I have a (paper) file, 'Strange But True', of stories that I pick up
occasionally from newspapers and magazines. I've not really maintained
this zealously online, but here's one that's too good to miss. Why do I
sometimes collect these stories of extraordinary coincidences?
Teaching literature, particularly novels (no surprise there),
frequently leads to students saying — 'that's
ridiculous/incredible/implausible', when it's "just" a matter of
coincidence. Ours is a world where miracles are anything but
extraordinary (apparently!), and these stories, whipped out and flourished
before a disbelieving class, have a sobering effect. This one's from
yesterday's Daily Telegraph:
A soldier's 60-year quest to return a fallen comrade's rosary beads to
his family has ended - with his widow's next-door neighbours. After numerous searches and nationwide appeals, the
relatives of Pte Tom Jackson, who died in 2000 at the age of 83, have
traced Pte Stanley Cloughton's family.
extraordinary coincidence, it emerged that neighbours of Pte Jackson's
widow, in Darlington, Co Durham, were related to Pte Cloughton through
In an emotional meeting yesterday, two
of Pte Cloughton's descendants, Tom Cloughton and Gladys Dodd, were
presented with the beads and met Pte Jackson's widow, Vera, 83.
two privates served in the 8th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry
in the Second World War and were stationed together in France in 1940.
The rosary was thought to have been exchanged at Arras.
Cloughton asked Pte Jackson to keep it safe because he thought his
comrade was more likely to survive. Pte Jackson never saw him again but
kept up the search until he died.
said: "Tom always wanted to find the family. I really couldn't believe
it when we found relatives after all this time, but especially the
connection with next door. …
The Jacksons later learned that Pte Cloughton had been
killed during fighting in Tunisia on March 22, 1943, at the age of 24.
He is buried in the Medjez-el-Bab war cemetery. When Mr Jackson died, his widow continued the search.
fruitless appeals through newspapers and magazines, a letter printed in
her local newspaper was seen by chance by Mrs Dodd, from Darlington, a
distant relative of Pte Cloughton.
Mrs Jackson, who said: "I couldn't believe that her brother, Tom, is
married to my next-door neighbour's daughter. All this time and the
answer was on my doorstep.
It's worth repeating here what John Forster, Dickens' friend and biographer, wrote in his The Life of Charles Dickens:
On the coincidences, resemblances, and surprises of life, Dickens liked
especially to dwell, and few things moved his fancy so pleasantly. The
world, he would say, was so much smaller than we thought it; we were
all so connected by fate without knowing it; people supposed to be far
apart were so constantly elbowing each other; and to-morrow bore so
close a resemblance to nothing half so much as to yesterday. (Volume I, Book First, V)