Surprise! We’re your family
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.
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.
“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