- Contributed by
- Alison Slater
- People in story:
- Ewart Flintoff, Vera Huggett, Raymond French, Karen Cockwell and Alison Slater
- Location of story:
- England (Kent) and Canada (Ontario)
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 10 September 2004
'I've got a million things to tell you' — A Second World War Lovechild finds his family after 62 years — by Alison Slater
On 22nd October 1941 a baby boy was born in 33 Nile Road, Gillingham, Kent. The boy was named Ewart Reginald Huggett.
The baby's mother was Vera Vivienne Rhoda Huggett of 122 Wellington Street, Gravesend, Kent. The baby's father was a Canadian soldier by the name of Ewart Robert Reginald Flintoff.
On 9th January 1942, three month old baby Ewart was adopted by William and Winifred French of 173 Old Road West, Gravesend, Kent. Upon his adoption the baby's name was changed to Raymond William French.
Raymond William French is my father and is now sixty two years old. He still lives in Gravesend.
What follows is a true account of his life, as we know it and of our recent remarkable discovery.
As a child Ray was very happy. His adopted parents already had grown up children of their own. Bill, Ron and Margaret (known as Mickie). William and Winifred did not have a lot of money so times were quite hard. Ray has many childhood stories to tell; in fact he has remarkable recollection of significant events from his childhood. He remembers a soldier visiting him when he was a very young child. When he was older and learned of his adoption, it became clear to him that that soldier was in fact his Canadian father. At the end of the war, the visits stopped and he remembers being told that the soldier had to go back to Canada because he had a little girl there that needed him.
When Ray was fifteen, his sister Mickie told him that Mum and Dad were not his real parents and that his real father was a Canadian soldier. She told Ray his father's name and that of his mother. Ray is also given a photograph of his father in uniform. At the time Ray did not seem unduly bothered by this revelation, it was as if he had somehow known all along. In fact, in the way that children do, he used to pretend that he had a glamorous father. Ray recalls a time when he was about ten and one of the local children teased him about his Dad being a little old man! Of course William would have been in his late fifties then so compared with other parents he was old. Anyway, on this occasion, Ray rose to the jibes and retorted; 'Well he isn't my real Dad anyway! My real Dad is a 6ft tall American soldier!' The taunting child just said, 'Yes I know!' Once Ray had been told of his adoption, it became clear that in fact that he was possibly the only one in the street that didn't actually know.
Years pass, Ray starts work at AEI Cables Northfleet and joins a band with his friends. When Ray is 19 William French dies and Ray and his mother are left with nowhere to live. They move in with Mickie, her husband Dennis and their young children.
It is fair to assume that the loss of his adopted father affected Ray badly. He starts to wonder about his real father and to ask himself questions such as 'Why didn't he want me?' Oddly Ray never had the same desire to ask the same question of his real mother. He now puts this down to the fact that he was told that she wasn't a very nice person. I'm sure now that it may merely have been because of the circumstances of his birth. In any case Ray's fascination with his Canadian father begins...
Ray gets married to Carole in 1965 and in 1967 they go along with Mickie and Winifred to pay a visit on Bette and Tom Andrews. The couple had lived at 33 Nile Road since the time of Ray's birth. Ray recalls being told that there was a connection between them and his real father. He asks them whether he could have the address of his real father. They tell him that they lost contact with him a number of years ago and have no address for him. Ray doesn't believe them but knows that he can do nothing about it. He leaves feeling very down and rejected.
A friend suggests that Ray should write to the Department of Veterans' Affairs in Canada to obtain an address of his father. Ray does this and a letter comes back from them saying that they cannot divulge addresses of any ex military personnel. They suggest that he could write a letter and they would pass it on to the last known address. Ray does this. He hears nothing!
I was born in 1969 and for the first time Ray feels as though he has something that is a part of him. This is further cemented in 1971 when my brother David is born. Sadly just before David was born Winifred passes away.
From the moment that David and I could understand, we remember our Dad telling us about his glamorous father. We used to imagine how great it would be if we were called Flintoff and lived in Canada. Although never far from his mind, Dad doesn't feel compelled to write anymore letters to Veterans' Affairs, for the time being.
