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 am not convinced that 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. There was a government sponsored program in existence during WW2 where pregnant women living in areas regarded as a threat from German planes should be evacuated to a safe haven to have their babies. But Reading was not regarded as such a threat. More on this later.
Ii is highly probable that my mother was 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 was he my father?
I have a rather sad and rambling letter from my mother not long before she died – by this stage I was living in Melbourne, Australia – where she told me that Leonard was not my father and she tried to explain what had happened. But I 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 cannot be sure of what she told me – I can only surmise. She wanted me to know that Leonard was not my father and that a man by the name of Paul Thomas was.
Looking back – I was 17 years old when my mother left Leonard. When I returned home from work that day, Leonard told me that she had left him and asked me whose side was I on. My reply was simple – I could 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.
In that letter to me, my mother said that a young man had gone into the shop where she worked (Jerome’s in Reading, Berkshire) – sometime in 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. She said that 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 that Paul Thomas 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 without success for a Paul Thomas or a Thomas Paul born in England around the time frame my mother suggested AND travelling to the USA.
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 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 was Paul Thomas a smokescreen and never existed?
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 hoped 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 at all.
Back to the letter – my mother said that she thought I must have somehow found out about Paul Thomas because we had called our second son Thomas and our third son Paul. Which is why she decided to tell me about him.
It is possible that Leonard married my mother thinking he was the father of the baby she was carrying and when he discovered that maybe 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 as a translator 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.
Several people who have been involved in helping me find my father have told me that they never believed my mother’s story. One said 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 the real truth.
When I received my mother’s letter, I was stunned but decided not to do anything about it at the time. I put it in a drawer and forgot about it but I always knew I would go back to it one day. That was a mistake because when I did decide to investigate this Paul Thomas, both my mother and Leonard, and anyone else who could have helped me, had all passed away.
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. But I do believe that he existed even if Paul Thomas wasn’t his real name.
I sadly have very, very few memories of my childhood and looking back, I do believe that somehow I was unconsciously and subconsciously blocking things – I didn’t want to know – I was too young to understand what was going on. For example – I now know that I went to Coley Primary School in Reading for the first 2 years of my schooling before moving on to a Catholic primary school. I have no recollection of those first two years at Coley Primary School whatsoever. But there was one event at home around that time that I remember with absolute clarity.
I would have been about 5 years old 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”.
A few years later I was visiting my grandmother one day when she was ill and was temporarily bed ridden. I would have been about 10 at the time. I had been talking 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.
My mother had a much younger adopted sister – Dorothy – and I remember raising 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 their mother -my grandmother – when she was going through their 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 Paul Thomas and that Paul Thomas had given the ring to her. Dorothy was a well-educated and intelligent woman and she was not prone to making up stories. This is a key piece of information for me that tells me there was a man in my mother’s life whose name was supposedly Paul Thomas.
I’m not totally convinced of the name BUT – because my grandmother had met this man and liked him, he must have visited 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 Jerome’s in Reading as well. He was conscripted into the RAF in August 1940. In another earlier 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 believe 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 as soon as possible.
When Leonard discovers that my mother was pregnant, he thinks he is the father and he does the right thing and marries her.
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 a Public Assistance Institution, a former workhouse, to have me.
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 – probably 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 be that Paul Thomas turned up again not knowing my mother had married. And that is when the proverbial hit the fan!!
In March 2011 I decided to take a DNA test with Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) in Texas and to record my story on this web site. It seemed to me that DNA testing or someone stumbling across my website were my best hopes of tracking down this Paul Thomas. 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? Although there is a suggestion that this Paul Thomas 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.
As well as testing with FTDNA, I also tested with 23andme and Ancestry.com. I joined many bulletin boards, forums, blogs and support groups as I could. I spent countless hours following up people who had similar DNA patterns to me. On two occasions, I thought I had found my man – only to have my hopes dashed. Eventually I managed to persuade one of my brothers to test and his results staggered me. I sought the advice of an expert genealogist in Utah – Angie Bush – and was told that either Leonard was my father after all or one of his brothers was. The latter more likely.
So what really happened?
Chances are that I will never know the whole truth but this is what I think happened.
