My parents lived in Vicarage Lane, Walton and it was there that this story begins.
For the first nine years of my life the next door neighbours were Phyllis and Gwilym Howells, although he, being a Welshman, was known to everyone as ‘Taffy’.
Phyliss and Taffy adopted a little boy named David and here follows his story in his own words…
My name is David Anthony Howells. Although I did not know it, I was born originally with the name Anthony Auer in Colchester. My mother was a ‘local’ at Widdington, near Saffron Walden in the late 1940s, but she had originally come from Austria. Her name was Josefa Auer, previously Stanek and might have been known as Josie or Josephine to many of the locals at Widdington at that time. This is my story:
I have lived in the South Wales Valleys since I was collected from Walton-on-the-Naze by my uncle Edgar after both my adopted parents, Phyllis and Gwilym Howells, died within three months of each other in 1956.
Edgar and his wife Myfanwy had told me very little about my father or mother and my life in Walton -on -the-Naze. I’m not sure whether or not Edgar and Myfanwy knew anything about my adoption, or perhaps they thought it was best not to tell me anything about it.
Uncle Edgar’s furniture van
which collected me from Walton
I had lived in Walton-on-the-Naze for the first six years of my life with what I always had known as my parents Phyllis and Gwilym Howells (pictured right) until they had died in December 1955 and March 1956 respectively I had both Phyllis`s and Gwilym’s death certificates given to me some years later in my late teens. On my mother’s death certificate, it said death by drowning and Open Verdict P.M., and I had often wondered what I should do about this information. I waited until 1992 before I did anything, which I have regretted ever since. I phoned the Coroner in Colchester to ask for the inquest report.
This action set off a chain of events that would change my life completely. I needed my full birth certificate, something I never had, and so I sent for a copy and was informed that there was no record of my birth at St Catherine’s House, and that it might be because I had been adopted. This proved to be correct. Some months later, I was given my original birth certificate in the presence of an appointed social worker. “Your name is foreign,” she said. “It’ll be fairly easy to trace. It is Austrian or German. Your name is Anthony Auer ,” and she gave me my birth certificate. I arrived home later and feverishly checked through the telephone directories for my new surname, but found nothing. I phoned my adopted family in Essex and asked cousin John Oxley if he could search his local directories for the names. Some time later he returned my call with eight Auers complete with addresses and phone numbers. The list tweaked my curiosity, but I didn’t think that it would be a good idea to phone people and interrupt their lives on the phone. What would I do if I found myself in a conversation with my mother? What would I say? What if she refused to accept my existence? Age 16 months
I later contacted my adopted family in Walton-on-the-Naze and told them the news, and they found names and numbers in the local phone books with names of Auer for me. Some time later, I visited Walton, but on the way I went to Widdington a village near Saffron Walden, to see where my mother had lived in the late forties. I wanted to see where my mother had stood, walked and worked, laughed and cried… I needed to visit Widdington. I remember it was the 30th of October 1992. It is still clear in my mind. I knew the shape and size of the village because I had bought an O.S. map of the area. It seemed a very different outlook to the one I was used to in the rows of terraced houses in Bargoed in the mining valleys of South Wales, where I lived as a child. (pictured left) I remember driving towards Widdington, becoming very excited, like a child awaiting the moment to open presents on Christmas Day. A sign! Pond Mead…I passed it…I braked and reversed until the sign was in view again. I gazed into the gravelled driveway and at the front entrance for some time. I couldn’t believe it. Did my mother live here? Did she own it? What did she do to be able to live here? I parked near the Village Green, got out and walked about to catch my breath, and wondered what I was to do next. The village was beautiful, the Green, the thatched roofs and the general layout was so nicely ‘old world’.
I decided to go to Pond Mead and knock on the door. There I met Grant Geen and explained about my connection with the house and the village. He was very helpful and happily showed me around the house and garden. Grant told me as much as he knew about the village and some hours later I was at Walton-on-the-Naze still `stinging nicely` from the visit to Widdington. I had arranged to meet several members of the Oxley family at Walton, because many of the family remembered me well as an adopted child that Phyllis and Gwilym paraded proudly about the town. The Oxleys are an important part of the town, they have generations that have been involved in the lifeboat crew at Walton. Henry Britton, my great grandfather [adopted family] was the first coxswain of the first RNLI lifeboat in Walton in the late 1800s.
