Epic Rescue by Walton Lifeboat 100 Years Ago

This year, 2017, is the 100th anniversary of the rescue of 92 lives by Walton’s Lifeboat from the SS Peregrine (below) aground on the Long Sand Head.

S S Peregrine
My thanks again to Steven Walker who has sent me the following item for publication here.

100 years ago the Walton Lifeboat was involved in the rescue of refugees escaping war in Europe. It was one of the most dangerous rescue missions ever undertaken by the RNLI and took place within sight of The Naze. On December 29, 1917 the SS Peregrine had run aground off Walton on a notorious sand bank as it was attempting to make its way to the river Thames and eventual safety for the passengers.

It was the largest single rescue undertaken in the waters off the East Anglian coast, with 92 people plucked to safety from a stricken ship in treacherous conditions. Passengers and crew tied themselves to the engine room of their ship after it ran aground in high winds and eventually broke in half. But they were all lifted to safety by brave rescuers in what has since become the world’s oldest motorised lifeboat the James Stevens No14. The lifeboat was fitted with a petrol engine in 1906, becoming one of the first motor lifeboats in the RNLI.

The coastguard informed the Walton Lifeboat Station at 9.30pm of the emergency on the ship, which was carrying 59 passengers, including children and 33 crew, mainly Belgian refugees from the fighting in Flanders. An epic rescue mission, lasting almost 14 hours, then took place against a backdrop of easterly gales, heavy lashing seas, rain and sleet.

The Peregine’s Captain Bill Branthwaite Capt. Branthwaitehad driven the ship across the sunken bows of the Swedish steamer Iris – which had been wrecked the day before, and whose crew had been rescued by the Clacton lifeboat – after sending out an SOS through wireless telegraphy.

Knowing that his ship might rupture at any time, the captain persuaded the passengers to move to the boat deck, where they were tied to the engine room skylight and funnel and covered in blankets and tarpaulins. With the ship’s ribs breaking and time running out, the James Stevens No.14 reached them at 4am following an arduous search and used the help of a nearby Government patrol vessel, Clacton Belle, to begin the difficult transfer of passengers to safety.

Shortly after the lifeboat left, the Peregrine broke in two. The crew then took shelter on the fore part of the wreck under the bridge until the lifeboat was able to return at dawn. On his return Coxswain William Hammond found considerably more dangerous conditions, with the Peregrine locked into the wreck of the Iris.

It took six teams pulling the lifeboat alongside the bow of the Iris, competing with the heavy seas, to carry out the rescue of the remaining panic-stricken crew, who were all amazingly saved free of injury. The severely damaged lifeboat reached Walton quay at 12.15pm, where a large crowd had gathered to greet the survivors after the miraculous rescue.

956 James Stevens No 14 Crew

Praise for the rescue crew (pictured above)  followed, culminating on January 12, 1918, when a letter was received from RNLI HQ confirming an award of the Silver Medal of the institution to the Coxswain Hammond and Bronze to the Second Coxswain, Mr J C Byford. During its service the lifeboat was launched 126 times and 227 lives were saved.

John Steer, who wrote a history book on the Walton lifeboats, said: “They were lucky to survive. “A few months later a smaller ship went ashore and was seen by everyone but by the time they got there everyone was lost.”

The James Stevens No 14 was re-discovered in the 1990’s and purchased by the Frinton & Walton Heritage Trust to restore her to her motorised state of 1906, and then use her to take the public out on short trips in local waters around Walton-on-the-Naze.

The restoration was completed after considerable hard work, voluntary effort and fundraising activity enabling James Stevens No.14 to be re-launched by TV presenter Griff Rhys Jones in September 2009 at Titchmarsh Marina, Walton-on-the-Naze, the craft’s operational base and where she is normally on view. On 3 June 2012 she was one of the historic vessels that took part in Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the River Thames

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John & Diane Weston

At this time of year when I find little time to write here I am always pleased to receive items I can include without too much effort on my part.

The following  piece, written by Steven Walker, is about probably two of the best and most dedicated naturalists Essex has ever known.