I do believe that Paul Thomas existed and so does Angie Bush, who has helped me on this project. This is what she said to me one day after she had told me that either Leonard or one of his brothers was my father.
Given the elaborate story your mother told and other evidence, I (like you) also believe that there was probably another person that your mom had a relationship with and really cared about. There are too many things that point to this being the case. Whether that person was Paul Thomas or one of Leonard’s brothers, I don’t know. Like I mentioned, becoming pregnant directly after a miscarriage is somewhat common. I would bet money that your mother always believed that you were Paul Thomas’s son. I would even believe that you were actually born in March, too. I know for myself (even being well-educated and older) when I had my first child that there were things I didn’t calculate correctly as far as dates went. I can only imagine that being young, in the middle of a war, etc. made things difficult for your mother, and that being embarrassed about the pregnancy may have caused some miscalculations, etc. Maybe it was easiest for her to believe that you were Paul’s child, as it sounds like he was an important person in her life. Maybe it made getting through the war a bit easier to believe that she had a piece of him with her? Our minds do strange things in order to protect us from difficult realities. The comment from your grandmother about your mother “picking” the wrong person says to me that she must have been seeing Paul and Leonard relatively close to the same time.
I think Angie is right. It doesn’t matter why but for some reason, Paul Thomas “went away”. My mother thought he had been killed. She also thought she was pregnant to him. Perhaps she thought she was because she had missed a couple of periods. Maybe she had Pseudocyesis – a false pregnancy. I know it is rare but it is real. Or maybe she had a miscarriage without knowing it – this can happen early in pregnancy and can be mistaken for a late period. And then she immediately fell pregnant with Leonard or……………. more later on this issue.
My mother is working with Leonard who has shown an interest in her and because she is upset, she allows him to date her. She lets him sleep with her – maybe deliberately – who knows. Then she tells Leonard she is pregnant and he offers to marry her.
They get married straight away and shortly after Leonard is called up into the Royal Air Force where he served for the duration of the war. I have a copy of his RAF service record and it seems to me that Leonard was rarely if ever on home leave which was not uncommon.
In the meantime my mother ends up in Barnstaple in North Devon and she gives birth to me in a Public Assistance Institution – formerly a Workhouse. At some stage she returned to Reading and moved into the top floor flat at 106 Wolseley Street in Coley.
As I said before, I have very few memories of my childhood and most of them are sad memories. One of those memories was waking up in bed one morning next to my mother and there was a man in the bed I had never seen before. Why I remember this I don’t know but I do. And I don’t know why but I don’t believe it was Leonard.
Was it Paul Thomas? I don’t know but I suspect not. Leonard had a younger brother called Ken and although I know that he served in the Army post WW2 I don’t think he served in the war. I recall that Ken was often around the house in Wolseley Street when I was very young. I also remember that it was Ken who taught me how to tie my shoe laces and he also taught me how to tell the time using a cardboard clock that he made. When Leonard married my mother, Ken was probably living in Reading at that time and was 19 years old. But round about the time the war ended, and Leonard returned home in early 1946, it seems to me that Ken vanished and I never saw him again until I visited England with my family in 1978 and paid him a visit. I do know that when he joined the Army that he served in Germany but he would have returned to England at some stage and he wouldn’t have been living very far away.
So who was the mystery man? Was it Leonard – Paul Thomas – or Ken? I suspect it was Ken. I have good reason for this but I am not prepared to disclose it for fear of upsetting someone.
So Leonard returned from the war and discovered something that upset him significantly. Whether he came face to face with Paul Thomas, or whether he discovered that “maybe” his younger brother had cuckolded him – I’ll never know but it must have been bad because life in our family was horrible from then on until my mother finally left Leonard.
Incidentally – some years later my mother sued Leonard for divorce on the grounds of forced desertion because of mental cruelty. Leonard contested the divorce but the Judge ruled in favour of my mother. I am not surprised.
As well as testing myself and a brother, I have also tested a second brother and a first cousin. There is no doubt that I am a Cummings despite not being sure as to who my father was.
Anglesea, Victoria, Australia
January 2009 – updated July 2015