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.
The casualties of war are not always obvious. World War Two, with its vast numbers of dead, both civilian and service, has left unforgettable stories of human suffering, great heroism and unspeakable cruelty. A generation earlier, the war to end all wars left vast numbers of families mourning the loss of fathers and sons in their millions, and mothers and daughters too. Yet neither the orderly rows of crosses marking war graves around the world nor the multitude of single, silent graves in even more widely distributed cemeteries tells the whole story.
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.
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.
So I lived throughout my childhood in a silent and lonely house; a house in which there were three casualties of war.
My father always seemed to be in poor health, not that he was ever confined to bed as I remember. When I was about nine he died. He had been in Perth Hospital for major surgery. I remember visiting him one night with my mother. At the end of the visit, she sought out the sister-in-charge, telling her firmly and furiously that her husband was dying and prompt action was required if his death were to be prevented. It was!
The consequent flurry of activity may well have ensured that he recovered and returned home but it was only a few weeks before he collapsed at home and was returned by ambulance to hospital. That was the last time I saw him.
My mother told me that my father would not be coming home from hospital. I didn’t ask for any explanation. Obviously he had died. Nor did I attend a funeral but saw nothing strange in that as many things happened in my family without my being involved. I remember thinking that my mother seemed more relieved than sad.
A few days later, while I was at school, all Fred’s things disappeared from his workroom with the exception of his cobbler’s last which, from then on, served only as a door-stop. One other remnant bears mute testimony to the sad state of his relationship with my mother, a photograph of him holding me as a baby in his arms. Alice had taken a pair of scissors and cropped the photograph, deliberately removing his head from the picture. It was the only photo of him that remains but in that truncated state it serves no useful purpose in reminding me what he looked like. The photo itself is as small as any I have ever seen now measuring just two centimetres by two and a half. So I have no memento of him, not his medals, not his silver watch and chain, just a tiny, faceless photo.
A few weeks later we moved to a larger house in Subiaco where my mother set up a boarding house with four large bedrooms that could be rented out, two huge Norfolk Pines in the front yard and a Mulberry Tree in the back yard. There were always three or four boarders including one who became my stepfather just before my 16th birthday. But more of him later. We were very much a nuclear family when I was a child. Just the three of us. Mother, father and an only child.
Although there were relatives in England and indeed some in Australia, I never knew them, in effect, growing up without grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins or any extended family.
Because we moved so much and so widely in Australia we had no long-term family friends. Indeed we never had visitors to our house and we never, as a family, visited anyone else. My mother was a good neighbour, sociable and approachable, but although she would drop in and chat with neighbours they never came into our house. I don’t know whether that was their preference or the want of an invitation. Playmates or friends from school never came to my house to play although I went to their places whenever I could. The single exception was my ninth birthday when I had a birthday party, an event not repeated until my 21st.
This background is important because, when my mother died, I realised for the first time that I had not a single contact with my forebears, I was like a boat adrift on a genealogical ocean with no links to my past. It was to remedy this state of affairs that I began to do some genealogical research. Clearly it was not going to be easy.
My father’s name I knew only as Frederick and I had no idea of his birth date. To my knowledge my mother and father had never wished each other a happy birthday and certainly had made no mention of such occasions to me. I knew my father and mother had come out from Britain but I did not know when and in my father’s case I didn’t know his birthplace. Information about my mother was slightly more plentiful. I knew her maiden name was Quarmby, and her Marriage and Death Certificates, gave me her birthplace, Stockton on Tees, and her date of birth. It was little enough to go on but at least it was a start. More importantly I found in her family photograph album an address in England of a niece with whom she had maintained contact. I was able to make contact with that cousin but got no information from her. She was altogether too secretive and could not endure any reminder of past events and a life that had been changed forever by the war which took from her the young husband she adored.
I obtained my mother’s Birth Certificate but nothing more.
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.
