New Zealander travels to Shoreham to fulfil mum’s last wish

Helen McFarlane on the boat out to sea
Helen McFarlane on the boat out to sea

A grandmother has travelled more than 11,000 miles from New Zealand to Shoreham to carry out her mother’s dying wish: to have her ashes scattered alongside her first husband’s at sea.

In 1948, when Helen McFarlane was just nine months old, her mother was widowed after pilot Howard Saward’s plane fatally crashed into the sea off the Shoreham coast.

The lifeboat crew from Shoreham

The lifeboat crew from Shoreham

His wife, 22-year-old Patricia Saward, was shipped back to New Zealand by the RAF and eventually remarried and had two more children.

Patricia never spoken much of her first husband, but on her deathbed six years ago she told Helen she wished to be placed to rest with him.

Helen said: “It was really surprising.

“She’d never mentioned it before, so it was a shock.

Helen's father, Pilot Howard Saward

Helen's father, Pilot Howard Saward

“I didn’t know much about my father at all. I didn’t like to talk about it with my mother, I didn’t want to upset her.”

Helen said her mother was left traumatised by losing her husband.

“She never got over it,” she said.

Howard’s body was never found, despite the Shoreham lifeboat crew searching the area, which Helen said made it ‘much harder’ for her mother.

Helen's mother, Patricia Saward

Helen's mother, Patricia Saward

After years of organising, Helen, a painter and a teacher of English as a second language, finally arrived in the UK with her husband Bruce for a 17 day trip.

On Sunday, June 3, she set out to sail from Shoreham shore with the Shoreham lifeboat crew.

Several miles off the coast, a short ceremony was held and Helen scattered the ashes along with flowers and letters from her two children and three grandchildren into the water.

Helen said she had been ‘dreading’ the day, but when it came she said: “It was wonderful, such a fantastic day.

Helen with her husband, Bruce, and Frank James

Helen with her husband, Bruce, and Frank James

“The water was like a mirror and the lifeboat crew was so respectful, they were amazing.”

She was joined by Frank James, a former pilot from Barnham, who laid a wreath on behalf of the goldfish club, a group exclusive to those who survived an aircraft ditching.

Helen’s father was made a member of the club after his Hawker Typhoon was shot down off Trouville sur Mer during the Second World War.

He parachuted into the sea and was picked up by a fishing boat, becoming a prisoner of war until the end of the war, when he married Patricia and moved to Bognor Regis.

Mr James said: “It was an honour to be asked to represent the Goldfish club and a privilege to do what I did.

“Steve and his crew were absolutely outstanding. They couldn’t have provided better support.”

He said of Helen’s mother: “She never lost her love for the man she had married. It’s quite a story.”

Lifeboat coxswain Steve Smith: “Helen contacted us at the lifeboat station more than a year ago with her amazing story and we were more than happy to be involved and help her grant her late mother’s final wishes.

“It was an honour and privilege.”

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