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The secret sister my father kept hidden

The Guardian Family Section 24 May 2014

It was 1967, the summer of love, and I was going to get married. But I needed my father, Leonard, to give permission because I was under 21. I hadn’t seen him since I was four, when he left my mother, Joyce, and disappeared from my life. I knew he was living in Australia with his second wife, and I nervously wrote to tell him of our plans. He didn’t reply.

However, a few months later I received congratulations cards and cheques from two people I had never heard of – Laura and Harry. My mother told me they were my aunt and uncle, my father’s sister and brother. But where had they been all my life? She hesitated before saying: “When your father and I separated, he asked me not to contact his family … He was in a terrible state, so I promised.”

I arranged to visit my aunt Laura at her home in Essex. We sat in her front room drinking tea and I felt I was being examined, but for signs of what, I had no idea. She told me that the last time she’d seen me was in 1949, when I was three. She said what a pity it was that we’d moved so far away, and asked when my mother and I had come back to England.

What did she mean? Come back from where?

“From Australia, of course.”

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