March 9, 2009
Mother and long-lost son reunited ... after a lifetime spent living just 20 miles apart
11th September 2008
A mother and her long-lost son have finally been reunited after 62 years - only to find they had been living just 20 miles apart.
Audrey Gilder, 80, had not seen her eldest son Alf Belcher since she was forced to put him up for adoption in 1946 when she became pregnant out of wedlock.
Alf was sent to a children's home and was later adopted. Audrey - who later married his father - never thought she would see him again.
But on her diamond wedding anniversary she received 'the best present money could buy' - a phone call out of the blue from her son.
Mr Belcher, now 62, had never given up hope of a reunion and had spent his entire adult life wondering where his mother was.
Today, she told how she had been forced to give up her son and how they had been tearfully reunited.
The retired factory worker of Peterborough, Cambs - now a great-grandmother - said: 'He rang the doorbell and I just knew he was my son, because he was the image of my brother, Peter.
'I had given up hoping this would happen. I'd missed him so desperately all these years.'
'When I told my mum I had fallen pregnant she would not let me keep him. She ruled the roost in those days, and what she said went.'
She added: 'Alf has now met his dad and siblings as well. It's just wonderful. There's so much to catch up on.
'So this was the best anniversary present ever.'
Her parents forced her to give up her son for adoption
Lorry driver Mr Belcher, who lives in nearby Alconbury, Cambs, said: 'It's staggering to think how close we were.
'The odds are we were in the same shop, at the same time, and we probably walked past each other.'
Audrey became pregnant as an 18-year-old when she lived with her parents in the village of Abbot's Ripton, Cambs.
But her middle-class parents frowned upon the pregnancy, and Audrey was sent away in disgrace to a nearby maternity home until her son - whom she named Philip - was born in 1948.
Philip was sent to a children's home, put up for adoption against her wishes and renamed by his new 'parents'.
Audrey married his father Mark Gilder, now 87, two years after his birth and the couple moved to Peterborough, Cambs, to begin a new life together.
Philip was later adopted by a couple in their 50s in Huntingdon, Cambs, about 20 miles from Peterborough, and was renamed Alf.
He spent his childhood within a 20-mile radius of Peterborough, and finally settled in Alconbury in 2006.
Mr Belcher never knew the names of his real parents until he obtained a copy of his own birth certificate in 2006 and decided to track them down.
With the help of his partner Stephanie Fletcher, 50, he scoured the telephone books, spoke to residents, and eventually found someone who knew his mother's address.
And on June 23 he met his biological parents for the first time.
(*Loss: The extended family Mr. Belcher lost when he was adopted)
Now Mr Belcher, himself a father-of-two with ten grandchildren, has a new extended family - two sisters Tina, 57, Lynn, 58, as well as a late brother Edwin who committed suicide at the age of 17, in 1982.
He said: 'I didn't have the easiest of childhoods. My adoptive father died when I was 10 and my mother when I was 27.
'Now I've gained a whole new massive family. My happiness is tinged with sadness at what I've missed out on … but better late than never.'