said were too busy celebrating the New Year’s festivities and perhaps not being attentive enough.

That’s possible, I suppose. But it may not be the case, because this being wartime, the doctors would probably have had their hands full, and weren’t being negligible in any way.

In my post on the Past and Present Memories of Rugby and District site, I commented on the random nature of existence, citing the fact that my mother had been told by the medics not to have any more children.

Be that as it may, I came along six years later, in 1949. I have no doubt that my parents would otherwise probably have stayed with having just two children – I have an older sister, born in 1941 – so in theory, I shouldn’t be here.

Arguably then, the death of little Celia Helen meant that I could be born.

Being in the third stage of my life, I often think about this, reflecting how lucky I was to be granted existence, albeit out of a family tragedy a few years earlier.

The Facebook post attracted a lot of interest, with quite a few people talking about their own relatives who lie at rest in the cemetery.

But the comment that really melted this tough old heart was made by Frances Soper, of Paradise Street. This is what she said…

“I live in Paradise Street, so my garden backs on to the cemetery. I know that there are several graves of children on the other side of the garden wall.

“My children buried their pets close to the wall in the belief that their animals would now be cared for by the children on the other side.”

When I read this, a tear came to my eye. In fact, there’s another one forming as I write this piece, for when I replied, she said that she would give little Celia Helen all my love.

When I watched the television news later on the day that I had written the post about my trip to Rugby, and the visit to Clifton Road cemetery, I went to bed feeling quite depressed about the state of the world.

Many of you will undoubtedly have had similar feelings from time to time.

But the next day, I visited the Rugby Facebook site, and there was Frances Soper’s comment, next to all the others, but standing out like a beacon of hope, shining with kindness and spirituality.

And it’s gestures like this that fill a certain crusty old cynic of a newshound with confidence and optimism for all our futures… despite everything.

John Phillpott’s book Go and Make the Tea, Boy! about his early days on the Rugby Advertiser, is available from booksellers and on the internet.