On the northern edge of the Naze lies the Essex Wildlife Trust reserve dedicated to John Weston, who was warden at the Naze for many years until his death in April 1984. To the casual walker it remains quite hidden behind the lagoon. The reserve was officially created in 1971, is 3.6 hectares in area and made up of blackthorn and bramble thickets, rough grassland and a number of ponds. It is a haven for migrating birds, butterflies and small animals. John was an environmental activist ahead of his time and together with his wife Diane dedicated much of his life to protecting, observing and recording wildlife around Hamford Water and the Naze. He spent his childhood in Lower Kirby where he developed a particular interest in bird watching, eventually becoming a founding member of Essex Wildlife Trust. Together John and Diane were at the forefront of the fight against a huge development at the Naze in 1959 for a hotel, leisure and housing scheme. This was just one of a number of applications for development threatening the Naze in the late 1950s which would have had an adverse impact on wildlife and the environment. In 1963 Essex County Council and the old Frinton and Walton Urban District Council were eventually forced to purchase the eastern part of the Naze, and declare it a public open space. The Westons organised a Little Tern and shore nesting bird wardening scheme at the Naze which began in the early 1970s and continues to this day. Diane was Chair of the Tendring local group of Essex Wildlife Trust for twenty five years following John’s death. She had also been joint Recorder and a Vice-President of the Essex Birdwatching Society. Over the years she organised numerous bird recording and fundraising events, maintaining the profile of Essex Wildlife Trust. Like John, she was a passionate conservationist and spent much of her time before her death in September 2014 to conserving wildlife in Tendring. Thanks to John and Diane Weston and the many people they inspired to carry on their work, the Naze remains a public amenity for all to enjoy.

Weston John1966

John Weston pictured in 1966

  John was a ‘fun guy’ – I knew him well. He was always up for a laugh.

One Christmas he decided to add a lighted candle to the top of a hat he was wearing. Dancing around his mother’s front room he promptly set alight the paper trimmings which festooned the room.



Frost Alec-John Weston

John Weston with Alec Frost at a fancy dress function

Weston Diane

Diane Weston

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A Bible Comes Home to Walton

Over the years I have been able to assist many readers of Walton Tales with information to help them with their genealogical research into Walton families. Now, this blog has helped me with my own family history.

After reading Walton Tales, a lovely lady named Jenny contacted me as we share a great grandfather. Although I should have perhaps remembered her from my childhood, I rather embarrassingly did not.

Jenny sent me copies of two hand-written pages at the front of a family bible owned by her grandmother, Elizabeth Ann Southgate who lived at Kirby Cross. I remembered this lady from my childhood as my father’s ‘Aunt Lizzie’.

The bible entries added or corrected some of the data I had researched many years ago.




I recently met up with Jenny, who lives in Suffolk, when she spent some time at the Lifehouse Spa and Hotel in Thorpe-le-Soken where she gave me the bible. She felt it should return home to Walton.


Frost Robert Arthur miller



Our great grandfather, Robert Arthur Frost pictured while working in the water mill at Walton.

Frost Robert Arthur + Mr Simmonds Tide millers

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Walton’s Telephone Exchange

During the summer months I find it difficult to find time to write posts here, so you can imagine how pleased I was to receive a story about Walton Telephone Exchange from Alan Beales, who was the engineer  trusted to keep the old exchange working back in the 1960s.
Alan’s story follows with some interesting additions by Rita Griggs, one of the telephonists.

Here are a couple of photographs from my Archive which I took in 1968 just before the exchange closed for good

Telephonists (3) 1968

Telephonists 1968


WALTON TELEPHONE EXCHANGE 1965 – 1968 (by Alan Beales)

In November of 1961 I joined the GPO on a two year apprenticeship. When this was completed, I was posted to Clacton and trained up to maintain the Exchange Manual Board.  My supervisor was called Ted, who spent most of his time in the rest room, handing me endless lists of repairs to sort out.

At this time I was only 18 and easy fodder for the practical jokes that were played on me by the operators.
I swiftly became bored with this job (and the endless banter) and requested a transfer to become a Linesman, which was my goal in life.

In 1964, I was then teamed up with various Linesmen in Clacton to learn the trade of repairing the phone network from the exchange to the subscribers’ phones.
My ambition was now on track.


