More than three decades ago, twin sisters Pam and Wendy Valentine learned the startling truth about their father.
While the sisters were going through his World War I record, they came across something that indicated their father, Harry Valentine, had a previous family.
“I was showing them to my twin sister Wendy and nephew John, and he said to me… ‘What kind of wife demanding a tip?’,” Pamela, now 84, tells ABC RN The History Listen.
The dates didn’t match.
“He did not marry our mother until 1937. And we were wondering who this wife is,” adds her sister Wendy.
Together with daughter Wendy Kate, the twins decided to do some research.
Little did they know that they would spend decades looking for paper trails, trying to uncover their father’s hidden past.
The mystery deepened
They discovered that their father Harry Valentine married his first wife Flora Cohen in 1913 when he was only 24 years old. Flora was 46 years old.
The twins also discovered that Flora and Harry had a child, a half-brother, about whom they had not been told anything. Born in Sydney in 1910, the boy shared the same name as their father.
“My first reaction was surprise, then shock, and then you start asking all the questions. Why didn’t we know? Pamela says.
The sisters were determined to find their brother. They called him “Harry Frank”.
“Of course, we realized that he was 27 years older than us. [At that time] he would be about 79, but he might still be alive,” Wendy says.
World War I broke out four years after the birth of Harry Frank. A year later, in 1915, their then 26-year-old father enlisted in the military and left Australia.
When Harry Sr. returned in 1919, it seems that he had little in common with Flora or his then nine-year-old son.
Then in 1925 Flora died of pneumonia. Harry Frank was 15 years old.
According to public records, when Flora’s estate was registered at the office of the public trustee, two Harrys were present that day. At that time, their father said that he would take care of his son.
But it didn’t seem to be a happy reunion.
“For my grandfather, taking care of the boy meant giving him £322 of his mother’s inheritance,” says Keith.
“[And] a distressing paragraph was also found.”
Harry Sr. refused to legitimize the young Harry’s birth.
Upon learning of this, the sisters were even more determined to find out what had happened to their brother.
In 1989, Pamela published an ad in the newspaper. She was eventually contacted by one of Flora Cohen’s relatives.
The man told her that Harry went to live with their family in Bondi when he was about 15 years old. The dates matched.
A relative of Cohen described Harry as “effeminate” and “somewhat overdressed”.
“He was convinced that Harry was homosexual,” says Pamela.
Harry did not stay with these relatives for more than a few months.
He went to shakara in Narrabri for a year, but tired of it, he left.
It seemed that after that it was difficult for him to take up work. At the time, Australia was going through the Great Depression.
Things were hard, and Harry, who had clearly squandered his inheritance, was accused of petty theft.
He served over three months in prison.
Kate says Harry’s next gaffe seems especially unfair.
In 1932 the then 21-year-old was arrested in Sydney and charged with indecent assault on a man. The police made him write an incident report.
“I met a boy at the age of 17. And we had dinner at the station. I paid for our food. And then we went back to my rooms in the Salvation Army house on Albion Street. the boy became fresh and began to process my intimate places, ”wrote Harry.
I didn’t mind. I began to undress and go to bed. When the night porter came in [he] took us both to the office and called the police. I was arrested. The boy was sent to Gosford Farm Home for 12 months. I am a single person and I am not in the habit of doing such things.”
It was consensual, according to the police officer, but Harry was still considered a criminal and was sent to Maitland Jail for two years.
The family found the original written account of the incident.
“He is only 21 years old. He is not very old. And he just got hit by being called a criminal, and I think you can see it in his face, in his eyes,” says Pamela.
“His illegitimacy, his homosexuality, his loneliness and the loss of his family. He’s really in a very terrible position.”
homosexuality was illegal in Australia until 1975 when South Australia became the first Australian state to decriminalize it.
New job opens doors
After years of searching, it wasn’t until the early 1990s that Wendy and Pamela finally came close to finding their brother.
They discovered that after his time in prison, he worked as an orderly on the USS Queen Elizabeth until 1946. He acquired his skills as a nurse while incarcerated at Maitland Jail.
The twins also learned that Harry got off the ship in London and started a new life in the UK.
Now in his 40s, he works as a waiter in a prestigious hotel.
Finally, the twins received concrete information about their brother.
“It actually took us 21 years [to find this out] So all this time we were hoping that maybe we could find him alive, get to know him and convince him that he was all right, ”says Pamela.
However, when the sisters eventually found the new archive, English Death Entries, they found the news they feared.
Their brother Harry Valentine died in 1958 at the age of 47.
They were heartbroken. They are 50 years too late.
The following information upset them even more.
“When we finally got his death certificate and found that he had died by suicide, it was horrific,” says Pam.
It transpired that since he had no known relatives, Harry Frank was buried in a common grave in Hanwell Cemetery, Westminster.
They have since visited the London cemetery and left flowers in his memory.
And as the years passed, they learned to let go of resentment towards their father for keeping his brother a secret.
But there are still so many unanswered questions that Pamela and Wendy are thinking about.
“Why did he leave his own son? I found that my father was a kind gentleman. He formed the RSL, he was a scout leader helping other people in their community. own son,” she says.
“But you have to accept it in your life. You can’t be angry and offended for a long time.”
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