East and South East
It was a glorious sunny October afternoon back in 2005 when Maureen Townsend answered the knock at the door. A knock that was about to change her life forever. Standing before her was a policeman and the farmer her son, David, worked for. Instinctively she knew it was bad news, but even she didn’t know how bad. David, just 23 years of age, had been involved in a fatal accident whilst working on his tractor.
"I felt sick. I couldn't believe it. My husband was away in London and my other son Richard was in Letchworth, and the worst part was I wasn’t allowed to go and see him.”
No one knows exactly what took place that day except a young life was lost. The only certainty is that David, for some reason, left his tractor without turning off his engine and he was run over by the cultivator. It’s the not knowing that is particularly difficult for Maureen.
“So many things go through your head – was he in a hurry? Did an animal run out and he tried to avoid it? It was the hottest day that month so had he been blinded by the sun? We’ll never know for sure what happened that day, so there’s no sense of closure.”
David had wanted to be a farmer from an early age. His paternal grandfather and great grandfather were of farming stock and David was destined to join them - it was in his blood.
“When the school bell rang, his friends would be off playing football or riding their bikes, but David would go straight to the farm to join his grandad to help with the feeding, or he’d be helping the local farmers wherever he could. He loved riding on the tractors.”
“The only magazine he read, even as a child, was “The Farmer’s Weekly” Maureen remembers. "He’d bring his grandad’s copy home after he’d finished with it.”
For David it was all about farming and the dream of one day being the owner of his own farm. “As he got older David would come home after a busy day and spend many an evening surfing the internet looking at farms for sale.”
He attended Oaklands Agriculture college to learn theory and practical knowledge and won “Student of the Year” for both categories - "We were so proud of him because we knew how much he hated school." says his mum.
On the advice of his college, he spent the next few years serving his apprenticeship on a number of farms and learning the practical skills of his trade before returning to college - but sadly that never happened.
David loved life. He spent weekends visiting and socialising with his friends, now at various universities around the country, having fun. But however much he enjoyed his social life, farming came first. "He once worked on a turkey farm and would leave at 2.00am every Monday to collect turkeys from producers in Norwich to bring back to Meldreth. Getting up for work was never a problem for him, whatever the time.” Maureen explains.
David’s passion was arable farming. On the day of the accident he was cultivating the land at a local farm - the same farm his grandfather spent his last working days. As usual he was working alone at the task - he'd done it many times and was more than capable A horse rider spotted David’s tractor by a hedge with the engine still running. She alerted her husband who found David in the field. The spikes from the cultivator had embedded in him.
The inquest couldn’t determine what had actually happened, there was nothing wrong with the tractor or the computer in the cab.
“The farmers David worked with in his short farming career couldn’t understand how the accident could have happened to him. He was always talking about safety, he never wore jewellery, or anything that could get caught in machinery, and he always ensured his cab was clean and tidy. Even if you're as committed and experienced as David, it just shows you have to always be on your guard every minute you're working”.
"We weren't allowed to identify David's body ourselves. We did get to see him a week later at the funeral home to say our good-byes, but we weren’t allowed to touch him.”
“The photograph the police used to identify him was taken by friends at a recent party which showed him laughing and happy as he usually was. Sadly, we don't have many pictures of him in his late teens and early 20s as he was self conscious of having his photograph taken. His friends have given us the few we now have, which we are so grateful for.”
Maureen also feels sad for David's girlfriend. “We hadn’t met beforehand but after we lost David I really got to know her. They’d met at agricultural college and even now, she says she doesn’t think she’ll ever meet anyone else.”
“We all just miss him so much. I think of him everyday and go into his bedroom, even though he wasn’t living here and it’s no longer how he left it. On the anniversary of his death we have a reunion with his friends and workmates at the local pub. And we still buy the “Farmers Weekly” - it brings us comfort.”
Maureen wrote to the Make The Promise Campaign. She wanted to help by sharing her story. Her message is simple: “Don't be in such a hurry you forget the basic safety procedure. Turn off the engine if you're getting out of your tractor for any reason - even if it’s only for a minute.”
For Maureen that fateful day will live with her for the rest of her life, “You don’t ever get over something like this. I’ll always be wondering how the accident happened and how it could have been prevented."
By telling David's story Maureen hopes it will encourage others to make the promise - and come home safe.