My birth certificate states that I was born in Barnstaple, North Devon, England on 3 March 1941. I was definitely born in Barnstaple but I doubt the date is correct.
My mother was born in South Wales in 1918 and her maiden name was Delva Ida Frederika Mutlow.
My mother was living in Reading when she became pregnant with me in 1940 yet I was born in Barnstaple in North Devon. I remember when I was a little boy asking my mother why I was born in Devon and she said that she had been evacuated there during the war. In fact, people in Reading were not normally evacuated during the war but there was a government sponsored program where pregnant women could be evacuated to a safe haven to have their babies. More on this later.
I now know for sure that my mother was almost certainly pregnant when she married Leonard Cummings in June 1940. My birth certificate states that my mother was Delva Ida Frederika Cummings nee Mutlow and that my father was Leonard Herbert Cummings – but he wasn’t my father.
How can I be sure about this? When I was 17 years old, my mother left Leonard. When I returned home from work that evening, Leonard asked me if I was for him or for my mother. My reply was easy – I would never be for him after the way he had treated my mother regardless of what had happened in the past. I was given one hour to pack and leave. As I left, his parting words were that I wasn’t his son anyway. I took that as bitter words of a man whose wife had finally plucked up the courage to leave him. And later, when I was in my thirties, my mother wrote to me and confessed that Leonard was not my father.
Both my mother and Leonard are deceased.
I strongly suspect that Leonard married my mother thinking he was the father of the baby she was carrying and when he discovered that he wasn’t, he was sadly unable to forgive and forget and as a result of that and other circumstances, their marriage was a total disaster. I had a miserable childhood and was more than happy to migrate to Australia in 1966 after serving with the British Army Intelligence Corps in Hong Kong and Singapore. I effectively left England for good in 1961. It was a new start and one I have never regretted.
My first wife Patricia – who passed away in 2004 – and I – christened our second son Thomas in memory of my maternal grandmother who died the same day that Thomas was born. She was Welsh so we chose a Welsh name. When our third son was born, we really thought it was going to be a girl so we had preselected Catherine. But the baby had an appendage – we took a long time deciding on a name and eventually settled on Paul for no reason.
I have no doubt that my mother would never have confessed her secret to me if we had chosen any name other than Paul. She had no reason to. After Paul was born in 1972, she wrote to me and told me her secret as she thought I must have known all along. She said that my father’s name was Paul Thomas. My mother died not long after she wrote that letter. She believed my choice of names was too big a coincidence. Well it was a coincidence – I didn’t know before she told me.
I have a rather sad and rambling letter from my mother where she tried to explain what had happened. And I do think that she could not bring herself to tell me the COMPLETE truth. It clearly hurt her deeply to tell me what she did. In those days, any whiff of a scandal was quickly hushed up – it was not talked about. Unlike today. As a result I can not be sure of what she told me – I can only presume.
Several people who have been involved in helping me find my father have told me that they never believed my mother’s story. One wrote to me saying that it was not unusual for mothers to confess to a child that their father was someone else – that they needed to off load their guilt – and that often they would make up a story about who the real father was as they didn’t want the child to find out.
Through DNA testing, I discovered a distant cousin living in England who just happens to be an avid genealogist and she offered to help me in my search for my father. With her vast experience of searching historical records, she has uncovered a wealth of information that I myself would probably never have found. As a result, I am now much more certain as to what happened back in the 1940s.
My mother wrote that a young man went into the shop where she worked (Jeromes in Reading, Berkshire, England) – circa 1938 – to have his photo taken to (supposedly) send to his father in America who was ill. From that meeting, a courtship started and they became friends. They “dated” for 12 months. She said his name was Paul Thomas and he was English but had gone to America with his father when he was a little boy. He said that his mother had died before they left for America. When his father’s illness deteriorated, Paul Thomas returned to America. After his father died, he came back to England in 1939. She claimed that they had corresponded while he was away. My mother said this guy was with the “US Air Force stationed at Greenham Common” near Reading in Berkshire.
FACT – the US did not join the war until December 1942 and Greenham Common – which became a major US Air Base in England, did not become operational until 1942.
FACT – I have searched exhaustively for a Paul Thomas or a Thomas Paul born in England around the time frame my mother suggested AND travelling to the USA. I have not had any luck at all so far.
In her letter, she said that he left one weekend in April 1940 to go on an “air strike mission” and never returned. Prior to that weekend they consummated their love and I was the result. He was 26. She thought he had been killed.
Because I am certain that my mother could not bring herself to tell me the whole truth, I cannot be certain of anything.
Was this man genuine? Was his name really Paul Thomas or was it Thomas Paul? Or was it an alias? Did he really fall for my mother or did he just want to charm her enough to get her into bed and then disappear after another conquest?
If he was genuine – did he go to America with his father when he was a young boy and then come back in 1939? Did he then return to America when his father took ill and returned to England again after his father died? Was he aircrew of some sort? Was he RAF? Did he he really leave on a mission and was killed?
Was he in fact British and made up the story about America? Was he embarrassed by his own family background? If he was aircrew and particularly if he was in Bomber Command, he would be under strict instructions not to disclose anything he was doing and to make up a cover story if he had to.
Or – as my DNA results are showing – was one of Leonard’s brothers my father?
