Irene Bailey thought she would not live to see her grandson’s smiling face again.
The 89-year-old former auxiliary nurse’s beloved grandson, Matthew, was just a baby when he was whisked away to Australia by his mum following the tragic diving death of his dad in the Irish Sea more than 25 years ago.
The family lost touch, and she said she had come to accept that she would never see her late son’s only child again.
But little did she know Matthew had been searching for her since he turned 18 more than 10 years ago, and had set up a profile on genealogy company website ancestry.com, where by chance he found his aunt - Irene’s daughter - Linda, 65, just a few days after the turn of the new year.
She had been looking for him too.
“For years we had tried to find him. We just didn’t know where to start,” she said.
“Even when he was older, I thought to myself he’s going to be online because that’s what young people do, but still I had no luck. Every road was a dead end.
“Meanwhile my mum thought she’d never see him again.
“I used to say to her, if he’s anything like his dad, one day he will knock at the door. He will find us when he’s old enough. I was always convinced that he would find us one day.”
At first Linda thought it was too good to be true and suspected she was being scammed, but after chatting with Matthew online she realised he was the nephew she had been searching for.
Matthew. now 28, said: “I was overwhelmed that not only was she alive, but I found out my grandmother was too.
“It was unreal. It was like something out of a movie. There’s nothing out there that could explain how happy we were that we had found each other.
“I knew in my heart that there was no giving up. Persistence beats resistance, and that’s the way my father was.
“My mum was only with my dad for 14 months, so there was so much she didn’t have time to find out about him. But it turns out I’m just like him. I laugh like him, I talk like him. I feel complete, is the best way to say it. I was lost but now I’m found.”
Following his dad Clifford Bailey’s death in 1991, Matthew – then just two months old – was taken by his mother, Helen, to Queensland, Australia, and the family lost touch.
Matthew said: “Mum lived in Australia beforehand, and she wanted a better life for us, and that’s what Clifford wanted. He wanted the best for me and mum, so mum did what she thought was right, and if everything didn’t happen the way that it did I would be a completely different person.
“But if I was asked if I could change something, I wouldn’t change a thing, because it has all led to this moment. I’ve never felt so happy.”
Matthew, who owns a laser skirmish business on Queensland’s Gold Coast, flew to England last Monday to meet his grandma and auntie face-to-face for the first time in 26 years.
With the help of Linda and Orchids Florist in Cleveleys, he disguised himself as a flower delivery boy and brought a huge bouquet to the front door of Irene’s Gloucester Avenue home, in Cleveleys, last Tuesday.
Linda said: “She has dry eyes and she hasn’t been able to cry for years. But she cried that day.”
Irene said: “They came to the door with flowers with the man from the flower shop, and he said that he had brought his apprentice with him and he was a bit shy. I looked at him and I thought he looks like Matthew. I just kept glancing at him.
“I said to the man with the flowers, ‘Has my grandson sent them from Australia?’ and he said, ‘I am your grandson!’
“Then he took his hood off and I thought, ‘It is Matthew!’ and it was such a shock, in a good way.
“He’s a torment just like his dad.”
Linda said: “It’s like we have got my brother back. The way they act is very similar.
“Mum is absolutely thrilled to bits. Matthew was going to come over in September and my mum said to me, ‘I hope I’m here in September because I really want to see him’. We knew we had to arrange it immediately. After all this time, all this searching, we couldn’t risk him not meeting her.
“Matthew was all we had left of Clifford. He was all that we had. Especially for my mum - when you have lost your son and all you have left is his son, it’s very important. She was devastated.
“When I decided to tell her that he had been in touch, I was sending Matthew messages and we were both looking at the answers. She was thrilled. It was like a light had been switched on in her face. She looked 10 years younger.
“It’s wonderful to have him back in our lives. It’s like all prayers have been answered. He’s not getting away again!”
Hero of the Red Sea
Matthew was just two months old when his dad, Clifford Bailey, died in a terrible accident while diving off Holyhead, Wales, in January 1991.
The 39-year-old was trapped in an underwater tunnel while carrying out routine maintenance work on a pipeline running between Anglesey and Holy Island. Oxygen was piped down to him as rescuers tried desperately to pull him free, but he remained submerged in the freezing water for nearly three hours.
He was taken to hospital, but was pronounced dead on arrival. A pathologist said he had suffocated.
He had been dubbed ‘the hero of the Red Sea’ by The Gazette nine years earlier when, while working as a diving instructor in Israel, he shared his own oxygen tank with another diver who had run out of air 55m underwater.
Matthew, who returns to Australia this week, spent his holiday catching up with his father’s side of the family.
He said: “Sometimes family can move away and they grow apart but you never give up on those who are important.
“There’s nothing in the world that can stop love finding each other. I messaged so many people all this time, every Linda Bailey in the world in my spare time because I just wanted to fill that empty void that was left.”
He added: “It’s strange that I don’t know these people, but they all know me. To think that halfway across the world that I have got these people who never stopped thinking about me is overwhelming.
“You just don’t realise how much people truly care about you.”