In 1985 Ray and Carole separate and for the next few years, Ray spends quite a lot of time on his own. During this period his mind once again turns to his Canadian father. He told me that what he really wanted to do was to go and tap him on the shoulder and say 'Well what do you think of me?' Ray couldn't imagine how a father could not want to know his own child. Then in 1990, not knowing whether his father was alive or dead, he writes what he intends to be his last attempt and trying to find his father. The letter simply states, 'I've got a million things to tell you!' He sends this letter via the Department of Veterans' Affairs Canada. This letter was later to become a vital piece of the puzzle.
During a visit to Canada in 1993, David looked for Flintoffs in the telephone directory. He rang the numbers but nothing was forthcoming.
Sadly, during the next ten years Ray loses two of his adopted siblings, Bill and Mickie. Despite having suffered with cancer Ron is happy and well and is now in his eighties.
In the year 2001, Ray turns 60. Maureen (Ray's partner) and her sons arrange to have the photograph of Ray's father enlarged and framed. They give this to Ray on his birthday. The resemblance between the soldier in the photograph and Ray is astounding.
We now skip forward to 2003. Dad pops in for a chat from time to time and invariably our topic of conversation drifts towards his parentage. I have always been curious but had never tried to help Dad in his search. One evening in November 2003, I suggested to Dad that I research sites on the Internet. He agrees that this is a good idea and I make notes on the things that I was not clear on. All we actually wanted to achieve was to see the name Ewart Robert Reginald Flintoff somewhere. We were trying to find anything about the man's life. We figured that he was no longer likely to be alive but absurdly it may mean we would find something.
I therefore embarked on a mission to find out as much as I could. I ordered a copy of Dad's birth and adoption certificates as Dad had only an old adoption certificate in his possession. I then wrote to the National Archives of Canada and see if I could get any information regarding my grandfather. They response was, as I had envisaged - no! Over the next few months I searched through lots of different sites and found no reference whatsoever to Ewart Robert Reginald Flintoff.
Then on 23rd February 2004, I stumbled across the Project Roots site. Project Roots was set up by Lloyd and Olga Rains in Holland, to help the children of the liberation. I started to get quite excited as I read about the fascinating job they do reuniting English and Dutch 'war children' with their Canadian fathers. I then came across a section, dedicated to Canadians who think they may have siblings in England or Holland. I never imagined in a millions years that I would find anything but I scrolled down to F for Flintoff and there as bold as brass was an entry for Ewart Robert Reginald Flintoff. I felt as though my heart was going to jump out of my chest. Then with shaking hands I clicked on to his name and there as mad as it seemed were the words:
Ewart Robert Reginald Flintoff, is your son Raymond French looking for you?
Unbelievably, I was staring at my dad's name alongside that of the dad he had never known. It was an article posted in 2000 from Karen Cockwell (nee Flintoff) — as it turns out the very same little girl that Ewart had to go back to at the end of the war! We learnt from this article that sadly Ewart had passed away in 1998 and whilst clearing out his things, Karen came across a letter forwarded from the Department of Veterans' Affairs in 1990. The letter simply said 'I've got a million things to tell you.' It took a month to finally make contact with Karen, but on 2nd April 2004 Ray spoke to his half sister Karen for the first time. On 21st April 2004 Ray travelled to Ottawa and met Karen for the first time. He also met his half brother Brian. He has one more half sister that he has still to meet.
The void that has always been present in my Dad's life has now been filled. He now knows why Ewart left him to go back to Canada. He has learnt about the life Ewart lived in Canada and of the choices that he had to make. He learnt about the man his father became and how the war left some deep scars. Dad has now been welcomed, with open arms, by his brother and sisters in Canada and now truly feels as though he belongs.
For me, my story cannot end here. My months of searching and questioning led me inevitably to uncover some information about Dad's mother and that has now sparked my curiosity. My motivation for searching for Ewart was the love I have for my Dad. My motivation for looking for Vera is curiosity and a deep-rooted need to piece the final link in the puzzle together. I know for instance that she was married to someone named Cyril Huggett in 1938. I know that her maiden name was Saunter. We know also that she had another child a year prior to my Dad and that her name was Sheila. My search continued! See the rest of the story.
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