Saying her vows on the idyllic beach, Lydia McKelvey thought back to the body strewn hellish scene, which confronted her when she first set eyes on the man she was going to spend the rest of her life with…
As they walked along the beach after making a lifelong commitment, Lydia and Andy thought back to the national disaster that had brought their lives together.
On Boxing Day 2004, Thailand witnessed one of the most devastating Tsunamis in history- killing an estimated 290,000 and reaping havoc across 11 countries.
As a trained specialist police officer in body recovery Lydia, 35, had been sent to Bangtao Beach, Thailand, to help with the global rescue response. Alongside seven other colleagues Lydia began her month-long deploy to help identify those who had lost their lives in the devastation.
“When we all arrived we met with the other police units on the beach for a quick drink, to introduce ourselves. This is where I first set eyes on Andy, 49, across the beach. I couldn’t explain it but there was just something about him that caught my eye,” Lydia explained.
Starting a 12 hour shift at 6am Lydia joined her colleagues to begin work, trying to bring peace to families who had reported missing loved ones.
“Our job was to collect the bodies from huge frozen containers and push them up to 100 metres on trolleys to the mortuary line. There, the medical professionals would then carry out the identity process.
There were an estimated 50 containers spread across the work site holding on average 20 bodies. With specialist teams from all over the globe, such as Sweden, America and Germany, workers pulled together to support each other through the traumatic task.
“It was exhausting work in the blazing heat as the freezing bodies were extremely heavy when they first came out of the freezers. The hardest part was collecting the bodies at the end of the line as the heat started to add to the decomposition, resulting in a stifling smell.”
After eight days of gruelling work, Thailand came under a threat of a second tsunami. All the workers were evacuated from their hotel and took shelter on higher land.
Back home the welfare team decided that the Cheshire police force had been put under too much strain to continue with their deployment and so Lydia was sent back home.
“I said goodbye to Andy and many other people I had worked alongside for the eight days. Doing a job like that you form tight bonds with people. Andy and I swooped email addresses and kept in contact when I got home.
“Andy was like a gentle giant. When i first set eyes on him, i was instantly attracted to his muscly physic but after all the things that i had experienced over such a short time, i really felt like i could trust him too. There was this instant bond of trust between us and i knew i could tell him anything.”
However, after spending 12 long hours working in the blazing heat, dragging dead bodies over the work site, there was never any time to form stronger bonds with people out of work. All Lydia wanted to do was go back to the hotel and sleep.
Once Lydia returned back to Cheshire she decided that life was too short and took a two year sabbatical from work and decided that she wanted to see the world.
“After my experiences I knew it was time to fulfil a few of my dreams and see the world. With my new view that life was too short for regrets, I told Andy about my true feelings for him and to my delight he said he felt the same.
Although Lydia and Andy had finally shared their feelings, Lydia was encouraged by Andy to still go off travelling for the year. They both agreed that they would see what happened.
Lydia set off on her single-woman trip across the globe, visiting South Africa, Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, Fiji, Los Angeles, Vancouver across to Tornto. However, before arriving in Canada, she invited Andy to come and join her and to her surprise he replied saying he had already booked his ticket.
“I was so nervous before he arrived. I just kept thinking, what if we don’t get on and what if our feelings had changed?
The minute Andy walked into the hostel all my fears melted away.
“I put my arms around him and we kissed. It felt so natural, like the past 10 months had never happened and we had never been apart.”
They set off, tackling Canada like they tackled Thailand- as a close team, sharing the experience every step of the way. After three happy weeks together, Lydia and Andy had to say goodbye again, but this time as a couple.
Leaving JFK airport a month later Lydia flew home and was met at the airport by Andy. The couple turned up in Cheshire where Andy was welcomed into Lydia’s family with open arms.
“Andy was still serving as a police officer and I still had a year off, so it just made sense for me to move down with him and start to plan our lives together. One day as we were sailing down the River Fal, in Cornwall Andy suddenly got on one knee and asked me to marry him.”
“He told me that he adored me, that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me- then asked if I’d marry him.
‘Of course I replied ‘yes.’
Once Lydia had excitedly accepted the proposal the couple started to toy with the idea of getting married abroad.
“Bearing in mind where we had met, it just seemed appropriate to go back to Bangtao beach and have the ceremony there.”
Joined by their families and friends Lydia and Andy got wed in November this year and even had friends they had made during the rescue mission, fly out to celebrate their union.
“It was such a perfect day and we shared it with everyone we cared about and we even got to do more backpacking after our celebrations.
I never thought that the man that caught my eye across the beach would be the man I would spend the rest of my life with.”