By 1965, I was considered fit enough to be let loose on the unsuspecting public on my own. I was informed that because of the increasing demand for telephones, there was a new position at Frinton and Walton as a fully-fledged Linesman.
However, there was one snag, I couldn’t drive.
I was told that if I took an intensive weeks driving instruction and passed my test on the following Friday afternoon, I could take up the offer of the job on the following Monday.

There were three of us taking this driving course but I had the biggest advantage of us all
The Driving Instructor on the first morning out, commented on how unusual it was to find someone who had mastered the art of gear changing, braking etc. so quickly.
I pointed out that I have been driving Tractors since I was 13, the Instructors attitude immediately change to being quite hostile, “well we will soon get you out of those bad habits”.

I was successful and on the Monday morning I was given a Morris Minor Van and told to report to Bob Stone, Senior Linesman who covered Frinton and Walton.
Bob maintained Frinton exchange and I was to look after the subscribers and exchange at Walton.

At this time I was only 20 and on my first morning, Bob immediately took me on a conducted tour of Frinton and Walton exchanges.
It’s a good job he was with me, as I was shaking with nerves as he introduced me to the Supervisors, Alice at Frinton and Winnie Moss at Walton.
However, they soon put me at ease and made me feel very welcome.
Walton Telephone exchange was located in a private three storey house, to the right of the Head Post Office in the High Street.

walton tele exchange

However, my first visit into the Exchange, I was very relieved to find Rita Griggs who was a youngster like me, as the other ladies present were of a more senior age.

My senior area manager back at Clacton obviously didn`t trust me with a decent van so I was allocated the oldest vehicle in the fleet which had rubber front wings. Nice and flexible if you were to hit anything.
I think it was only on my second day at Walton, I had parked in the road outside the Telephone Exchange.

Looking out of the exchange window, I saw a Police Car parked behind the van with two policemen gesticulating at these wings. I hurriedly went out and made my presence known, to which they immediately remarked “are these wings legal?”
Having the vehicle only two days I had no idea, but I assured them that the GPO would never allow illegal vehicle on the road. They seemed convinced and left.

The Switch room at Walton was located in the front room of the house, with the kitchen and rest room in the lounge at the rear. The exchange Power Room was in the cellar, directly underneath where the operators were working.
Power for these small exchanges was supplied by a bank of lead acid batteries at 50v. These were invariably made of glass with exposed terminals and continuously trickle charged from the mains supply.
50v Direct Current was distributed out to the customer’s telephone, at this low voltage it posed no danger to the engineers who were working on exposed live wires.

In the event of a mains failure, these batteries would continue to supply power to the exchange hopefully for at least 24 hours.
Today the same system is used, but now with the addition of a standby Diesel Generator which immediately takes over on the loss of the mains supply.

The exchange day staff would work split shifts possibly 8 – 1 pm, 1 pm-6 pm then 6 pm until 10 pm. After 10 pm, the day shift finished and the night staff took over until 8 am the next morning.

The Night staff were permanent residents in the two floors above the exchange.

If anyone in Walton required the services of the operator, a bell would sound in the corridor or the switch room to alert the staff on duty.
I think Mrs Drinkwater, the Night Operator had some kind of bed or easy chair in the switch room.
After Mrs Drinkwater’s retirement, Marie Seaman took over until the exchange finally closed down.
I can only assume the house was owned by the GPO and eventually sold after closure.

The Switch room was very compact with three switchboards, a very small table for the supervisor and a Main Cable Frame where the underground cables terminated from the outside.

Telephonists (4) 1968

Each switchboard was designed to handle 100 subscribers.
At the time of writing this text, Rita Griggs informed me these were extended with the 3 boards eventually serving 400 Walton subscribers.
When the subscriber lifted their handset at home, this would cause a dolls-eye (flap) to drop on the switchboard which was labelled underneath with the relevant number.
The switchboard had a row of 24 paired cords each with an associated lever switch.
To answer the calling request, the operator would plug a cord into the jack associated with this line, operate the lever switch forward and speak to the calling subscriber.
If they required another local number, the other half of the paired cord was pushed into the switchboard jack associated with that number. Again with the lever, she would pull this back to send a ringing current to the other parties telephone.
This would complete the connection and the operator withdrew to answer the next call.

