By Alan Jones
Over the Christmas 2005 break, whilst most folk in the UK got stuck into their traditional family festivities, the Jones family of Love Lane, Petersfield was often to be found walking quite slowly along a very beautiful beach on a tiny idyllic island off the southwest coast of Thailand. The sun shone, it was rather warm, the sea was a glorious blue and small waves lapped gently on the golden sand. But that wasn't what they saw. Instead, they often closed their eyes and tried to imagine what it must have looked like a year before and what their wonderful 23 year old daughter Charlotte would have seen and felt as a huge wall of water thundered towards her.
The Boxing Day tsunami was the last thing our gorgeous Char would ever see. And now, one year on, Liz and I, together with Charlotte's younger sister, Vicki, had come to the island of Ko Racha Yai where Char so tragically left us. Why were we there? The easy answer would be something about marking the anniversary of Char’s death and to say a final goodbye to the girl we all loved so very very much. But that wouldn't wholly be true. I don't like the rather arbitrary idea of an anniversary and this certainly wasn't a final goodbye. Charlotte will stay in our hearts for the rest of our lives. No, the honest answer is that it is not easy to explain why we went, nor what we expected to find. All I can tell you is that it felt right to be there and that it was important to be there. It was almost as if we were on a pilgrimage and that somehow, simply by making it, we came closer to our beloved Char.
One year on there is still a deep and truly terrible sense of loss as well as incomprehension. Char may have been 23, she may have been building a wonderful new life for herself but she was still our baby, still our little girl. Char was also a magnificent free-spirit and on a journey of lifetime. She was out-going, adventurous and positively fizzed with energy. She had gone bungy-jumping, climbed Kilimanjaro at 16 and, had she lived, sky-diving, I know, would have been absolutely top of her dangerous-things-to-do-next list. She was a force of nature, a girl who took life by the scruff of the neck and shook it. She lived life to the full as if there were not enough hours in the day. And then, suddenly and in the most extraordinary circumstances, she was gone. Char, a magnificent swimmer and a qualified scuba diver, was the only person to die on Racha Yai.
The last time I spoke to her was on Christmas Day 2004, the day before she died. She had been away since early November and, along with her best friend, was almost two months into the round-the-world trip that had already taken them to India. So when she called it was wonderful to talk to her. She had rung to wish us Happy Christmas, of course, and to tell us her latest news. Char was my diving buddy and we had spent several wonderful weeks together in the Red Sea learning to become more proficient divers. She knew that I had recently made my first wreck-dive and that very day she had made hers. She wanted to tell me every last detail. Now I am so deeply grateful for the time we spent diving together in the last few years. If it wasn't for those wonderful memories of her life, the pain of her death might almost be impossible to endure. Whilst on Racha Yai I did that wreck dive twice. It was a difficult deep dive with strong currents. I tried to see it though her eyes. I went on lots of other dives for Char, dives that she would have made had she survived so that she could see them through my eyes.
On Boxing Day 2005 we held our own personal tributes to our daughter with a candlelit procession to the beach and the loading of offerings onto a raft and candles lit and then sent out to sea, followed by the letting off of 23 hot air lanterns. On the headland of Siam Bay, where she died, her friends have erected a simple memorial wooden post with the all-seeing eye of Horus carved into it. Char had the same eye tattooed on her lower back. The Ancient Egyptians believed the symbol offered the wearer powerful protection but clearly it wasn't powerful enough to protect Char from that great and terrible wave. But I like to think that, through that eye, there is still part of her, looking out to sea, looking out to a world that she would not now get a chance to conquer! We visited it several times and brought a simple box out from England with a few of her personal effects in and left personal notes for her. We lit incense and we let her spirit flood into our hearts.
Leaving the island was poignant with lots of looks back wondering when we would ever return. But we know that we will return to visit her again many times. Another reason for returning is that whilst there we also began the process of establishing some long term scholarships for children at Muang Phuket School in Chalong Bay. These will be funded via Char's Fund and they will hopefully provide an enduring memorial to our remarkable daughter. We hope too that a little of Char's indomitable spirit will live on in the country where she passed away. So maybe that is was why we were in Thailand last Christmas. Not to find out any more about how our beloved daughter died but to remember her and to celebrate how she lived. And why am I telling you all this? Well because our Char was very special and would have gone on to do great things. You didn’t know her but you would have liked her very much. We want the world never to forget her.