I was born in 1961 in Peterborough, England. My mother Maureen was 17 when she became pregnant and my father Tom, was 22. He was stationed at Alconbury USAF Base and worked in the fire department. They had met at the NCO Club on the base, where many young women from the area were encouraged to visit, in some cases on buses organised by the base itself. It became apparent that Tom was already married but he vowed to divorce his wife back in West Virginia and take Maureen and the forthcoming baby back to the US. However, before I was born, Tom’s wife arrived in England with their son. Three months after I was born, Tom’s second son with his wife was born. During this time, Tom was visiting Maureen at her parents’ home for Sunday dinner and promising to get her to the US. Then Tom went back to the States with his wife and two sons and disappeared. Letters were unanswered. Maureen was left with me, aged 1, and a baby growing inside her. Due to the broken promises, Tom’s second child with Maureen was relinquished via adoption. Maureen was being supported by her parents and I had already become part of the family.
In the late 80’s, I decided to attempt to find Tom. I was approaching the time I wanted to become a father and just wanted to know more. I wrote to the records office in what had been Tom’s home town, but was essentially rebuffed. However, a member of staff at the office agreed to do some digging. She was an amateur genealogist and quite fancied turning her skills to the living. Eventually she tracked him down through the assistance of a friendly cop and the national driver licence records. He was living in Kansas. Initially, she wrote to Tom with the story that one of his airforce buddies – Paul Thompson - was trying to find him. This protected him in case he hadn’t told his family about me. The letter obviously caused some alarm as Tom sent one of his relatives in West Virginia round to check out the story.
Within a week, I received a card from Tom, with a brief message and his phone number. I called him and we chatted briefly, and then embarked on a letter exchange. I assured him that I had no axe to grind, that I made no judgements and that all I wanted was to know him and complete my own story. He then invited me to visit him in Kansas in the summer of 1991. By this time, he had a new wife who hadn’t known about me, and three daughters, the eldest of which Tom had confided in a few years earlier. I was made very welcome in their home and we all took a trip “back East” to meet his sisters and two of my half-siblings from his first marriage. I also visited in the summer of 1992 and spent another six weeks with Tom and his family. On this visit, there was a brief reunion between Tom and Maureen in a car park in Kansas City, where I was handed over by my mum to my dad. It was very emotional and I forgot to get a photo!
Tom told me that not a day had gone by in the last 30 years when he didn’t think about the baby he’d left behind in England. He said that circumstances just didn’t allow him to do anything different at the time.
Tom died in December 1992, following a long battle with heart disease. I remain in touch, sporadically, with members of his family as do my own children.
After Tom died, I decided to search for the child, a girl, who had been adopted. Tom had not easily accepted that this child was his, and still the family are cagey about this. I found my full sister with the help of Coventry Social Services, in 1994. We have been in touch ever since. Remarkably, I taught her two sons, and would have done so even if I hadn’t tracked her down. I even sat across the desk from her at parents’ evening once.
Can I please recommend Ann Fessler’s book about women who relinquished their babies for adoption. The Girls Who Went Away (Penguin), though 'USian', gives an insight on our mothers who were forced into placing their babies for adoption.
I’d be happy to correspond with anyone who might find that helpful.
Paul Thompson, Norfolk 2021
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