I had several surprises on Sunday the 1st November 1992. The first was an early morning call for a hearty breakfast before going out on the lifeboat, as a guest. The crew were out for a regular practice and also had a burial duty to perform in scattering someone’s ashes at sea. There were gale warnings, the sea was rough and the day was very blustery. The wind raged towards the end of the pier as we boarded the lifeboat. I remember telling the crew that I certainly would not like to do the launching in the dark on a cold winters night. As we left the pier the sea water splashed and crashed over the roof of the lifeboat, and I wondered what was in store for me, but none of the crew thought anything of the conditions, as far as they were concerned it was a flat sea. We made our way out into deep water and performed the scattering of ashes with a bible reading and flowers placed on the water. The service was very sombre and tastefully performed.
Later, back at my adopted cousin, John’s house, he told me about his adoption too. He had always known about his adoption, Ethel and Bert had kept him well informed throughout his childhood. Sisters, Phyllis and Ethel had chosen to adopt children at the same time. We chatted about recent events; he thought that I should just phone the numbers that I had on my list of Auers and so I quickly made my decision to make the calls that would eventually change my life completely.
My second call was made to Peter Auer from Stansted. I recall it well, and I always get goose-bumps when I tell people about the call.
“Hello,” I said, ”I’ve just found out that I am adopted and happen to have the same surname as you, I wonder if you could tell me what country the name comes from ?” “Oh that`s interesting,” he said “Perhaps we’re related in some way . The name is Austrian, possibly German” and he asked me if I knew any more. I told him that my mother’s name was Josefa. The phone went quiet, and the silence seemed to go on forever, He said that his mother’s name was Josefa also, and asked if I had any more information. “Yes,” I said “She used to work at a big farm house called Pond Mead in Widdington, Near Saffron Walden”….the phone went quiet again, this time for longer It seemed longer than a lifetime. The unbroken silence echoed down the phone….the silence eventually ended in Peter replying “ My mother worked at Pond Mead, Widdington.” I gasped, I tingled. He said, “Sounds to me like you are my brother”. We chatted a while, once we both got our breath back, and arranged to meet each other the next day. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe I could just crash into someone else’s life and Peter seemed to accept it so well. In fact, we had a great deal in common besides our mother. I met Peter the following day, exchanging stories and photographs and filling in gaps in our lives that could not previously have been explained.
Josefa Auer (above)
My mind was a bit of a jumble of unanswered questions, excitement and apprehension as I travelled home to South Wales that evening, getting home at 3.15 a.m.
The next few weeks, I was on a ‘mission’ to collect more information and make more contact with people who knew me and my family, particularly at Walton. I was eagerly awaiting another visit to Essex and Widdington. I made the journey with my wife, and daughter and her husband on the 1st of January 1993. I remember it being foggy and very cold that night as we set off at 3.00a.m., because I wanted to make the most of the day I had in Essex.
When we arrived, the car was covered in ice from the freezing fog. I met several family members at Walton that I had met before, and all were intrigued and excited about what I would do next in my quest. I met Jack Frost and his wife Doris who were my next door neighbours for several years at Vicarage Lane, when my mother had drowned at home in 1955, and Gwilym had died on the back doorstep. Jack said, that Gwilym had died of a broken heart, because he was so affected by Phyllis’s death, and that I was to ignore what was written on Gwilym’s death certificate. Jack and Doris had told me about the happiness that I had brought Phyllis and Gwilym, when I was brought home as their adopted son on January 20th 1950, but how sad and traumatic it had been for everybody in Walton, when Phyllis and Gwilym both died within three months of each other, and then I disappeared to Wales with an Aunt Blodwyn. Both Doris and Jack felt aggravated by my disappearance, nobody had told them where I had been taken, but they were both pleased that I had returned safe and well some thirty seven years later. Again, I was left with many more unanswered questions when I left Walton, and wondered what Widdington might have in store for me when I arrived.
