NSW Thursday Story: What happened to unwanted babies in the 1900s?

31 January 2019

Naomi Hicks, daughter of Billie (part 1)

Billie’s story.

Billie’s story begins with Billie’s parents lived in two-bedroom terraced cottages in Middlesbrough, surrounded by industrial workers and labourers. Reading through the occupants, they were hard-working, with aspirations. This explains how one day, Billie came along. Billie’s father was probably a firewood merchant who had been working as such since his youth. The small cottage would have a few books, and Billie, the only child, had a good imagination. She also had a wonderful voice. A voice too big for her little town. She would have sung in the choir, in bands and, later at evening galas. Before she was twenty, she gave her occupation as ‘vocalist’. It was the middle of the War. She would soothe away worries with a voice that made people forget where they were. But she was Billie, and life was not always kind. She met a man, and before she knew it, she was pregnant.

Norman Perrott, son of Emmy (part 1)

Emmy’s story.

Emmy could barely hide her toothy grin as she swept the ‘tip’ into her pocket. Drawing herself up to her full 5’3”, she marched down the bar to the next customer. A better class of customer, this one. A military man. She knew her curls were Rita Hayworth-perfect, and if she’d slept in a hostel once or twice, it didn’t show. “That’s a shilling”, she said, with a ring in her voice. She was glad to be there. It may have been wartime, but she was really glad. She had hooked up her skirt and got in that truck six months earlier and never looked back. She would never never be heading back to the Chilterns. Never ever! Just a month after she met the soldier, she was pregnant.

Roger Lindsay, son of Vera (part 1)

Vera’s story.

Vera knew the one important thing in her life was family. Her and her two sisters, and their mum and dad. That’s what mattered. She ran down the steep terraced street that morning. ‘Careful, our Vera!’, said Mrs Fleet, brushing her front step. ‘See you after school’, she yelled at her friend Janet. She didn’t get her breath back until later. As she sat in the crowded schoolroom, her mind drifted to dinner. Mum had said there would be plum pie that evening. Plum pie! ‘Vera, stop day-dreaming’, spoke the schoolmistress, sharply. There would be tough times ahead for Vera. We don’t know what her occupation was but, like the other girls in our story, a few years passed, and she too found herself pregnant. She was 19. However, she was determined to keep her baby.

Naomi Hicks (part 2)

Billie’s parents were not having any of it. This baby was an inconvenience. There was no way that they could bring up the baby and Billie would lose her career. Worse, she would find no way of marrying or ever leaving Middlesbrough. The decision was not easy and she gave the baby the romantic name Naomi, before getting her eye back on the ball. Incredibly, by the time she was in her early twenties, she was settled in Bridlington as manager of a shop selling wigs and gowns. She had perhaps retired as a vocalist and realised there was more money to be made selling to the theatres. She married a government man, and they sailed almost immediately for Singapore, where they had her son. She never spoke of Naomi.

A photo collage of Naomi’s life

In the meantime, Naomi was growing up. She never knew her mother and there is no trace of the grandparents visiting. She was in the care of the local authority and people around her liked her jokey style. She liked bright colours and dressing up. Ironically, her heir and only next of kin was her mother, when she passed away in her early 70s in the north-east.







Norman Perrott (part 3)

Emmy couldn’t believe the kindness of the nuns. Why were they so helpful? The elderly nun climbed the chair to put up Christmas lights. Emmy snorted as the nun farted. She thought they were losers to give away their life to the church. She was getting out of here just as fast as her legs could carry her. There was just one more thing to do.  ‘Ready, Miss Perrott? Push! Wait a minute. Breath. Push!’ There you go, a baby boy!

We don’t know if Emmy was going to keep the baby. It’s really tough to know. He had learning difficulties and if Emmy was wavering before, the decision became easy. She’d spent a lot of effort on escaping and making something of herself. This was NOT going to get in the way.

Norman grew up in London and then later he was shipped, quite randomly, back to the Chilterns, being his ‘family home’. His family had no idea about him, nor that he was living around the corner. Emmy got her way of course, marrying well, and residing at a large country house, two hours from London. She never mentioned the baby again to anyone.

Years later, Emmy’s sister was on a family holiday passing through the old village where they’d grown up. Her own two kids were in the back seat. On impulse, she stopped the rickety car and had a chat with a local. ‘Oh yes’, he said, ‘Emmy was here just last week, in a big car with a driver. All done up in furs, and with a poodle on her lap!’ They never heard anything from her ever again.

Roger Lindsay, son of Vera (part 1)

Vera really tried to keep baby Roger. Her parents helped, but it was impossible. His needs were too great. With great sadness, she and her parents worked with the council to find a residential place for Roger. It was so hard. She eventually married and had another son, John. When we contacted him about Roger, the pieces of the jigsaw fell in place. Vera, it seemed, had asked John to wait outside as she just popped in somewhere, for a few minutes. When she came out she was in tears. She and John went on their way, and he thought no more about it.

Note: all these cases ended with one sole beneficiary who were half-brothers of the deceased, who were all totally unknown to them.

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