I have now reached well beyond the age my mother was when she died and the mystery remains. Why did he become the man he was? Had he not been wounded and gassed in the war would he have been different? If the Depression had not come and changed his path in life would he have been a better father to me? What happened to him in the end? Where and when did he die? Did he die alone, unknown and unloved? Of course even if I were able to find answers to some of these questions it won’t change the years of silence but not knowing haunts me as much today as ever it did.
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’.
My second father, in terms of my knowing him, is Ernest Henry Tanner. He was a pleasant and easy going man, a baker and a mere eight years older than I was but for my mother and Ern it was to be a very happy marriage for twenty five years until she died in 1967 at the age of 77. Her death was sudden and a devastating blow to my stepfather who died ten years later at the age of 64.
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 clearly a trial marriage to see whether the level of compatibility between the two was sufficient to overcome any problems attaching to the age difference. Being a baker, Ern rose early and drove to work in an old car. His interests were limited and his pleasures simple. Saturday night was the one night he could stay up late and so every Saturday night he and Alice went to the pictures, at first taking me, then later without me as I developed my own social activities.
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.
When I was advised that I was to be a witness I read through the forms and objected; the form clearly stated that a witness must be sixteen years or over. Alice brushed aside this objection saying that I looked sixteen or more, was intelligent enough to act as a witness and that if anyone asked my age, I was to say sixteen. For a remarkably honest woman Alice could prevaricate on matters that she considered either of no importance or humbug. I was quite anxious until it was all over but there was no challenge to my qualifications as a witness thus allowing the state of marriage to be entered with great satisfaction by both partners.
No money was wasted on a honeymoon.
It was a love match that lasted for nearly 25 years until Alice’s death with a cerebral haemorrhage at the age of 77 in 1967. Ern lived another ten years and died before reaching his mid sixties. To the day they were parted by death they remained united in love.
There is not much of a mystery as far as Ern goes, but their marriage does expose another uncertainty.
My mother entered into her second marriage with great confidence but what of her first marriage. At that time it was not an issue for me for, as far as I knew her first husband, my father, Frederick Thomas Gough, was dead. Later, I found there was no evidence of his death having occurred when I had supposed it to. If he had been still alive then, this second marriage would have been bigamous unless of course there had been no first marriage and Fred and Alice had simply lived together.
I searched for marriage details but could find none so perhaps that is the answer to that particular question.
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.
I have to make it plain that Ern did his best with me but we were too different. He was a working class man and his interests were practical. I was a dreamer, not the least interested in practical pursuits and clearly one who would fit better in a middle class environment. I have no complaints about his treatment of me it’s just that we had no shared interests and he was never going to be the mentor or guide that I needed.
My third father is the one I never knew, my biological father, James John Jones. My birth mother, May, told me his name, that he was a baker and an older man, but that she knew little, if anything else about him. I discovered that in the early 1920s he was a farmer in West Druin. In the mid 1920s he bought a small bakery in Druin and it was at this time that May met him. She was 17 or 18 and he was in his late thirties, perhaps even early forties, although May did not think he was that old. From very old men who lived in Druin and remembered him, I learnt that he was married (they thought) and that he was something of a womanizer. Well that fitted and I was born in 1928. Then sometime in the 1930s he bought a ‘market’ in Druin and leased spaces to various businesses. All this I found out from the business records of Druin but then in 1939-40 he disappeared from the record. I have not be able to track him any further.
I did find a death entry for a James John Jones in St Kilda but there was no additional information on the entry and I did not know enough to be certain it was my father. I suspect he died alone and friendless, certainly not in the company of anyone who knew his background. So I wonder, what did happen to my biological father in those years from 1940 onwards. Did he join the military forces? It was wartime but he would still have been able to serve. Did he move interstate or overseas? I shall probably never know. More importantly did he have other children who would be my half siblings? And what of his wife? I have found no trace of her or a marriage. More importantly still, what was his genetic contribution to me? I can only wonder.
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.
So there you have it. Three fathers but not one who could meet my needs as a son and a developing adult but at least they did bequeath to me their respective genealogical mysteries.
J. Eric Lynas Gough
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