One of the most common practical jokes played by the operators on engineers was the use of the “ring” lever on the switchboard. The switchboards cords didn’t have a very long life span and frequently required changing.
Even on Walton’s three position suite, it was a daily task to change defective cords
I would go to the rear of the switchboard, take off the wooden cover to reveal the wiring inside and find the terminating position of the faulty cord.
I would proceed to undo the exposed brass connection terminals at the end of the cord and release it, ready to be replaced.
Normally there would be a small battery voltage on these terminals which was quite harmless.
However, if the operator knew what cord you were working on, they would permanently pull back hard on the associated switchboard key into the “ring position” and then sit and wait.
The normal harmless battery voltage was now changed to a much larger 70 – 90 volts AC voltage on the cord terminals.
Now when I touched the exposed terminals with my bare fingers, I would receive a nasty shock.
It was far from lethal, but usually gained the desired response from the back of the switchboard with “ouch” and a sudden reflex movement.
Switchboard plugs were manufactured with brass sleeve connectors and it didn’t take long for them to tarnish, which resulted in a very noisy connection. The cure, a rag and a tin of Brasso brought them back to new.
That would be a normal weekly routine, to take a board out of service during a quiet period and clean these plugs, with the “whiff” of Brasso in the air.

I recall one instance, it had been pouring with rain for hours, when Winnie Moss the Supervisor reported strange noises and smell from the cellar.
I was in Lower Kirby at the time and I raced as fast as I could through a torrential downpour to the exchange.
When I opened the door to the cellar, I was confronted with water nearly two feet deep, only a couple of inches from the top of a bank of lead acid batteries.
I hurriedly found a bucket in the kitchen and started to bail out the water, at the same time I asked Winnie to put out an urgent call for another engineer to come to my aid.
Eventually Bob Stone from Frinton arrived and between the two of us we gradually reduced the water level with copious buckets of water being thrown out the front door.
GPO batteries were not like car batteries; they weren’t sealed but had exposed terminals. If the water had ever reached the stage of short circuiting these terminals, the resulting damage could have been catastrophic.

I was also informed by Rita Griggs; the exchange had previously suffered a catastrophic failure, where the entire system shut down.
Winnie Moss despatched Joyce West off in her car up the Walton Road until she came to the first call box that was connected to the Frinton board. They would then pass on her urgent request for assistance.
We had various people coming round to the front door to see why they were not getting an answer”

The most likely cause would be a power failure in the cellar.

Rita also recalled “Winnie used to send me across to Osborne’s for ice cream and going over to the library on a Saturday afternoon how free and easy life seemed to be then. Marie Seaman used to send Ron I think that was her husband’s name across to Osborne’s for sweets during the evening shift. I think Osborne’s did well out of us.”

Each morning I would visit the exchange, where the Supervisor would give me a list of problems in the exchange and the telephone lines that required attention.  The exchange was always given the highest priority for any repairs.

Winnie Moss would often say, “It`s no good going to such and such a house, the lady has gone out  and won’t be back until after lunch”.
This avoided many wasted visits, when access was required to a property.
Winnie appeared to know most things that were going on in Walton.

All customer faults were usually resolved within a few hours of being reported, unlike today.

When I was there, some of the operators were Winnie Moss, Rita Griggs, Marie Seaman (night op), Doris Brice, Mrs Boon, Jackie Markham, and Joyce West.

I was very well looked after by these ladies, whenever I arrived if it coincided with a tea break a cup of tea was always waiting for me in the rest room. This was always welcome after being outside in the cold and wet weather.

My other duties were associated with the Head post Office next door. You must remember back in the 1960s the GPO was responsible for the Royal Mail and the Telephone network.
One of the most tedious tasks was to wind all the clocks once a week in both buildings.
In the front office of the HPO there was one large clock facing the road and another behind the counter.

I would emerge from a side door carrying an enormous step ladder, I then had to negotiate a path through the queue, erect the steps so I could reach the clock by the window.
Amazingly someone in the queue always held the steps steady for me, no Health and Safety in those days.
With a 7 day spring it took ages to fully wind up, I always took it very easy as I always dreaded the sound of a spring breaking

I also had to maintain all the machinery at the rear, in the Sorting Office.
There was no official training; you just had to figure out most things by yourself.

