Tsunami survivor turned author to ensure mother and sister will not be forgotten

AROUND THIS time of year, Edie Fassnidge heads to the bench she had placed on Ilkley Moor, by the Cow and Calf rocks, and remember her mother and sister.

Not that they are ever far from her thoughts.

But today, ten years on from when they were both lost in the Indian Ocean tsunami, Mrs Fassnidge will be at her home in London with her husband Matt, remembering that day, and them, quietly.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Leeds University professor Sally Macgill, 53, and her daughter Alice, 23, of Burley, Leeds, had flown out to Thailand to spend Christmas with Mrs Fassnidge and Matt. It was a happy reunion for the close family, who had been worried about missing each other during the couple’s 18 month dream trip, which had started four months earlier and would culminate with a year working in New Zealand.

But the events of Boxing Day 2004 changed their plans, and their lives, forever.

Using simple, stark illustrations, Mrs Fassnidge has told the story of that day in her new memoir Rinse, Spin, Repeat. It is just one of the things that have helped her cope with her loss.

“I was very conscious that I didn’t want what had happened to be forgotten and lost, but didn’t know what form that would be in,” she said. “As the years passed, I started writing it all down and that led to using illustration. I had all these thoughts and emotions inside that I wanted to present in a way that I couldn’t in writing.”

The couple, her mother and sister were kayaking at Ao Nang beach, Krabi, when Mrs Fassnidge noticed something on the horizon didn’t look quite right. The first wall of water that met them upturned the family from their kayaks, but it was the second that engulfed them, sending Mrs Fassnidge crashing into a bank of rocks, and swept Mrs Macgill and her younger daughter away.

Mrs Fassnidge’s injuries were extreme, her flesh torn so badly that she could see through to her bones, and later, in a Bangkok hospital, nurses discovered that maggots eating away at flesh in a head wound were the cause of blinding headaches. While she remained in hospital, it was Mr Fassnidge who tried to find Mrs Macgill and Alice.

“He was also badly injured, but when the tsunami happened the degrees of injury took on a new meaning. In any other circumstances, he would have been hospitalised,” Mrs Fassnidge said. “It was incredibly confused because something on that scale was so unprecedented.”

The couple received conflicting information, especially about Alice, but on January 1 they were placed on a Government evacuation flight back to the UK, without knowing what had happened to them.

Mrs Macgill’s body was found in the spring, and a funeral was held in Leeds in September. Sadly, Alice’s body was never recovered.

“We were told in late 2005 that there was probably not much chance of her being found,” Mrs Fassnidge said. “It wasn’t a shock, but it still felt unfinal and unresolved.”

Determined to keep her sister’s memory alive, Mrs Fassnidge set up Music for Alice, which funds the purchase of musical instruments for groups all over the UK. Alice, who played the cello, had been studying to become a music teacher when she died. It has given money to a group in Otley, where the sisters lived when they were young, and to Leeds Youth Orchestra.

“My mum was very successful, and I knew her memory would continue through her work as a professor at Leeds University. Alice was so young and still carving her path in life. I didn’t want her to be forgotten,

“She was such a skilled musician and had a real love of music, and communicating the enjoyment of music to children,” Mrs Fassnidge said.

Her mother was also a talented musician and sportswoman, and her legacy lives on at the University of Leeds Sustainability Research Institute, which she set up shortly before she died.

“She was a real role model for me in terms of what women can achieve,” Mrs Fassnidge said. “She achieved anything she set her mind to, but above all she was the most caring, loving and thoughtful mother to Alice and I.”

Profits from the book, which is being publishing with a crowdfunding campaign, will go to Music for Alice.