Sur­prise! We’re your fam­ily

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - News - by Sarah Mar­shall smar­shall@thek­m­group.co.uk

FOR most of his birth­day cel­e­bra­tions pen­sioner Peter Fox thought he was an only child.

But on Sun­day when he turns 80 he can ex­pect cards from the seven sib­lings he did not know ex­isted.

Yes­ter­day he waved good­bye to his long-lost half-sis­ter Pa­tri­cia Bell (nee An­drews), as she re­turned home to Canada af­ter vis­it­ing him in Ash­ford.

Mr Fox was born in Ash­ford and so were his seven sib­lings. He was the child of an af­fair and grew up be­liev­ing his grand­par­ents were his par­ents as his mother was still a teenager when she had him.

Same class

He never knew his fa­ther Ce­cil An­drews – al­ways known as Mickey – who con­tin­ued to live with his wife and seven other chil­dren.

June, Beryl, Ron, Jac­qui, Pauline, Pa­tri­cia and Michael all spent their early years in Ash­ford but em­i­grated to Canada af­ter the war.

In a strange twist to the tale, Mr Fox had met and had a close child­hood friend­ship with one of his sib­lings.

Mr Fox is just two months older than his half-sis­ter Beryl An­drews (now Di­a­mond) and both were in the same class at Vic­to­ria Road In­fants School.

Nei­ther had any idea they were re­lated. But 75 years on, both Mr Fox and Mrs Di­a­mond still re­call the spe­cial bond they felt be­tween one an­other as chil­dren.

“I re­mem­ber it clearly. I sat next to her in class. And I thought about Beryl over the years.”

When they were both 12 their paths crossed again. In Septem­ber 1940 both Mr Fox and the seven An­drews chil­dren were all evac­u­ated from Ash­ford to Hinksey, Ox­ford. It was usual for groups of chil­dren from the same town to be bil­leted to­gether.

Re­mem­ber­ing his first night as a war-time evac­uee, Mr Fox said: “We all bed­ded down in the town hall – Beryl and I were prob­a­bly there on the same night.”

Un­be­known to Mr Fox, he lived around the cor­ner from his sib­lings dur­ing the 14 months he spent liv­ing in Ox­ford. “We must have all passed each other time and time again,” he said.

Af­ter the war Mr Fox re­turned to Ash­ford and, in 1952, the An­drews fam­ily em­i­grated to Canada. Fast for­ward 50 years and the An­drews sib­lings, who had al­ways known that they had a half-brother, de­cided to try and trace him.

They had made one un­suc­cess­ful at­tempt in 1982. “We made in­quiries but hit a blank wall,” said Mrs Bell, dur­ing her re­cent visit to Ash­ford.

Then, in 2001, they had more luck. At 10pm on Fri­day, April 5, 2001, Mr Fox an­swered the phone.

“Hi, I am Jac­qui and I’m one of your five sis­ters,” the woman with a Cana­dian ac­cent said.

“You’ve got it wrong, I don’t have any sis­ters,” said Mr Fox – and hung up, think­ing it was a prank call or wrong num­ber.

The phone im­me­di­ately started ring­ing again.

Mr Fox’s wife Dorothy an­swered the phone. Mrs Fox took the caller more se­ri­ously as she had heard sto­ries over the years and pieced snip­pets of in­for­ma­tion to­gether, though had al­ways kept the sus­pi­cions about her hus­band’s fam­ily to her­self.

Mrs Fox spoke to her new sis­ter-in-law and quickly pieced the jig­saw to­gether. While Mr Fox’s wife gath­ered the in­for­ma­tion, he dealt with the sur­prise of learn­ing he had five half-sis­ters and two half-broth­ers.

Big sur­prise

“It took the wind out of my sails,” he said.

Soon af­ter the phone call Mr Fox re­ceived a let­ter from Canada. He took it to show his daugh­ter Chris­tine and her hus­band Dave Dean, who live in Willes­bor­ough.

The fol­low­ing day Mr Fox got an­other big sur­prise when his daugh­ter and sonin-law ap­peared with a pair of tick­ets for flights to Canada.

Mr Fox had not been abroad since he was 21, when he was in the RAF, and Mrs Fox had never been on an aero­plane be­fore.

“I thought she’d freak out – but she took it very well,” said Mrs Dean.

Mr and Mrs Fox landed in Canada to be greeted in the air­port with hugs and kisses from two of his sis­ters.

One of them was Mrs Bell, who re­called the mo­ment she first saw her brother.

“What struck me most of all was the like­ness of Peter and my dad – he’s the spit­ting im­age of him. It’s un­canny. His in­ter­ests, his in­tel­li­gence, the fact he is very prac­ti­cal – a real handy­man – he is just like my fa­ther, a chip off the old block.”

Mr Fox went on to meet his six sur­viv­ing Ash­ford-born sib­lings dur­ing his two-week stay in Canada. His sib­lings have also made sev­eral trips to Ash­ford.

Peter Fox and Pa­tri­cia Bell get to know each other

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