One very messy task once a week, was to clean and thoroughly overhaul the automated stamp cancelling machine. The main problem was the build-up of indelible ink on the rollers and the guides of the machine. These had to be removed and thoroughly cleaned in special fluid, then reassembled in addition to topping up the large ink reservoir.
With no Latex gloves in those days, the only way to get your hands reasonably clean afterwards was the copious use of Vim and a scrubbing brush.
I must have removed a layer of my skin each week undertaking this task, no wonder I had smooth skin!

Another task was a monthly check on the Counter Scales. I had a wooden box which contained a variety of given weights; these would be placed on the scales if they gave an accurate reading. If there was any discrepancy the scales were adjusted.

One of most interesting customers was a visit to the farm on Horsey Island owned by the Backhouse family.
The only drawback, being it was only accessible by a causeway during low tide, I think I had 2 hours leeway either side.
The owners were keen horse breeders, who relied heavily on a working telephone.
It was too hazardous to use a heavily laden small van to traverse the causeway and so I would arrange for a large Bedford 4 wheel drive truck and a driver from the Colchester Depot to get me across to the island.

I can recall sitting on the seawall on numerous occasions at 5 am or 6 am, waiting for dawn to break, the lorry and the scheduled early morning low tide.
I had to take over every conceivable piece of equipment to effect a repair, the option of a return visit the next day was not on.

Over the years it must have cost the GPO a fortune in repairs, it seemed like I was over there at least once a month, but I never did get trapped there by an incoming tide.

However, in 1969 the GPO was divided into the Royal Mail and Post Office Telephones, so our partnership with the Postal side came to an abrupt end.

I was at Walton and Frinton until they both closed down in 1968 when they were taken over by the automated telephone exchange in Old Parsonage Way.

When the exchange finally closed down Winnie Moss, Doris Brice and Rita Griggs moved to the Colchester manual board.
Joyce West moved to Telephone House, working in the Administration Centre next door.

Rita Griggs joined as a telephonist when she was only 16, working at several manual boards in the Colchester area. Her final posting was to Walton until its closure, she subsequently transferred to Colchester finally retiring in 1973
Rita currently lives at Wix.

The day after closure, I was transferred back to Clacton until 1973 when I was transferred to Colchester.


Alan Beales: – Engineer
Rita Griggs: –  Telephonist


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For those of us who remember the thrill of riding on the little train which ran on the Pier, I have some good news.

The engine named ‘Dreadnought’ has been found almost alive and well in Staffordshire.

It is now owned by Ammerton Railway near Stafford who also have one of the Pier’s old passenger coaches in service. ‘Dreadnought’ is currently awaiting engine repairs before it too will be back on the rails. The photo below is courtesy of our local railway expert John Mann who found the engine.

Processed with Snapseed.
Here are some more photos of the train when working on the Pier from the 1950s to 1970s

835 Pier Train142-12 Pier Train2615 Pier Railway Train lr2618 Pier Railway Train lr

The photo below which Jill Joshua has given to me, shows her father, Roy Turner, who
painted, maintained and drove the engine for many years. Jill, unlike the rest of us, was privileged to ride with her dad in the cab.

Roy Turner

While on the subject of steam trains the photo below, which was taken by Ben Brooksbank in March 1960, takes me back to my schooldays when I traveled to school in Colchester on these evocative locomotives.

This is one of the last two steam locomotives based at Walton – a Class N7/5 number 69651 which ran its final service from Thorpe-le-Soken to Walton on the evening of December 31st 1960. Next day it left Walton with engine 69650 for the last time.
As can be seen in the photo, electrification of the line was complete.

2279 Railway Station steam train + electrification

Thanks to John Mann for all this information.

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I have just been given this 1947 photo of Class 4 at Walton Primary School complete with most of the pupils’ names. There are a few unidentified as indicated by ??

Can you name them?

The lovely white haired teacher is Miss Lockyer who was one of the first of my teachers at the school .

Walton Primary School Class4 1947

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David Howells – A Remarkable Story

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.                        Dave Removal
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 wiPhylis.Gwilymth 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. Dave BabyYour 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 Dave growing up in walesdifferent 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. Dave mum josefa2The 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 Dave father2Holszinger. 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. Dave peterhubertgrppowI 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.

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