I had arranged with Grant Geen to stay at Pond Mead as Bed and Breakfast guests. We were made very welcome by Grant who now owned Pond Mead and was able to supply me with some more information. Grant suggested that I speak to Jeremy Dillon-Robinson, who had previously owned Pond Mead during the late forties, and I arranged to meet him the following day. I met Jeremy together with his wife Gillian at Priors Hall. The property was very large, situated on a hill overlooking beautiful slopes of grassland that was part of the Priors Hall estate. We chatted in a small kitchen for some time, but there was not a great deal that could be recollected about Josefa or my unknown father, except that she had been a good cook, hard working and the apple strudel she cooked was fantastic. Jeremy showed me around Priors Hall and the ancient barn, and we soon left to meet up with my half-brother Peter and his family.
I reluctantly left and made my way to Peter`s house and thought of the arrangements to meet my mother’s sister Anna, who used to run the Coach and Horses Pub with her husband, known as ‘Ash’, at Quendon. Anna was a quiet woman, who seemed naturally apprehensive about my somewhat sudden appearance on the scene, and my searching questions were thinly answered by her. Her answers were of no great significance to, especially my main question, Did you know who my father was? she answered, ”Just a prisoner of war, I know no more”. We all had tea at Peter’s house and he was able to give me some photographs of our mother and we chatted about our lives and filled in some of the spaces. Peter and his family surprisingly had limited information about the family and my father’s identity and I was soon travelling back home with my usual heap of unanswered questions jumping around my head.
Several years passed by and unfortunately I didn’t keep in touch with some of the friends and family as I should have. I had relaxed my search due to work and family commitments, but since more information had unexpectedly arrived in 2001, I thought that I would make an all-out effort to complete the story before the information is forever lost. I bought a computer in October 2001, and this together with many posted letters has enabled me to trace a great deal of information about my past. I joined the Anglo German Family History Society, and they have assisted me in my search methods. Unfortunately, over the years, since 1992, many older inhabitants of both Widdington and Walton-0n -the-Naze have sadly passed away. Many of them would have known Josefa and my father, which is something else I regret. It`s always better to pursue your goals eagerly and immediately, rather than `putting it off till another time`
Information I had received had enabled me to state in April 2002, that my father was almost positively named Peter and he worked and stayed at The Wyses with The Holgates.
John, George and Marie Hoy of Widdington were able to remember my father with some accuracy, and recalled events of the late forties. Peter, my father was friendly with another German called Matthias Holzinger, they both lived in a shed at the back of Wyses, which was apparently very comfortable. He also had another good close friend called Richard Ihms. I have been told that Peter was a handsome man, who was fairly dark skinned and George remembered him visiting the village about eight years previously, with his family
What should I do with my ‘new found’ information ? What I really needed to know was … Could I find somebody who can either recall either Peter’s surname or knows other people who either worked with him, so that I could access the surname? Perhaps, a friend or work colleague may have known his surname. It would be likely that some documentation may still be in existence about the foreign workers in the village from the late forties.
I then received an e-mail which stated that both Josefa and Peter would have had medical records, dental records and naturalisation papers. It might even be the case, that the Police may have records in their archives about Prisoners of War in their jurisdiction. I became very busy again with e-mailing, letter writing and phone calling.
Another visit to Essex came at the beginning of the half term holiday May 31 2002. We left Penycae at 5.00 am and made good time to get to the seashore in Walton-on-the-Naze by 8.30 am. The sun was shining and we had a breakfast at the café on the seafront, overlooking the pier and sea. The café was a tribute to the bravery of the Lifeboat Crews over the years at Walton. The walls were adorned with framed photos of the crews and the stricken ships. The rescues depicted on the café walls, had been the daily tasks that the brave lifeboat men were destined to perform. I sat eating my hearty breakfast as I overlooked the sea, as it splashed endlessly against the uprights of the pier, wondering what I was to do next.