I am now fairly certain that the American references were some sort of a smokescreen put up by either my mother or Paul Thomas for some reason or other but I have left them in this document – just in case I am wrong.
I sadly have very few memories of my childhood and looking back, I do believe that somehow I was subconsciously blocking things – I didn’t want to know – I was too young to understand what was going on. But there are three events that I remember with absolute clarity.
The first one is when I would have been about 4 or 5 and living at 106 Wolseley Street in Coley, Reading and my mother and Leonard were having a terrible argument in the kitchen. I was hiding in the corner and when he saw me, Leonard turned round to my mother, pointed to me, and said – “if it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be in this mess”.
The next is when I was visiting my grandmother one day when she was ill and was temporarily bed ridden. I would have been about 12 at the time. I had been telling her about the problems at home and she looked at me and said – “your mother married the wrong man – it is so sad because he was such a nice man”. But she didn’t elaborate and I sensed that she regretted saying it to me – and I was too young and polite to my grandmother to push for more information because at that stage I had no reason to believe that Leonard was not my father.
And thirdly – my mother had a much younger adopted sister – Dorothy – and I remember raisng this matter with her after my mother had died. She told me she was in no doubt that I was not Leonard’s son and she recounted the day not long after the funeral of her mother -my grandmother – when she was going through her mother’s jewellery box and found a ring that she did not know the origin of and she asked my mother if she knew where it came from. That was when my mother told Dorothy about her secret and that Paul Thomas had given the ring to her.
So what really happened? God only knows but this is what I think happened.
I’m not totally convinced of the name BUT – because my grandmother had met this man and liked him, he must have visted her and my mother at their home more than once. And the ring that Dorothy found. I feel that this guy was genuine. But for some reason he had to go somewhere, they cemented their love as one did in those war days, and off he went. For some reason, he didn’t come back when my mother thought he would and she thought he had been killed in the April of 1940.
I don’t know when my mother first met Leonard. I have his RAF record which lists him as a photographer in the RAF so perhaps he was working at Jeromes in Reading as well. He was conscripted into the RAF in August 1940. In a letter my mother mentioned marrying Leonard “on the rebound” so I can only guess that she was so saddened by losing her Paul Thomas that she welcomed Leonard’s attention to her.
When my mother discovered that she was probably pregnant, she had no option but to tell her own mother who would have been mortified at the potential disgrace this was going to bring on the family. I do know that my grandmother knew I was not Leonard’s son but I’m not sure when she discovered that. I suspect that my poor mother probably didn’t say who the father was at that time so her mother assumed it was Leonard, and she pressured them into getting married asap.
According to his siblings – my step aunts and uncles – Leonard was a lovely young man. Because he thinks he is the father he does the right thing and marries my mother.
So back to Paul Thomas – maybe he was aircrew and did go off somewhere and ended up as a POW somewhere in Europe or perhaps even in Japan for the remainder of the war.
My mother married Leonard in early June 1940 and I was born on 3 March 1941 – quite a respectful time-frame. So why did my mother give birth to me in North Devon? They lived in a comfortable and spacious house in Reading so why not have the baby there with a midwife and family in attendance, as they did in those days? But she didn’t – she went off to Barnstaple and stayed with either friends or family connected to my grandmother. But she didn’t have the baby there either? When the time came she went into an institution, a former workhouse, to have her baby.
I strongly suspect that my mother was sent to North Devon to have the baby away from the prying ears and eyes of friends and neighbours. She was sent somewhere where a blind eye could be turned in regard to the real birth date and I was in fact born before 3 March 1941 – almost certainly in January – but the registration details were fudged. Parents of new born babies had 42 days to register the birth. I actually have a copy of the details of my mother’s admission and my birth from the place where I was born and it is riddled with errors. I have since discovered that this was a not uncommon practice in those days. And when the time came to go home to Reading, my mother was in possession of a marriage certificate dated early June 1940 and a birth certificate for me dated 3 March 1941. All very much above board, thank you very much.
Then late in 1945, after the war ended and the POWs were repatriated back home, could it ne that Paul Thomas turned up again not knowing my mother had married. And that is when the proverbial hit the fan!!
My family here in Australia have an amazing family tree on their mother’s side, right back almost to William the Conqueror on the paternal side with a clear link to the Plantagenet family as well as a proven family link to the famous Australian bush-ranger/outlaw Ned Kelly on the maternal side.
My mother’s family tree is reasonably well established. My paternal family tree didn’t exist when I started this project. It started with me.
It seemed to me that DNA testing or someone stumbling across this website were my best hopes of tracking down my father. Who was the young man – born around 1913 whose name may or may not have been Paul Thomas or Thomas Paul – who may have been English and gone to America as a young boy or who may have been an American visiting England for some reason – who charmed my mother enough to get her into bed?
Not all births, marriages and death records are online and many are riddled with errors. Many people are adopted and change their names.
It’s possible I will never know the complete truth and I guess it doesn’t hurt as much any more. But my children and their children want to know.
Although there is a suggestion that my father may simply have been a young man sowing his “wild oats”, there are several pieces of evidence that I have that suggest he was in fact an honourable man. If only my mother hadn’t been so secretive and embarrassed and had told me earlier.
Anglesea, Victoria, Australia
January 2009 – updated July 2013