In 'Just by Chance', I have recounted, when I was 67 years of age, discovering that I had been adopted and the subsequent meeting with my birth mother and being welcomed into a large, extended family. Now I want to talk about the paternal side of my family, my fathers.
While one is of little genealogical interest, the other two have created for me genealogical mysteries that I have so far been unable to solve. So let me tell you about my three fathers.
The first, and the one I know most about is my adoptive father, Frederick Thomas Gough. Nowadays, I think of him as a casualty of war.
There are mysteries too. Missing in action, believed dead, some never to be confirmed. Warplanes that set off never to arrive or return, some occasionally discovered generations later. The loss of the warship HMAS Sydney with all her crew. The tomb of the unknown soldier, a tribute to those whose deaths and burial places are unknown, a tribute to the mysteries of war. Although quite different from those, my adoptive father’s story is also a mystery.
My father, Frederick Gough, was a British soldier and served in France. He was a small man, perhaps five foot eight inches in height, trim build, with a good head of hair and a tobacco-stained moustache, both of which were iron grey when I knew him. In World War One, he served as a private in the trenches in France, being both gassed and wounded by shrapnel from an exploding shell which necessitated a sizable skin graft. The skin graft was always a darker brown than the rest of his body. Mustard Gas did not always kill but often left a legacy of internal problems that never diminished. Had the shrapnel wound at the back of his neck been at the front or sides he would not have survived. But survive he did.
I remember looking at his medals, not awarded for valour but simply for serving in particular theatres of war, one bronze and one silver, and being filled with wonder, pride and some regret that there were not more. He was a casualty of war but in ways more obvious to me than to others, even as a child.
Fred’s two vices were drink and gambling. He was also a smoker, using Champion ready rubbed tobacco to roll his own; in those days smoking was not considered a vice. Whatever money he had to spend, he spent on one or other of these three things. They alone constituted his pleasures in life and he enjoyed them alone. Each Saturday afternoon he would go down to the Subiaco Hotel where he finished the day somewhat tipsy, occasionally to be collected by my mother if he hadn’t arrived home by dinner time.
He was an amiable drunk and never violent. Between drinks on Saturday he would slip unobtrusively down the back lane behind the hotel and bet on the horse races with the SP bookie, two bob each way being his biggest wager and the loss of his money the usual result. On one occasion I recall a blazing row between Fred and my mother because he had taken the money she put aside for the rent and lost the whole eighteen shillings.
My mother suffered greatly during the First World War, losing both the love of her life, killed in France in the closing weeks of the war, and a baby son. Because she was so slow in recovering from these losses, her family suggested she emigrate to Australia, an idea that appealed to her greatly because Alan, a much loved older brother, lived in Sydney and she looked forward to seeing him again. Her father had died before she was born and Alan Quarmby had always been her favourite and much admired brother. The thought of building a new life in Australia with Alan nearby, filled her with new optimism but between her embarking on the Euripedes and arriving in Sydney Alan died. His death was a great blow and from such a simple thing - a tooth extraction. Septicaemia set in and he sought help too late. It was yet another devastating blow that Alice had to endure but, as always, she coped.
The liner, Euripedes belonged to the Aberdeen Line and went into service in January, 1914. A fifteen thousand tonner built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, her 15 knots making her the fastest ship on the England to Australia run by way of the Cape of Good Hope. After being commandeered by the British Government during the War, she resumed her normal run to Australia in 1920. In 1932 she went first to the White Star Line and later to the Shaw, Savill and Albion Company where she was re-named Akaroa. My mother always spoke of her with great affection.
"We had no shared interests and he was never going to be the mentor or guide that I needed."
For my mother there was no going back, so she found employment as a cook in a small private hospital in Sydney. During this time she met an Englishman who had fought in France, been gassed and wounded by shrapnel and sent out to Australia by his family for health reasons. She was attracted to him, felt that his war service conferred on him a measure of nobility and that he was owed something by a grateful nation. They saw each other regularly. He was quiet and gentle and from a good family, a potter and ceramic chemist by profession. He wanted a place of his own and the companionship of a wife.
She wanted, above all else, a baby boy. There really wasn’t much romance, but they thought marriage would make life better for both of them. They married, Frederick and Alice, or at least set up house together, but after a mixture of good and bad times in the early years, the marriage steadily decayed into permanent unhappiness.
