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Terry’s story: finding his birth family

Black and white photo of a young boyTerry Timms grew up believing his birth father was his mother’s husband, Ronald, but as an adult he discovered the truth.

“I had a funny middle name,” he says. “I didn’t know where it had come from. My mother said it was usual during the [Second World] war to give children odd middle names. You carry on and think nothing of it. In 1969 I went to college and one of the lecturers there was Polish and mentioned that my middle name was Polish. I went to Somerset House to find out a bit more about my birth.”

Terry’s research found that although Ronald’s name was on his birth certificate, he had apparently been born out of wedlock, as Ronald and his mother had married after his birth.

Learning the truth

He says: “Nothing was really disclosed until the 1980s when I was going through a divorce and my mother opened up to me about things.”

Terry learned that his father was actually a Polish soldier whom his mother had met while he was training in England, during the war. When his mother’s boyfriend, Ronald, returned from fighting in Burma, the couple were married and Ronald brought up Terry as his own son. Ronald, who died a few years ago, never liked to talk about Terry’s birth father so it was difficult to find out any information and, for a long time, all Terry had was his father’s name.

He says: “It was very difficult to get my mother on her own to broach this very touchy subject.”

Conducting his own search

He continued: “I had [my father’s] name but didn’t know where he was born or his date of birth. I contacted the Polish Consulate in the UK but they said they needed his date of birth and place of birth. After that things really went cold.

“Then after a number of years – five years ago now – we moved back to Telford, from Cornwall. My wife’s brother was into genealogy and encouraged me to look a bit deeper. I went on the internet and contacted the Polish section of the Ministry of Defence in London. They gave me a date of birth and also some details about his military situation. I found out he was a paratrooper and after the Second World War he had returned back to England and went to college in Nottingham on a textile course but then in 1947 he returned to Poland.

“I found out later that his brother, who was younger than him, had been killed by the Russians and, as he was the only son left, he returned to Gdansk in 1947. He lived at Sopot, a seaside resort on the Baltic coast of Poland. That was where his home was and his parents were and where he spent the rest of his life and died.”

Terry later found out from his uncle that his father had come to see Terry and his mother a week or so after he was born, offering to take them back to Poland. His mother’s father refused to let them go, possibly because his eldest son Tony had been killed just a few days before.

Contacting the Red Cross

A man smilesAfter writing letters and compiling more information, Terry heard about the Red Cross international family tracing services via internet forums, and got in touch with the Shrewsbury Red Cross office. 

He says: “We went through all the historical information about my father and managed to track what relatives I had still got in Poland.

“The trace started in May 2006 and I got a letter from the Red Cross at the beginning of 2007 informing me that my father was born in Archangel, Russia, and had died in 2004. As a result of investigating they knew he had a brother and relatives and gave me contact details. I sent a letter and got an email back in January, not from one of my direct relatives, but from the wife of one of them.”

Putting the ghosts to bed

Terry received photographs, details about his father’s life and information about his living relatives.

He says: “The family didn’t know about me, that’s the point. I’ve suddenly turned up out of the blue and nobody knew about me. My father had never divulged the information. So it was quite a bit of a surprise.

“I do kick myself that if I’d done this a bit earlier I might have met my father.

“For anybody in my position, when you find your birth history isn’t what you think, you have loads of questions and you want them answered. It’s not always going to be the answer you want or happy ever after but these are nagging questions and at least you can put to bed some of the ghosts that exist in your life. It helps explain who you are.”

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