30 May 2024

  In May 1962, I was in London, visiting some old friends I hadn't seen since the War. One evening, we attended a formal State ball, and at one point in the evening I found I couldn't take my eyes off one of the young women there. It wasn't a physical attraction, although she was a pretty 20 or 21 year old. It was that I had seen that very same face, some years before.

   Often, when we see a young person who we haven't seen for a while, we may say something like "you have grown up to look just like your mother." What we usually mean is that we see a strong family resemblance. It is far, far rarer than even the proverbial "blue moon" when you see  a "dead ringer" - an exact carbon copy. I was sure that I was seeing  that exact match.

   I asked my friends if they knew her. They looked at me a little oddly - the girl was clearly only half my age - but admitted they didn't know who she was. Claire, Paul's wife, is a friendly little busybody, and she took it upon herself to wander around, chatting with people, until she found someone who knew the girl's name. She came back and reported to me, but the name didn't ring any bells. Claire had also learned (and it's amazing how much that woman can learn in a few minutes!) the girl was adopted, and that both her adopted parents had died recently.

    I found I was still intrigued by the young woman and, as I had a few days before I had to get back to the States, I decided to see what else I could find out. I found her adopted parents' obituaries, and discovered that they had lived "in the country" outside of London, and that they were quite elderly. In one of the papers,  I also caught sight of the girl's name in another context. She was the main vocalist in a choral group, giving a concert (open to the public) in two days. I decided to go.

   I wore my most prestigious Army uniform, wanting to not be taken for an ordinary masher if I tried to talk to the girl. As it turned out, the attendance was relatively small, the performance was excellent, and it was easy for me to introduce myself and congratulate her on her beautiful delivery. When I told her I was just visiting in town, she invited me to tea with her and a few of her fellow performers.

   There were a half-dozen of us, all girls except for me. I told them that I was an American (hardly necessary), and that I had been in London previously during the War. Most of them were born in the latter days of the War, and knew of it only casually. I mentioned having been trapped for two days in what was probably Germany's most intense and protracted bombing of London. The girl then volunteered that she had been adopted at birth by her recently deceased parents, that she knew nothing definite about her biological parents, but had always suspected that they died in The Blitz. All in all, it was a delightful lunch, and I heartily thanked her and her companions for taking me along.

   I wanted to get a little more information while in London, so the next day I sought out the girl's adoption and birth records. This information isn't casually shared in Britain but, bedecked with all my ribbons and insignias on my best uniform, I used a little of my (probably non-existent) authority to gain access.

   Perhaps I should pause here, and explain a little. In the 1940s, I was a member of the U. S. Army Intelligence Service. (Some of my long-term friends will tell you - as they've told me a thousand times, over the years - that "Army Intelligence" is one of the greatest examples of an oxymoron in existence. Whether they  are right or wrong, we'll leave for some other discussion. Whatever, that is the particular cog of the Government and the Military I was a part of.) Although barely out of my 'teens, I was sent to London as a liaison officer between the U. S. and the U. K. forces - a prime example of how the shortage of qualified men was changing the war effort. I was only in England for a few weeks before I was sent on to another assignment. This was my first time back in London in 20 years.

   So, my look and my mien, and my assertion that I was trying to  track down information on a missing U. S. Army officer, got me the information I wanted. The girl had been born in February 1942, and had been immediately adopted. The couple who adopted her were already in their middle ages, but young couples were in decidedly short supply in Britain at that time. The mother's name was on both the adoption papers and the birth certificate. No father's name was given.

   The bloodhound was loose in me, now. I found the address of a woman with the birth mother's name, and found it was in that part of London that I had been in during the May 1941 Blitz. I was a little hesitant because the name I found would have been her maiden name, not a married one. Still, it was an unusual enough name that it seemed like a good chance it was her.

   I found the address with no problem, but then wondered what to do about it. I couldn't march up to her door, and say "Hello, remember me from the Blitz?" I also had no reason to see her about my fictitious Army officer, or about a girl who was clearly her daughter. I sat down on a bench to think, and (as a prop) pulled out a city map.

