My hunt for 3 war he­roes who saved me

Gran aban­doned at birth in 1941 in search for fam­i­lies of soldiers who found her on a com­mon, blue with cold and near death, just hours af­ter her ter­ri­fied mum dumped her...

Daily Mirror (Northern Ireland) - - THE DIARY - BY AMY COLES @cole­samy [email protected]­ror.co.uk

A WOMAN who was aban­doned at birth on a com­mon dur­ing the Sec­ond World War wants to trace rel­a­tives of the soldiers who saved her.

Mary Crabb was close to death when the three men on ma­noeu­vres heard her cry­ing and found her un­der a bush near Wok­ing, Sur­rey.

The Cana­dian troops – Gun­ner A.J Brack­ett, Gun­ner R.C.A Grif­fith and Sergeant E Court­ney – res­cued the new­born and rushed her to hospi­tal in an Army lorry.

Mary, now aged 77, said: “It would be marvel­lous to find them or any­one re­lated to them to say thank you.

“These men saved me and al­lowed me to have a life. I can’t thank them enough.” At first the Royal Cana­dian Ar­tillery soldiers had thought the sound they heard on Horsell Com­mon on Septem­ber 23, 1941 was a chicken squawk­ing.

But they soon re­alised they had a life or death sit­u­a­tion on their hands.

Gun­ner Grif­fith cut Mary’s um­bil­i­cal cord with a knife and wrapped her in a clean shirt be­fore the hospi­tal dash.

Mary, from Bell Bar, Herts, said: “I don’t know how they found me.”

The gran added: “The com­mon is huge. I was al­ready there for two hours and turn­ing blue. Doc­tors didn’t think I would sur­vive be­cause I was so blue and cold. It was a mir­a­cle they found me when they did.”

Mary, who went on to be adopted, found out in re­cent years about be­ing aban­doned as a baby and res­cued.

She learned 12 years ago that she had been found by the men on the com­mon but it wasn’t un­til a fort­night ago – when she came across a photo in the Mir­ror from 1941 – she knew what they looked like.

The pic­ture shows the three soldiers with her in hospi­tal.

She said find­ing out more about the men and see­ing the photo was “a bit of a shock”.

Now she is des­per­ate to find any­one re­lated to her res­cuers. Mary was adopted when she was five months old by Ma­bel and Hu­bert Shep­pard, from Hert­ford­shire.

But the three soldiers were so en­am­oured with Mary they asked to make her an honorary “daugh­ter” of their reg­i­ment and pledged their wages to help give her a good start.

They wanted to name her Vir­ginia Regina Bran­don af­ter their home­towns.

Her bi­o­log­i­cal mother, Lil­lian Wil­liams, was 29 when she gave birth on the com­mon and left Mary wrapped in a coat.

Lil­lian pleaded guilty to aban­don­ing her child, and was given a two-year pro­ba­tion or­der.

She told a court she was work­ing at a Sur­rey farm as a mem­ber of the Women’s Land Army when she be­came preg­nant, but kept the baby a se­cret from her em­ploy­ers. She was

The com­mon is huge. It was a mir­a­cle they found me... I was al­ready blue with cold MARY CRABB ON AMAZ­ING STORY OF SUR­VIVAL IN 1941

cy­cling home from work when she went into labour near the com­mon and gave birth be­hind some trees.

Lil­lian told how she did not know what to do with the baby.

Mary said she had the “most won­der­ful” adop­tive par­ents.

Af­ter they died she be­gan search­ing for her birth mother – and that is when she dis­cov­ered she had been found on the com­mon.

Mum-of-three Mary is still try­ing to fill in the gaps from her past.

She has not been able to learn much about her birth mother but said find­ing the res­cuers’ de­scen­dants would be an­other “piece of my story”.

With as­sis­tance from her daugh­ter, who came over from Aus­tralia to help her be­gin her search, Mary traced her birth father, Fred­er­ick El­liot. He was a mar­ried dad of three in the Army. Mys­tery still sur­rounds how he met Lil­lian, although Mary thinks he could have been sta­tioned near Wok­ing dur­ing the war.

Mary’s adop­tion pa­pers state Fred­er­ick had agreed to pay to­wards the baby’s up­keep.

H i s fam­ily live in Durham, and Mary dis­cov­ered she has three half­broth­ers she never knew about. Un­for­tu­nately, she was too late to meet her dad who had al­ready died but she still vis­its that side of her fam­ily ev­ery year. She said: “It was sad not to be able to meet my father, but his grand­son has done so much for me. “He thought it was such an amaz­ing story to have about his grand­fa­ther. “He calls me Aun­tie Mary.

“That whole part of the fam­ily are so amazed they have an aun­tie that was born on a com­mon.”

Despite years of search­ing, de­tails about her birth mother have re­mained scant and they have never found a death cer­tifi­cate.

But Mary, mar­ried to John, also 77, was able to trace her birth mother’s fam­ily back to An­gle­sey where she was one of 12 si­b­lings.

Mary said: “My daugh­ter took me up there af­ter we found my mother’s birth cer­tifi­cate. I met a cousin who knew noth­ing of the story. None of my mother’s fam­ily had heard any­thing from her af­ter 1952. I would love to know more about her be­cause it is a big piece out of the puz­zle.” Af­ter fi­nally see­ing a photo of the three men who res­cued her all those years ago, she added: “Wouldn’t it be lovely if they’ve got chil­dren or grand­chil­dren the same age as mine?” Mary said: “It would be won­der­ful to meet them and say some­thing to them about how their great-grandad saved my life.”

Can you help solve the mys­tery? Email mir­[email protected]­ror.co.uk

IN SAFE HANDS Heroic trio in 1941 with baby Mary

BABY Mary who al­most died on the com­mon

REAL MUM Lil­lian Wil­liams was bi­o­log­i­cal mother

DAD Bi­o­log­i­cal father Fred­er­ick

MARY NOW Hold­ing photo. Left, with her hus­band

Hu­bert & Ma­bel who adopted her in 1942 FAM­ILY

HAPPY Mary as a tod­dler

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