The Great Depression saw them lose their home and business and almost everything else they had slowly acquired. Forced to move frequently in search of work from Melbourne they travelled around Victoria in an A model Ford van which served as their home, my mother saying later that this was the happiest time of her life. For a time they worked at a cannery in Mooroopna near Shepparton then sold the van and moved to Sydney and from there sailed on the old SS Westralia to Perth where Fred had got a job at the Brisbane and Wunderlich pottery. I don’t remember my father, Fred, on the ship; he may have gone ahead. In Perth we moved frequently, each time securing accommodation that was either closer to the workplace, cheaper or both. Because of these frequent moves, on at least one occasion, I started at two new schools in the one week. But this constant change was not what disturbed me most.
Fred, my father, was a quiet man. He almost never spoke. He certainly didn’t speak to me. Not that he was hostile or unkind; he simply never spoke to me. Isn’t that strange? I cannot remember him ever saying a single word to me and I have a good memory. My earliest memories go back to Mooroopna when I was just three or four years old and they are clear and vivid. But I cannot recall a single occasion on which my father spoke to me.
At the table he never said ‘pass the butter’ or asked me if I liked the Irish stew. After losing his job at the pottery, he set up the second bedroom as a workshop where he repaired shoes. But he never said ‘like to see how I do this’ or ‘how about giving me a hand here’ nor did he ask me to admire his finished work (which was very good, often making a shabby pair of shoes look almost new). He never said ‘good morning’ or ‘goodnight’ to me., never asked me how I was or what I had done at school that day or whether I had any homework to do. Not a word! Not ever! He never showed me the least sign of affection. Never put his hand on my shoulder. Nor did he ever walk with me down the street, or take me anywhere, or do anything at all with me; it was almost as if I didn’t exist. Even today I find that complete lack of interaction incomprehensible. He never disciplined me, encouraged or comforted me, showed pleasure in my achievements (modest as they were) or in any way did what a father may be expected to do. I recognise, of course, that I contributed to this silence; I never initiated conversations with my father or asked questions that might have led to conversation – had I been more assertive and less introspective the relationship may well have been different. Maybe I had absorbed too well my mother’s dictum that children should be seen and not heard.
"He never showed me the least sign of affection. Never put his hand on my shoulder. It was almost as if I didn’t exist."
My father was even more difficult. I searched for his Death Certificate but in vain. There was no record of his death in Perth or anywhere else in Western Australia at the time I believed he died, nor was there any record of it occurring in the four decades following. Did that mean that in fact he had not died when I thought? If so, had he moved back to NSW or Victoria? Hardly likely, but in any case there was no record of his death in either of those states. Had he returned to Britain? Why would he, after all those years during which there had been no contact? He had served in the British Army so perhaps his Army Record would give me something to go on. But the British High Commission told me that a name was not enough, they needed at least his regiment if not his army number. I had no Birth Certificate and amongst the few records I possessed about myself was my Christening Certificate but when I checked the church records the only additional piece of information provided was my father’s middle name, Thomas. I was no further advanced.
But I am only one of countless thousands, for the casualties of war are legion and the mysteries of war are many and for many of us the only answer will be ‘a casualty of war’.
A romance blossomed between my mother and one of her boarders, Ern Tanner. Ern was some 22 years younger than Alice but they fell in love. Consequently, in 1941 Alice gave up the boarding house and she and Ern, with me, set up house together. They set out first to buy a house that had only two rooms and the back verandah completed and was awaiting front rooms being added. At least they thought they were buying it! Ern’s father, Charlie, arranged the paperwork for them but after a short time they discovered that he had put his own name on the title deed. Immediately they found out, Alice and Ern left Jersey Street and rented a property in Gloster Street Subiaco, a much more convenient location. Charlie, Ern’s father, got a cheap house but lost a son, and Ern was a good son.
It was a few months before I turned sixteen that Alice and Ern decided to get married. It was to be a registry office wedding and actually took place on 9th March 1944. The form gives Ern’s age as 30, his place of birth as Broomehill, WA, his occupation as Baker and his marital status as bachelor. For Alice, the corresponding information was 52, Stockton on Tees, England, home duties and widow. Ern’s sister Elsie, and I were witnesses.
At the time of her marriage Alice told me that they had decided I should be allowed to keep my father’s name. There was no discussion. I had no strong feelings either way including no great attachment to my father or respect for his name. Whilst Alice presented the decision as one taken out of consideration for me, more than fifty years later I discovered that this was not the case. Alice had her own reasons for insisting that I retain my surname.
Perhaps now that I have written this I will attack the problem again but now that my birth mother May is dead and no one else in the family knew anything of the situation, the chances of discovering what I want to know are slender.
"Three fathers but not one who could meet my needs as a son."