   With amazing luck, I had no sooner seated myself than a woman came out of the house I had been watching. Even from across the street, and 20 years later, I knew I had found the right woman. She had to walk right past me, so I stood and asked if she could help me. She stopped, took in my uniform (not the ornate one, that day), and waited.

   "I was looking for a place that I think is near here, but I haven't been back since the Blitz, and I suspect everything looks different, now. You would have been too young to have experienced it yourself, but maybe there's some history that you've heard."

   She smiled, mischievously, I thought. "I saw your uniform and thought you were an American, but that was clearly Irish blarney you were speaking."

   If she could be playful, so could I.  "Well, if you were around then, I have to say that you've aged marvelously." (By the way, I thought that she had aged marvelously.)

   She laughed at that, and sat down next to me. "So, you were here for the Blitz. When, exactly? You know it went on a long time - much too long!"

   "I had come over from the States to work with your army in early 1941. The part I was thinking of  was the part that trapped me and others in bomb shelters for most of two days. I think it was in mid-May."

    She was silent beside me for most of a minute. "It probably was in mid-May - May 11 and 12, the longest, most extreme bomb attack by the Germans in the whole war. I remember we waited and waited for it to stop - for the all-clear to sound - until even we well-indoctrinated Brits were on the verge of panic."

   "That sounds like it, all right." I waited a few moments. "Say, you wouldn't have time for a cup of tea, to orient me a little more. I haven't been back here since then. Oh, but that may not be a subject that you want to re-live?"

   She stood up. "I can't, right now. I'm off to a meeting." I began to feel disappointed. "But are you free later today - say, 4 o'clock? You could come to my house, and we could talk a little about Britain in 1941."

   "Are you sure? I'd like that." I paused. "But you don't know me. Rather than your house, shouldn’t we perhaps find a shop or restaurant?"

   "Your chivalry is very refreshing." I didn't know if she was gently teasing me, but her next comment made it clear. "I don't think you will do anything that might precipitate a new war between the U. K. and the U. S., so I think my house will be fine. Besides, I have a kamikaze cat, who will attack at the first sign of trouble."

   I laughed. "See you at four."

   "You know which house it is?" She pointed at the one I'd watched her come out of, gave a little wave, and walked off.


   I had no trouble getting a taxi back to her house at four, and she invited me in. She had one floor of the larger building. Her part seemed to consist of kitchen, parlor, loo, and perhaps two bedrooms. The parlor was pleasantly, but obviously inexpensively, furnished. She had tea and some little iced cakes waiting.

   We spent a little time on family matters. I told her I'd enlisted in the Army when I was 18, and likely would stay in until I died or they kicked me out. I had been married for about two years. I think we loved each other, but she felt that she was always number three in my life behind the War and my career. I'm afraid she was right. We divorced, and she found a nice gentleman to give her two kids, and a nice, peaceful life. We were still friends.

   The woman had never married. She was engaged, and probably would have been married right after the War, but her fiancé was one of the last R. A. F. pilots to be shot down by the Germans. She hadn't found anyone else. She'd been a salesgirl most of her adult life, then attended night school and became proficient in typing, stenography, and eventually bookkeeping. She was now an administrative assistant with a clothing manufacturer.

   Soon, there wasn't anything left to  talk about except the Blitz. She wasn't reluctant to tell her story. "By May 1941, German bombings were old hat to us Londoners. Our days and nights were often interrupted by the sirens, warning that German planes had been detected approaching. We hurried to shelters, waited while the bombs fell until we heard the 'all clear' siren, and went back to whatever we had been doing. I don't mean we ever became matter-of-fact, or fatalistic, about it, but what could we do?

   "When the sirens went off on May 11, our reaction was the same as usual. We crowded into one of the shelters under a large building, and waited for the all-clear. But the bombs kept dropping, hour after hour, and there was no respite. The noise of bombs falling, and of buildings disintegrating, continued on and on. People began to fuss and be worried. It wasn't supposed to happen this way. Didn't the Germans know the drill?

   "It was always twilight in the shelter, but eventually one could tell from the flashes showing through from outside that it was dark. Still, the bombing continued. Stolid Brits were crying and huddling together, on the verge of hopelessness. Everyone knew the building we were under had been hit by bombs several times, and we began to doubt that we had much protection from  above. If a bomb was to hit our shelter roof now, we would certainly all die."

