Tears flow at quake memorial service in London
From Westminster Abbey to Twickenham, Mark Maynard bravely embarked on a solemn and then triumphant crusade across London today.
Mr Maynard, who lost his wife Kelly in last month's Christchurch earthquake, and his brother Peter were conspicuous among the congregation inside Westminster Abbey for the memorial service for victims of the Christchurch earthquake.
They had Crusaders team issue jackets draped over their seats facing the west gate of the historic church - founded in 960 - and after a personal audience with Prince Charles, they joined another pilgrimage with the city's ex-pat Kiwi community, along the District Line.
The London Underground carried them towards Twickenham where they watched their beloved rugby team win a ground-breaking Super 15 match against South Africa's Sharks - another experience inextricably linked to New Zealand's natural disaster on February 22.
The Maynards were among 47 UK-based friends and family members of the estimated 240 people who perished in the 6.3 magnitude earthquake. They were invited to attend a poignant hour-long commemoration - a sombre event in which singer Hayley Westenra broke down towards the end of a personal tribute to her home city.
It was that tearful interlude that struck a chord with Mr Maynard, who is grieving for his wife Kelly, 43, the doting mother of three-year-old Molly and two-year-old Matilda.
London-based Westenra, who described singing the national anthem at the Hagley Park memorial on March 18 as one of the most emotionally-charged performances of her career, briefly lost her composure as she saluted "my fellow Cantabrians struggling at this difficult time."
"This was my home town," she read. "This was my backyard growing up. Never in a million years did I think something like this would happen to my city," she told mourners.
That was a poignant moment for Mr Maynard. "When Hayley spoke it was quite an emotional time," he said after viewing the wreath of white and yellow roses Prince Charles laid on the forecourt outside the Abbey that carried a Maori message translated as: "You will be remembered always".
He also appreciated the consoling words of Peter Crook, leader of the UK Search and Rescue team who lauded the bravery of workmates and passers-by who fought to free people from the rubble of the Pyne Gould Corporation building before his 63-man squad arrived.
"He was on the building where my wife was. It was good to see him and see what he said," Mr Maynard said.
Only 2500 ex-pats were granted access to the service via a ticket ballot. It was conducted by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, who next assignment of note is the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on April 29.
The service included a message of support from Prime Minister John Key and a series of prayers read by former All Black captain Anton Oliver, actress Kerry Fox and Cantabrian Belinda Allen, who prayed "for the gift of hope as we lift our eyes to the future, especially for all young people.
"May they be galvanised by hope, and therefore in turn offer hope, resolved and fresh vision to their communities."
The service originally clashed with the Crusaders game but was brought forward to midday so participants like the Maynards could make the cross-city journey in time for kick-off.
They were embraced by the Crusaders squad on arrival, and were able to attend the captain's run at England rugby headquarters yesterday.
"We're staying with them, it's like we're one of them," Mr Maynard said.
"We were on the field (at Twickenham), in the changing rooms, we had photos taken in the bath...
"It's been great hanging out with the team."
And fortunately the team didn't let their special supporters down. Sonny Bill Williams talked - and walked - a good game.
"He asked if we were going to the game and said 'bring the popcorn, I'm going to put on a show'," Mr Maynard said with a smile.
Williams and his teammates achieved just that as they swamped the Sharks 44-28 in an eight-try spectacle which also raised funds for the Red Cross earthquake relief fund.
"They just had to win," Mr Maynard said, before the team embarked on a lap of honour before the 35,000-strong crowd.
"It's going to be a big night."
Now there are days of uncertainty ahead for him after the flight home tomorrow.
"I've got two wee kids at home," he said.