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...
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.
His 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 firstname.lastname@example.org