Matthew Bailey

It was a Monday towards the end of September 2004, our W.I. evening. We had a speaker coming who used to live locally, but who had moved to Edinburgh and was coming all the way down to be with us. Consequently, we were making it a “special evening”, and I was busy preparing my share of the food.

The telephone rang. “May I borrow your car, please?”

“Well, yes, Paul, if your need is greater than mine.”

It transpired that Paul, my son-in-law and a farmer, had taken a call on his mobile from Woodruffe School, to say that Matthew, his eldest son, had had an accident and had been airlifted to the Devon and Exeter General Hospital.

At the time, Paul was driving a cattle truck (with two calves in the back) and was nearer my home than his own.

Paul had my car, but I was too shaken to attend the meeting. Matthew had been playing rugby for his school, a game he thoroughly enjoyed, against a team from Colyton Grammar School. He was tackled, perfectly normally, and went down, not just winded but he had a cardiac arrest. He was aged just 14.

Grandparents are not supposed to have “favourites”, but Matthew was very special to me as I had looked after him one afternoon each week from about the age of eighteen months to the time he went to Primary School. As he grew older, this “bonding” had endured.

He was a very happy boy, very kind and helpful. He was devoted to his family and the farm. He knew just what he was going to do once he had passed his school examinations: he would gain outside experience, attend agricultural college before joining his family on the farm.

I felt so alone – my husband had died almost 20 years previously – (before the arrival of any of the grandchildren – a matter of great regret to him), so he was not there to share my grief.

The following days and weeks I felt stunned as well as alone, even though I had my three girls at hand – they felt the same.

Matthew’s tragic death shocked the village, and almost all turned out for the funeral in the village church. The coffin was on a farm trailer, drawn by a tractor driven by Paul’s cousin.

The village square was crowded and through-traffic halted. The congregation overflowed from the church into the churchyard.

There was a guard of honour consisting of Matthew’s rugby team mates through the churchyard; the Headmaster of Woodruffe attended with the Chairmen of the Board of Governors of both Woodruffe School and Colyton Grammar, and the P.E. teachers of both schools.

During the Service, addresses were given by Matthew’s Form teacher, representatives of Marshwood Young Farmers’ Club and several other organisations whose membership Matthew had enjoyed. Some 400 mourners paid tribute to my wonderful grandson that day

The Universal Dictionary’s definition of an ‘automaton’ is “a human being who acts mechanically”; that summed me up very well for the weeks after 20th September, 2004.

Pam Puley