It’s not every day that a chance encounter on a train will lead to the solving of a hundred year mystery, but when Rita Armin met Train Manager Wayne McDonald on her Virgin Trains journey from Stockport to Euston, that’s exactly what happened.
Rita never knew the whereabouts of her grandfather’s grave after he died fighting in World War One and her family had given up looking for it. But, when the 85-year-old was travelling to London to attend a reception at Buckingham Palace for Prince Charles’ 70th birthday as a member of the War Widow’s Association, she met train manager Wayne, who just happens to be a war enthusiast.
As Rita and Wayne got chatting on the two-hour journey, she shared how her family had never been able to locate the grave of her grandfather, Private Thomas Bryan of the 2nd Ox and Bucks Regiment, since her death during the Great War in 1915.
“My grandma used to talk about him fighting in France in the First World War, and she never saw him again after he left home to fight in his best suit,” Rita says. “All she received after he died was a parcel with his suit in, full of French clay. This story had stayed with me, even though I was only a little girl when she talked about it.”
She asked Wayne if he’d be able to do anything to help find out the full story as he had an interest in the history of the conflict but as they parted ways she wasn’t expecting to hear from him again.
“I had tried previously but there were so many names the same as my grandad that I gave up,” she explains. “I gave Wayne as much detail as possible and he said he would come back to me if he found anything.
“A few days later I received an email from Wayne with the most amazing information that he had tracked down the location of my grandad’s grave.”
Wayne searched through old census data and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website in order to locate where Rita’s grandad had been buried in Northern France.
But Wayne’s information revealed more than Rita had expected. Not only had he found the location of where Thomas Bryan was burired but Wayne also discovered that he was actually Rita’s step-grandfather.
“Grandma had married again after her first husband had died, leaving her with five children, the youngest being my father,” she explains. “Never in a million years, did I expect to receive all that lost information about my paternal grandad. For years I have wondered what he was like, where his remains are. I am so grateful to Wayne, I’m having difficulty in expressing the words to thank him.”
Wayne even went one step further and visited Béthune Town Cemetery where Private Bryan was buried to pay his respects and take a photograph of the burial site for Rita. Describing himself as an amateur war researcher, he says: “It was fascinating to listen to Rita’s family stories and an absolute privilege to help solve the mystery of what happened to Thomas.”
At Virgin, there's a real belief that success in business is all about the people, and Wayne certainly isn't the only Virgin employee to go the extra mile for his customers - read some of the other stories on Richard Branson's blog.