Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Finding a brother, searching for a mother

Two weeks ago my father  told me something that I had least expected.  He found his brother.
A brother that he did not know even existed.

Dad will be 71 this year – and was adopted by Elmore and Alice Eicher when he was 10 days old.  They named him Raymond Elmore Eicher – after their dear friend Raymond Smith and his adopted father.

Dad’s biological mother – who had come to the Wanless Mission hospital in Miraj, Maharashtra for the convalescence and delivery - then disappeared from Dad’s life.

Little did we know that she had already disappeared from the lives of two other sons.

Earlier this month my sister Premila came across this message:

"I am trying to trace any information regarding my mother.
She was married to Dudley Vauqulin of "Hollywell", Northiam,Sussex who was an officer in the Royal Sussex Regiment and Indian Army, She was Betty Isabel Doncaster Vauqulin nee Sowman.
My father was born in 1903 and died in 1954.
Thank you, Jack Vauqulin"

She replied to the address stating that her father was the son of Betty Isobel Sowman Vauqulin. 
Jack Vauqulin wrote back – and Premi was able to link him up with Dad.
Jack is three years older to Dad.  He had another brother John who has died, and an older step-brother Peter (from his father’s previous marriage) who has also passed away.
Betty Isobel Doncaster Vauqulin, nee Sowman
Jack grew up without his mother too.  Jack was born in Britain in 1938 – and the whole family – his father Dudley Vauqulin being an officer in the Indian army – came to India at the end of 1938.  Both Dudley and Betty had some India roots - with Dudley's parents marrying in Calcutta (she was from an Assam plantation family) and Betty's father being in the army in Allahabad. 

Something happened in those years, as Jack and his brothers were then taken by his father back to Britain in 1940.  Their mother Betty did not go back with them .  Jack and his brothers were looked after by a nanny on the ship.
Jack never saw his mother again – though he was told that she had attended his father’s funeral in the UK in 1953 without him or his brother John knowing she was there.

This is a photo that Jack sent Dad of their mother. 
Jack’s life has been adventurous to say the least.   As a child of 12 the family emigrated to South Africa – where he did his schooling and then joined the Royal Marines as an 18 year old.  After a three year stint Jack served as an outward bound instructor before he joined his brothers in Assam as on the tea plantations in 1958.  All the brothers were 'mad sportsmen and played a lot of 1st class rugby'. 

The Assam Rugby team - winners of the All India Rugby Tournament in 1959  (Peter Vauqulin was the captain - John Vauqulin was away in Britain for this tournament)  HT: Koi Hai

Jack married Daphne in 1959 and their daughter Dawn was born in Assam in 1960.  Then it was back to Africa in 1961 where Jack became the MD of a company that imported and sold Landrover, Austin and Morris cars.  A stint in Australia in the 1970s included more diving and more cars - another a motor dealership in Australia.  Finally he returned to South Africa where he ran an animal safari business.  In 1990 he went back to England and 'retired' and married Sylvia.  Retirement included running a successful pub for some time and currently 'play[ing] with Morris Minor cars.  we buy - rebuild where necessary and sell.'  

Jack's daughter Dawn is in the UK, and the children of his brothers Peter and John (both of whom passed away) are in the UK and South Africa, Which means I have cousins in both places.  

My grandmother holding Dad when he was 2 days old
Dad and Jack are still very much in the process of getting to know each other – and trying to figure out where their mother ended up.  Dad has till now only had one single photo of his mother – the one where she holds him as a baby of 2 or 3 days old.  Now he has more.  Jack has sent some beautiful black and white snaps of their mother.  
Both Dad and Jack continue to search for their mother Betty.  Jack heard something said about a Canadian man.   One of the nurses who looked after Dad when he was born wrote to him in 1973. The nurse said she saw an announcement in the Times of India that his mother was engaged to a man whose name she was not familiar with.

Yesterday I was helped to find the long-lost engagement announcement.  The social and personal news of the Times of India 25th June 1945 issue states that Betty, the daughter of Lt. – Colonel U.D. Sowman was engaged to Lt. Colonel Robert Benjamin Gonville, the son of Major and Mrs. B.G. Bromhead.    A quick check on Colonel Robert Benjamin Gonville Bromhead shows (in Burkes peerage no less) that he got married in 1947 - but the name mentioned is not my biological grandmother.   What happened between June 1945 and January 1947 is not clear – it seems that Betty was engaged to him – but he married someone else.   What I had hoped would be the definitive to link Dad’s mother does not at first blush seem to pass through Col. Bromhead (who fought with the Chindits in Burma and ended up with a CBE).

And so Dad’s quest to find his mother continues.  Where did Betty go?  Did she change her name?  Was there a Canadian connection after all?  She seems to have been alive at least in 1953.  But then after that what happened? 
In the meantime – Dad has gained a brother after not knowing his entire life so far that he had one!  I have gained an uncle and a number of cousins who it will take quite some time to start to get to know.  

Hats off to Premila for finding Uncle Jack’s posting about his mother!
We have also gained a big additional chunk of family history to an already complicated tale.  Enter the British Indian Army and Assam Tea Planter community.  Two groups that are colonial to the core.  I have always felt that we had nothing to do with the colonial enterprise.  In my mind’s eye my biological grandmother ‘was only in India because her father was in the army’…  but with us stumbling upon Uncle Jack shows that there are other streams that have flowed into us too!

A lot to chew on.
I am very grateful for Dad that he found his brother.  It’s a whole new world we never knew existed. 


  1. i read and re-read, sat for a minute just looking at your post.. shook my head in wonder and said 'Aisa toh sirf filmon-mein hota tha....'

    Life is indeed full of surprises :)

  2. Amazing. Miraculous. How on earth did Premi stumble upon the email from your uncle?

  3. Jenifer - life is more real than films! Truth is *always* stranger than fiction!

    Anand - my sister is the pro of pros when it comes to the internet - she found his message on a message board for family members of his regiment!