My current name is
DAVID ANTHONY HOWELLS
My putative Mother was JOSEFA AUER né STANEK.
Her husband was FRANZ AUER. They lived in Traisensiedl, Austria near Vienna. No putative father's name on my original Birth Certificate.
My name is David Anthony Howells. I was born originally with the name Anthony Auer in Colchester. My mother was a 'local' at Widdington in the late 1940`s, but had originally come from Austria. Her name was Josefa Auer, previously Stanek and might have been known as Josie or Josephine to many of you at that time. Much of what I have learned about her life and her character, I owe to the accurate memories of the more mature inhabitants of Widdington.
I am the Head of Design and Technology in a South Wales Comprehensive School, and I now live at the South Western edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park at Penycae. Madame Patti, the famous opera singer used to live in Craig-Y-Nos castle just one mile north of Penycae. I have lived in the South Wales Valleys since I was collected from Walton-on-the-Naze after both my adopted parents died within three months of each other in 1956, by my uncle Edgar. Edgar and his wife Myfanwy had told me very little about my father or mother and my life in Walton-on-the-Naze, but I had their death certificates given to me some years later in my late teens. 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 until they had died in December 1955 and March 1956 respectively. On my mothers` 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 had 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. I was then informed that there was no record of my birth at St Catherines 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' she added. 'It is Austrian or German. Your name is Anthony Auer' and she gave me my birth certificate. 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 and Stanek for me. Some time later, I visited Walton, but on the way I came to Widdington, 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. I use maps in my sport, motor rallying in Wales, I have competed in many rallies over the years as a navigator, and noticed that the larger houses on the maps stood out loud and clear, Springhill, The Hall, Red House, Swaynes Hall, and Mole Hall, some had moats. 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. I can remember driving towards Widdington, becoming very excited, like a child who is awaiting the moment to open the 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.
My Mother, Josefa
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 the door. 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. I walked around wondering what my mother had done there. I was walking where my mother had walked, sliding my hand up the stair rail she had touched, and stepped in her footsteps around the house and garden. The entrance hall at Pond Mead was atmospheric and is still clear in my mind now, and it made me think of all those people who had been greeted there in times gone by, and all those sad goodbyes that would have also taken place, just inside the door and on the doorstep. Grant told me as much as he knew about Pond Mead, 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 lifeboat in Walton in the late 1800`s. 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 someones ashes at sea. There were gale warnings and 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 wouldn`t 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 cousin, John`s house, I made a phone call that would change my life. I had already listed a set of Auers and Staneks from the phone directory from weeks before. My cousin John Oxley convinced me to phone the numbers and make some sort of contact with what might be blood relatives of mine. I decided to ask, after introducing myself about the origin of the name only, and would react accordingly to the atmosphere of the replying voice. My second call was made to Peter Auer from Stansted. I recall it well, and I always get goosebumps up my arms when I tell people about the call, I`ve got them even now!!
My Father, Peter Hubert
`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 mothers name was Josefa. The phone went quiet, and the silence seemed to go on forever. He said that his mothers 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 goes 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 couldn`t previously have been explained. 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. I did get to school later that day, but lessons , pupils and teaching were the last thing on my mind. 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, and 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 Phyllis's death. 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 when Phyllis and Gwilym had both died within three months of each other, and then I disappeared to Wales with an Aunt Blodwyn. 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 had been able to supply me with some more information. I walked about the house in a semi daze wondering and trying to imagine all sorts of scenarios of past years in the house. Which room would my mother have slept in? Where did she spend most of her time? Did she use the beautiful garden for leisure moments? What was Josefa's laughter like? Was her voice strong German sounding? Did my father work here in those years? How did they meet? and where I might have been conceived? Why did she have me adopted ? and what was their situation at the time? Again I had a sharper sensation about the entrance hall and stairway, as if it knew things, and wanted to speak to me. Pond Mead held a fascination for me. It all happened here or nearby. Grant suggested that I speak to Jeremy Dillon-Robinson and I arranged to meet him the following day. I remember the next morning. The frost was very hard at 6.30, when I was anxiously up, out of bed and out in the village walking about. The entire village had a white covering, and I have some good photographs from that morning, while I was trying to absorb the atmosphere of the village and having some of my questions hopefully answered by the biting air. I met Jeremy later that morning at Priors Hall. We chatted in a small kitchen for some time, I remember his wife being there too, but there was not a great deal that could be recollected about Josefa or the 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 mothers sister Anna, who used to run the Coach and Horses Pub at Quendon with her husband known as 'Ash'. Anna was a quiet woman, who seemed naturally apprehensive about my somewhat sudden appearance on the scene, and my few searching questions were thinly answered by her. Her answers were of no great significance to me , 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 Peters house and he was able to give me some phographs of our mother and we chatted about our lives, and filled in some of the spaces that had been in our lives. Peter and his family surprisingly had limited information about the family and my fathers 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 late last year 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 my 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-on -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'`. However, my spirits were high and enthusiasm effervescing and although I made many, many phone calls, wrote e-mails and letters, people reciprocated with the same enthusiasm to help me. I have received a great deal of information from e-mail and posted letters, much of it, giving relevent and valued information about my family, Widdington and it`s history.