I received a fair amount of communication during the weeks to follow, but the big break came on the 18th of June when I had an e-mail from Grant Geen suggesting that I contact John Penney who used to run Wyses. I was told that he was elderly and not a very well man, so I chose to keep the phone call short. The result was a phone call, in which John remembers my father and his name PETER HUBERT, (pictured below) who worked alongside Matthias Holszinger. I had already sent some material to The Holzingers two days before as it was suggested that the family might know something about my story. I didn’t expect the call to corroborate what I had just been told minutes earlier by John Penney. Matthias had unfortunately died, but his wife Hermine was able to recall my father, Peter and stated that his surname was HUBERT also. Unbelievable !
One month to the day from finding my father’s name. I was sent a photograph of a group of people at The International Club from the fifties, with my father included. I received another letter, this time from Deutsche Dienststelle, Berlin on September 28, 2002. The letter was accompanied by relevant Prisoner of War camp information, including dates and embarkment dates to Great Britain in July 1946.The letter was entirely in German, but I noticed it had references to my father, Peter Hubert and some dates and places were also included. I tried to decipher the contents with a dictionary, but only managed `the obvious`. I eventually phoned friends of mine in London, who had a German student lodger Ruth Erbertz. I asked Ruth to translate it on the phone. The letter had Peters Name and birthdate and birthplace, confirmed he was Romanian. His birthtown was Bentschek, Romania, birthdate 22.11.1919 and there was a reference to a town called Ludwigshafen 3.12.2001. However, in the letter, the date was followed by the word ….. verstorben, which means deceased. Ruth was inconsolable on the phone.
She said, “it means he is dead. I’m so sorry,” she said. I was `gutted`
It seemed as though my optimistic search had come to an abrupt end. I had persevered with lots of magnificent help from others over a ten year period, only to find, that I had missed the meeting with my father by a measly ten months.
I had a new e-mail which informed me of a Peter Hubert in the Ludwigshafen phone directory. I also made connections with The Twinning Association between Ludwigshafen and Havering, Essex. They were able to confirm information that unfortunately I had already received.
I thought that this is more than likely to be his address. I later phoned Louise and Herman Hugel in Dorsten and told them about the recent news. Hermann, had been a Prisoner of War in England at the same time as my father, and they were apparently very good friends in Britain. I had already spoke to Hermann some weeks earlier, and on that occasion, he was understandably suspicious of my phone call and questioning. He said it was difficult to talk about things in England, and sensing that I was placing Hermann in a very awkward situation I ended the conversation quickly, but politely. Perhaps, there were some sworn secrets about England, that as friends, they POWs including Peter Hubert
agreed to keep to themselves forever, and I had to respect this. However, when I spoke to them about my father’s death, they were disappointed for me, but Louise had offered to assist me in any other capacity. I asked her to try to investigate the family a little, so that I would be able to learn about any children that Peter might have had. She said she would contact me sometime, when and if she could get any relevant information.
It was on the 6th of November that I had a letter from Louise Hugel that told me that I had two sisters. Unfortunately, one sister had died of cancer, earlier in 2002 and Peter’s wife had taken her own life due to the trauma she had sustained during 2001/02. However, the surviving sister Irene still lived in Ludwigshafen was told of my existence and wanted to meet me. Our communication with each other had been exciting and informative, and was all very hard to comprehend. I had found my family! and the family was really pleased to have me invade their lives. It would appear that my arrival has been placed nicely in Irene’s life. She had been ‘very low’ after the deaths of her mother, father and sister and was pleased that her family has been extended a little in the last few days by my arrival. I was very fortunate that Irene accepted the situation and included me into her family. I had some wonderful conversations with Irene’s daughter, Sigrid, and son–in-law, Stuart during early December. I was fortunate that they both speak English, and we were able to make good exchanges on the telephone. Sigrid and Stuart are a doctor and surgeon respectively in local hospitals, and they have assisted me in communication with my sister Irene. They were also on the Internet and this has been able to provide good links to Germany, and also helps to confirm the family link, with photos, documentation etc.
