October 14, 2008

"I'd Given Up Hope..."

George Hall, reunited with his family aged 90. Photograph: Henry Browne

'I'd given up hope of finding my mother'
George Hall was adopted in 1922, aged four. He had always hoped to
track down his biological family, but at 90 was living alone with no
relatives left. Then a letter arrived ...


The Guardian,
Monday October 13 2008

I was put up for adoption in 1922 at the age of four, before official
adoption records began. My mother, Margaret Allen, had been 19 when
she'd had me, outside of marriage, and she was forced to give me up
when she met and married a first world war veteran. All I ever knew
about my father was that he and my mother met and courted during the
war. I always assumed that he returned to the front and got killed but
whether that's true or not I will never know.

My adoptive parents were strict, but they looked after me well and
treated me as their own. They sent me to a Catholic school in
Stratford, east London, fed me, clothed me and gave me toys.
Eventually, I found out that they'd had their own son. He had been
sent out to get a bottle of lemonade and was run over and killed by a
horse and cart. In some ways I think I was a replacement for him.

As much as my adoptive parents wanted me to love them, I knew they
were not my real mother and father, and I resented them for it.
Occasionally, one of them would ask me to sit on their lap and read a
comic but I would want to run a mile. When I was 13, I rummaged
through my adoptive father's papers and found my adoption certificate,
which only made me feel more unwanted.

My adoptive parents seemed to have few friends, but this was partly
due to the number of times we moved house around east London. I later
found out that this was to stop my mother from finding me when her
husband died in 1928 of his old war wounds.

After I left school at 14, I went through a series of jobs before
joining up as a Royal Marine in 1940 to fight in the second world war,
the same year that I met my wife Joan. I was one of the lucky ones - I
came back from the war, and when I was demobbed in 1944, Joan and I
went to live in Rainham, east London. I went back to my job as a
machinist at a paper company, and in 1945 we had our first and only
child, Barbara. It was an emotional moment for me when she was born,
and around that time I started thinking about trying to trace my own
mother. I'd always spoken to my wife about it, but in those days it
was not advisable to go around talking to people about illegitimate
children - it was the sort of thing that could easily have broken up
marriages. To have had a child out of wedlock was a sin and a

The problem was that I had very little to go on. All I had was a
lasting memory of going to a wedding as a young boy in Limehouse,
where my mother had lived. For some reason I had it set in my mind
that the person who got married that day was my mother. So I went up
to Limehouse and tracked down the house where the wedding had been

By an extraordinary stroke of luck the woman who answered the door
remembered the wedding. She said the person who got married had been a
twin and a teacher, but she had no idea where she now lived. I went to
the local newsagent and asked if there was anyone by the name of Snell
(my mother's married name) living nearby. And indeed, after knocking
on a couple of doors, I was eventually directed down the road to some

By the time I arrived to find a woman putting washing out on a line, I
had pretty much convinced myself that I was going to find my mother.
But when I explained who I was looking for she said, "Oh, no, that's
not me. I have had no children like that." I even asked her if she was
certain, I was that disappointed. I had no one to turn to and, as far
as I was concerned, that was the end of it. I gave up hope of finding
my mother, but the desire to find out about her has remained with me
for the rest of my life.

Years later, in 1992, my wife contracted cancer. She was a fighter and
I am proud to say that I looked after her until her last day in 1994.
She had always said she wanted to live until she was 70 - or three
score years and ten as she said - and she got her wish. My life became
very difficult for a period, but eventually I made an effort to get
out of the house, and that was when I met Rita. Although you never
stop grieving for someone, you have to move on. Rita helped me to do
that and we enjoyed a lot of good times together. But casting a shadow
over those years was the fact that only two years after my wife's
death, my daughter Barbara was also diagnosed with cancer. In a cruel
twist of fate Rita was also diagnosed with the disease and died in
October 2004. After battling for 10 years, Barbara passed away in
January the following year.

We all think our children should survive us, and all I could think was
that I was the one who should have died. I suffered from panic attacks
and used to kick up such a stink that the neighbours would have to
call the doctor round to give me tablets to quieten me down.

Soon after, what my doctor had thought was arthritis turned out to be
a burst appendix. At the age of 87, it was more than I could take. I
wanted to die and - in my more delirious moments - I said exactly
that. Without some friends who helped me through that period, I am
sure I would not be here today.

Then, out of the blue in early 2006, I received a letter. It was from
a cousin called Rodney on my adoptive parents' side who was
researching his family tree and wanted to meet me. We ended up
becoming good friends and Rodney agreed to help me try to trace my
mother using my adoption certificate. He'd had so many difficulties
tracing his own family, though, that I did not get my hopes up.

One day, only a couple of months ago now, Rodney phoned me sounding
excited and said he had good news. He had discovered that my mother,
Margaret, had married again in 1935 and what's more, she'd had three

I was flabbergasted to think there was someone out there who was a
living connection to my mother.

A couple of days later, Rodney phoned again. He said, "Guess what
George, I've been talking to your nephew, Timothy." I nearly fell out
of my chair. "He was a bit aghast when he heard that he had an uncle,
but he has agreed to talk to his father," Rodney continued. "His name
is David and he lives in Rutland." Obviously finding out that your
mother had an illegitimate child when she was a teenager can come as a
bit of a surprise, so when Timothy told David about me he was a little
sceptical at first. But he rang round his relatives and an aunt
admitted to him that Margaret had revealed the existence of her long-
lost son before she died.

David agreed he would come down from Rutland the following weekend and
before I knew it, my long lost half-brother was standing at my door.
We both have a bit of our mother's Greek looks about us so it was
obvious we were related. He dived in and clasped me and we both got

We shared our histories and David told me a great deal about what sort
of person my mother was. She was apparently very caring. After her
second marriage in 1935 she had retrained as a psychiatric nurse. All
the time we were talking, sitting side by side, he would not let go of
my hand.

We also discovered that we had the same sense of humour, and before
the day was out he not only gave me a photo of my mother but a lock of
her hair too. To never know what your mother looks like and then, at
the age of 90, to be given a photo of her is a feeling I cannot put
into words. Before he left I asked him, "David, this is not just going
to be a one-off is it?" To my relief he assured me it wasn't.

Finding my family has lifted me up. When you live in a small
retirement flat on your own it makes all the difference in the world
to know you have family outside the four walls around you. I have
something to think about and plans to make. If I want to talk to
someone, I can phone them. I've got a laptop now and have learned to
email, which is useful because I have relations all over the place to
catch up with, including another half-brother in Australia called
Peter. His son has just had a boy so there's another family member to
think of.

Some people say it's a shame we were not reunited all those years ago,
that it's such a waste. I say better late than never.

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