The Widdington Chronicles which were sent to me by Mrs Doreen Robson made a monumental difference to my search, understanding of the village and it`s contribution to the inhabitants during those years were very important. I appreciate too, the contributers who gave their time to write the accounts from their early years in the village, and consequently I have been able to make good contacts. The information has taken me along a route that can enables me to state in April 2002, that my father is almost positively named Peter and he worked and stayed at The Wyses with The Holgates. I owe much of the most recent information to Peter Sanders and the Hoy family, John, George and Marie who were able to remember my father with some accuracy, and recall events of the late forties. Peter was friendly with another German called Matthias Holzinger, who both lived in a comfortable shed at the back of Wyses, and his friend Richard Ihms. I have been told that Peter was a handsome man, who was fairly dark skinned and George remembers him visiting the village about 8 years ago, with his family. I have spent a long time searching the family and my father, and I have to thank all those villagers of Widdington for their assistance.
What do I do now? What I really need now, is to find somebody who can either recall either Peter`s surname or knows other people who either worked with him, so that I can access the surname. Perhaps, a friend or work colleague who might have known his name. It is likely that some documentation may still be in existance about the foreign workers in the village from the late forties. I can only hope that somehow the last piece of my personal jigsaw can be found and inserted into the picture, and my other plan is to visit Widdington very soon.
The visit to Essex came at the beginning of the half term holiday May 31 2002. I decided to travel during the early hours of the morning as I usually do. We left Penycae at 5.00 am and made good time to get to the sea shore 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, and then we wandered around the town before settling on the beach. During the next two days we visited a several family members there, and chatted about a variety of things including my story. I did, discover by accident that My Aunt Ethel who died some years ago, never wrapped presents before or on the 15th December. The reason for this was that the day my adopted mother Phyllis died was the 15th at Vicarage Lane in 1955. I had always thought that Phyllis had taken her own life because of the very bad and traumatic year she had in 1955. Ada, her younger sister had been sent home as incurable , and then died at our house at Vicarage Lane. Just before her death, her other sister Edie had also died after drinking disinfectant and earlier in the year 3 other brothers and sisters had died also. Phyllis was also in the `change of life` and had some medical disorder, whereby her legs would give way on occasions. 1955, would be a year that many would remember in Walton-on-the-Naze and some would prefer to forget. Ethel, my Aunt at Walton lived nearby in Vicarage Lane and was summoned when my mother was discovered by my adopted father Gwilym on December 15th. Ethel had obviously discovered in the house after Phyllis's death that every Christmas present that was bought had already been carefully wrapped and tagged, ready for Christmas morning. This resulted in Ethel preferring to avoid the tragic thoughts of 1955 when Phyllis obviously took her own life in her best nightdress in a bath of cold water . As far as I'm concerned, This was the first piece of solid evidence that my adopted mother Phyllis had taken her own life.
The following day of my visit at Walton was beautifully fine and sunny. We anxiously awoke, had breakfast and wandered around the town, visiting some more of the family there. Everybody had a great time during the Golden Jubilee celebrations on the Square in Walton High Street, meeting Peter and Owen Frost who I used to play with as a child in Walton. Monday came quite quickly and we found ourselves in Widdington about 12.30, 'gate crashing' another Jubilee Party celebration on the 'Green' at Hamel's Way. I met Doreen Robson there and a few others. We were made very welcome, considering we were strangers. We met George, John and Marie Hoy later on at their house, and chatted over a great deal of memories during two long afternoons. There were discrepancies in the movement of my mother in those years, and what was written down on adoption papers in 1949/50. It seems that Josefa and her sister Anna had arrived before the war. Anna stayed on after getting married to Ashley Smith and ran the Coach and Horses Public House at Quendon and my mother Josefa had to go back to Austria for the war effort. She was married in Traisen, Austria in 1942, gave birth to her son Peter [my half brother] in 1944 and apparently returned to Widdington by 1947, without her son Peter, preferring to leave him with her husband Franz. She stated that she was divorced on my adoption papers, and brought Peter over here sometime around my birth in 1950.
I had a wonderful time at Widdington during those two days, and returned to Wales thinking even more thoughts and trying to piece my mothers movements together during those tragic years during the war. I know that many people at Widdington found conflicting irregularities in the story hard to understand, but I have now, an army of researchers and locals helping me to make logical sense of the evidence I now have in my possession.