   She paused to catch her breath, and I took up the story. "When you first entered the shelter, you had sat with, and chatted up, a young American Army officer. Expecting to be off about your business soon, you kept the conversation light, not even getting around to telling each other your names. As things began to feel desperate, people settled in pairs or groups, and you and the soldier stayed together. Night had come, and the bombs continued to fall. You were both frightened, and had reached the point of not believing you'd be alive in the morning. You found a quiet corner, held onto each other, and went to sleep.

   "When the soldier woke in the morning, you were gone. The sound of bombing had been replaced by people chattering happily. Light was streaming through the open top of the shelter,  and some former prisoners were already outside in the open air. He thought he glimpsed you climbing the stairs, but when he finally got outside, you were nowhere to be found. He looked for you for a while, but there wasn't anything to be seen except rubble and ruined buildings. Finally, a military jeep gave him a ride into Army headquarters. His bosses were upset about him being absent without leave. He didn't think it wise to tell his bosses that he had been sleeping with a pretty young woman, so he made up a story about being caught in the Blitz."

   She laughed at that. "You're probably correct that the latter explanation was better for his career. I thought maybe the soldier had forgotten that we didn't go directly to sleep. But I didn't leave because I was sorry, ashamed or embarrassed. I wasn't. We did the right thing, under the circumstances. I didn't leave because of that. I just thought that once we got back aboveground, we'd be back in the war and in our usual jobs, so we might as well get back quickly."

   She got up then, and went to the kitchen to start more tea brewing. She came and sat beside me, again.

   "So, we are saying 'he,' but you were my Army officer in the Blitz?"

   "I was"

   "And this morning, you weren't looking for some place, you were looking for me?"

   "That is also correct."

   "Why, after all  these years, were you suddenly looking for me?"

   "Because I had no idea where or how to look until I saw your face?"

   She looked confused. "You saw my face? You saw somebody who looked like me?"

   "A little more than that. I saw you, just as I saw you 20 years ago, in the form of a lovely young woman."

   "I'm not following you, at all."

   "I saw your daughter."

   She looked stunned, and took a moment before she could speak, again. "My daughter? How?"

   I explained how I had seen her, how I had met her, and how I got her mother's name from the adoption records and birth records. She seemed satisfied - still stunned, but satisfied.

   "One thing I want to say," she finally said. "You've been saying my daughter. She is our daughter. I assume you knew that?"

   "I thought probably, when I saw her birthdate, and saw you hadn't recorded a father's name. You didn't know mine. I assumed anyone closer to you - whatever their status with you - would have been named. But I didn't want to presume."

   "There's no question. There wasn't anyone before you, and only my pilot later. She is definitely ours.

   "That makes me happy. I hope you are, too."

   "I think I am. So, do you have plans beyond today?"

   "I have ideas. I'd like to see you whenever I'm in England, so we could get to know each other better, and see if there's the material for a lasting friendship, there. I'd like to tell our daughter who I am. I don't think it will make a great deal of difference in her life - she's definitely a child of the War - but she might like to know. Then, if you want me to, I'd like to tell her about you. I suspect she would be pleased to know, and there might be the possibility of a future mother-daughter relationship. I don't know."

   She thought just a moment. "That all seems okay by me."


   That all happened twenty years ago. We did introduce ourselves to our daughter, and she accepted us as if we'd always been there. She and her mother hit if off especially, and after a few weeks moved in together. I made a trip to London once a year, so I got a little bit of a chance to see "my girls" grow, and grow together.

   Then, after about five years, I received a letter from our daughter. It was brief: "Papa, please come live with us in England. We want to be a whole family." Well, there was no war going on, and the Intelligence Service seemed to be little more than a bunch of people spying on other people. I resigned from the Army, closed up my house, and joined my girls in London. We bought a little cottage in the country, but not so far from the city that our girl couldn't get in and out as she needed to. She lived with us until she found a man of her own. We still see her and her family regularly.

   We settled down to explore and strengthen our own relationship. We had lots of things we might have done, but we decided to do only those that we really wanted to do.

   That's what we're still doing.

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 © Sanford Wilbur 2024