We have been able to exchange many photos and stories, some of which help to complete the voids that existed in the story, both in Germany and here in Wales. Some photographs have been well received, because they are good quality and show Peter in his younger days, unseen by my sister Irene, until mid December 2002. I also learned about my Grandparents and Great Grandparents, and their lives in Romania, and also have photographs of them from that time. It seems that the family were imprisoned in a concentration camp in the forties by the Russians. It was there that my Grandfather was executed by firing squad. The family returned to Romania some years later, obviously affected adversely by their experiences in the Russian camp.
We were then invited to go to see the family in Germany, the town of Ludwigshafen is near Heidelberg and Mannheim, and it didn’t take long for me to realise that the phobia I thought I had about air travel had now gone completely. I phoned Ryanair and booked the flight and couldn’t believe the price, just twenty pounds return to Frankfurt. We flew out to Frankfurt on the 28th of December 2002 and I could hardly wait. As far as I was concerned Christmas day was now the 28th of December. If there was any reason to shed the fear for flying in an Aeroplane, then, this was it. We were going! I was certain we would be welcomed there with open arms and I had no doubt about anything regarding our meeting. We had all spoken on the phone and we all agree that all our lives have changed, and that a new life was to begin on the 28th of December 2002, with our new found family.
On 28th of December we checked in at Stansted Airport and within 45 minutes were on our way to Hahn Airport near Frankfurt..
As we queued at the arrivals I could see the awaiting family. My sister Irene, her daughter Sigrid and her husband Stuart and their five year old daughter Kaija. We all waved crazily at each other l, as if we had never met before! The reality was that we hadn’t met before! I was filled with excitement and trepidation about the meeting that was about to take place in the next 10-15 minutes. We awaited the collection of bags and cases with massive anxiety and continued waving sessions. We collected the baggage and left quickly to meet everybody. We met near a door entrance of the airport, and hugged and kissed each other, nice warming tears falling from everybody’s face. It was an emotional moment that I will never forget.
It was soon after, that we were on our way to Ruppertsberg. We travelled on the Autobahn hastily, chatting to each other via a three way conversation. Stuart did all the translation and he worked hard to keep up with the recollection of 50 missing years in our lives. Irene kept stroking my head and shoulder from the back seat of the car and saying, “Mein Bruder, Mein Bruder” We chatted for entire journey to Stuart’s house, and it was the same in the other car. We arrived at Stuart and Sigrid’s house and unloaded the cars quickly and settled down for our first meal together. The meal was special and sumptuous, but was not hurried. Each moment and morsel was savoured and digested into mind and body. The wine was superb, and as Stuart is a connoisseur of the grape, living in the midst of the Rhine Valley wine region, we all relaxed and bathed in each others company and tales. We chatted till the early hours of the morning. Even at 2.00 a.m. I was not ready to sleep. It was all too exciting! I didn’t want to miss one second of my visit by the unconsciousness of sleep. I awoke early in the morning, with the accompaniment of the local church bells, which were in sight of our bedroom window. I was ready for more, much more.
Each day with Sigrid, Stuart and Kaija was exceptional. We were entertained well, we ate well but more importantly, our hosts, my family, were magnificent. We spent a great deal of our time talking about my father and his family. My father Peter , had returned to Romania from Britain in 1955 to re-join his family in Bentschek, but later, in1979 they chose to leave for Germany due to the continuing difficulties in Romania and it`s horrendous dictatorship.
The family left with only a few suitcases, when my father had just turned 60 years of age. They had to leave their home and nearly all their possessions in Romania, but were pleased to leave and start afresh in Germany.
There are many ‘loose ends’ to the story, and I intend to unravel them to obtain a clearer picture of their lives not as a matter of urgency, because I have found my true family in Germany. My link with the past can be completed. I have photographs of my father, and his family in Bentschek in Romania and I am pleased and fortunate to be connected with such a rich culture.
What I have learned during my search is that ‘Urgency’ in matters of this kind must always prevail. Never linger and ‘put off’’ tasks until another time. Seize the moment and ‘go for it’. I have told my pupils at School , that they must accept the urgency for their work and their continued and unrelenting striving for success in exams is paramount, and never ‘leave things gather dust’. I have told them that my mistake was leaving things unattended for too long and not getting ‘hungry’ for the matter in hand.