Incredible story of woman’s life journey aired on TV
A DOCUMENTARY charting the journey of a Spean Bridge woman’s life from a Dublin mother to adoption in Lochaber and her quest to find her half sister has aired on television.
The incredible story of Gladys Johnston, which has been kept hidden away for more than 30 years, has finally come to light in an emotional BBC Alba programme.
Gladys, who was born in a Dublin suburb in 1936 to a young unmarried Irish woman spent three years in the protestant orphanage Bethany Home before she was adopted by Mary and Duncan Cameron of Acharacle in 1939.
Gladys discovered she was adopted at the age of 12 and while the news initially upset her she decided it would be best to forget about it and move on.
But following the death of her adoptive parents, she took on the daunting task of searching for her birth mother.
After tracking down her birth certificate, which revealed she was born Gladys Mabel to Dorothy Patton or Murphy, Gladys also discovered her mother had gone on to have a second child, who, remarkably, was also named Gladys.
On April 1, 1986, Gladys met her sister, Gladys – ‘Glad’ as she is known – for the first time.
Speaking of her first phonecall with Gladys, Glad said: ‘ Mum called me Gladys because she was reading a book at the time and the heroine’s name was Gladys.’
Gladys said: ‘Well she must have been reading that book for a heck of a long time.’
Through talking to Glad, Gladys also discovered that she knew some of her brother-in-law’s family who were from Fort William.
Glad recalls how her mother was often sad and she could never understand why.
‘She took the secret of me to It was really lovely to watch her grave. When I walk down the street and see people with a child about that age, I think, God, it must have been so hard for my mother to give up her three-yearold child,’ said Gladys.
Gladys believes her mother called her second daughter by the same name as her own private way of remembering her – she could say her name every day. Having found her sister, Gladys gave up on her search into her birth mother, but 30 years later decided to look into it again.
She explained: ‘I have a very quizzical mind and I couldn’t stop until I had all the answers.’
During the making of the programme Gladys is taken back to Ireland where she retraces her childhood.
Gladys, who was a correspondent for The Oban Times for more than 40 years, said: ‘I feel that I am a survivor because the year I was born lots of children died in Bethany Home from neglect.
‘This is why the whole story is so important to me, because lots of people will now realise what happened in those days – how cruel it was for children in homes – nowadays it’s so much easier.’
Gladys watched the programme with her family and friends on Hogmanay, saying it was ‘ very emotional.
She added: ‘My family watched it and they thought it was excellent.’
Speaking to The Oban Times, Gladys said she has had a lot of feedback from people in the street and her phone has ‘rung off the hook’.
‘I find it very interesting the way people have responded to it. I feel like I am giving people inspiration to find their roots, maybe I am opening a book for others,’ she said.
‘It’s nice that people are taking an interest in my story and thinking if she can do it then so can I.’
Gladys’ daughter Fiona said: ‘It was really lovely to watch and so good that mum got peace of mind.’
The documentary explores Gladys’ relations further down the line as she tries to trace her great grandmother, grandmother and grandfather, and although Gladys still doesn’t know who her biological father was, she said she will continue to search.
Gladys is on BBC iPlayer and will be repeated on BBC Alba tomorrow (January 6) at 10pm.
Gladys, left, with her half sister who is also called Gladys, but known as Glad, when the pair were filming for the BBC Alba documentary. The half sisters met for the first time on April 1, 1986 after Gladys tracked down her mother’s birth certificate and found she had gone on to have another child. They believe they were named after the heroine in a book their mother was reading at the time.