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 after the Holgates. The result was a phone call, in which John remembers my father and his name PETER HUBERT, 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. Matthias had unfortunately died, but his wife was able to recall Peter and stated that his surname was HUBERT also!! `Unbelievable!!`
So there I was with my fathers name Peter Hubert and some more work to do. I have also a few connections who say that they remember him and have some photographs may exist with Peter on them. What a bonus!
Some days later, in fact the 18th July, just, one month to the day from finding my fathers name. I was sent a photograph of a group of people at The International Club from the fifties, with my father included. It`s always nicely surprising to look at the mail inside my door and recognise the Essex postmark. I always know that the information before opening it, will be a major contribution to my searching work. The letter that day was sent by Hermann Richter, who is a contact that I had been given by Sheila Barton, who is a major force in my search. She is always optimistic and hugely motivated about my quest, and I owe a great deal to her for her continuing tenacity and uplifting conversations on the phone.
It was after the Summer vacation and into the school term that I received another letter, this time from Deutsche Dienststelle, Berlin on September 28, 2002. The letter was accompanied by relevant p.o.w. 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. 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 10 months. I had always prepared myself for the worst, but over the last year I had made so much great progress and I must have convinced myself that negative information was not going to be an option or a possibility. Everybody who had helped me along the way was going to be disappointed. I sat for the remainder of the evening in a speechless state. This was not a normal condition of mine, I tend to be hyper vocal, but the phone call had reduced me to 'a mute' for the rest of the night.
The next morning I awoke with a fresh determination to find out what I could from the contents of the letter. I attacked the internet with a fevered pace and checked the towns that were mentioned and adjusted my e-mails and story accordingly. I have since had a new e-mail which has informed me of a Peter Hubert in the Ludwigshafen phone directory. I thought that this is more than likely to be his address. I later phoned Louise and Herman in Dorsten and told them about the recent news. 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.
The Prisoners of War
It was half term when I decided to go to Widdington and Bishops Stortford. The purpose was to meet The Hoy Family..George, Marie and John and also Sheila Barton who has been a main force in my searches. I also wanted to visit my mothers' grave, and call in on Bill and Inge Adomeit at Whittlesford.
Again, I had a memorable visit to Widdington and the local area, spending the night in Henham. I went to see the adopted family at Walton-on-the-Naze the following day, and the sun shone on us again. It seemed like five minutes later that I found myself stationary on the M25 with four lanes of traffic. 5-6 hours of travelling to get home, on a journey that has taken me 2 hours in the past.
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 the previous 12 months. However, the surviving sister Irene still lives in Ludwigshafen and has been told of my existence and now wants to meet me. Our communication with each other has been exciting and informative, and is all very hard to comprehend. I have found my family!! and the family is really pleased to have me invade their lives. It would appear that my arrival has been placed nicely in Irene`s life. She has been 'very low' after the deaths of her mother, father and sister and is pleased that her family has been extended a little in the last few days by my arrival. I am very fortunate that Irene has accepted the situation and included me into her family. Irene's daughter and son-in-law have recently had quite a few extended phone conversations with me. I am fortunate that they both speak English, and we were able to make good exchanges on the telephone. Sigrid and Stuart are both surgeons in local hospitals, and have assisted me in communication with my sister Irene. They are 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 Irene, until two weeks ago. I have also learned about my Grandparents and Great Grandparents, and their lives in Romania, and also have photographs of them from that time. The events of the last few weeks have been wonderful, and seems as though my personal life jigsaw is almost complete. I have in my hand the remaining pieces of the jigsaw and they equate to the few spaces I have left in the picture. All I have to do now, is put the pieces in the empty spaces correctly. ..A piece of cake !!
We have been 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 has now gone. I ordered the passports and booked the flights. We are flying out to Frankfurt on the 28th of December 2002 and I can hardly wait. As far as I`m concerned Christmas day is now the 28th of December. If there was any reason to shed the fear for flying in an Aeroplane, then, this is it. We`re going!! I am certain we will be welcomed there with open arms and I have no doubt about anything regarding our meeting. We have all spoke on the phone and we all agree that all our lives have changed, and that a new life begins here, with new found family.
Thanks everybody !!
Widdington and Newport will always be a special place to me, and I will always 'keep in touch' with the locals there. I`d like to thank many people in the area, in particular George, Marie and John Hoy, Peter Sanders, Doreen Robson, Grant Geen, Daphne Bridgeman, Alan Calver, Gillian Dillon-Robinson, John Penney, Sheila Barton, Herman Richter, Bill and Inge Adomeit, Hermene Holzinger, Beryl Ihm, Herman and Louise Hugel of Dorsten.
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. I think I will regret the years I have wasted in between finding out I was adopted and obtaining the information of Sepember, 28th 2002.
To all the locals in Widdington and the surrounding area. Thankyou.
You have all been an inspiration to me and without you
I would have learned nothing.