An article in the Mid Sussex Times has uncovered a wartime story of love and loss and the profound effects it has had decades later.
War baby Rosemary Lever, 72, contacted the paper after we published the tragic story of her late mother, Winifred Knapp.
Winifred of Nobles Farm, Horsted Keynes, was killed on July 31, 1943, along with her husband, Ronald, when they were hit by a train on their wedding night.
The tragedy, that happened in the middle of a raging storm, was retold in the Middy on August 15 this year. The article recorded the occasion when the headstone on Winifred and Ronald’s grave in the churchyard at St Giles Church in Horsted Keynes was replaced by the War Graves Commission and blessed by the Bishop of Chichester on July 31, the 70th anniversary of their deaths.
What made the double railway fatal even more poignant was the fact that Winifred and Ronald were both in the armed forces, helping Britain’s war effort, Winifred in the Women’s Royal Air Force and Ronald as a gunner in the Royal Artillery.
Rosemary, now of Norman Road, Burgess Hill, only discovered the awful circumstances of their deaths when her adoptive mother, Agnes Buckman, died in 2004.
In a box of treasures Rosemary found a newspaper cutting from the Daily Sketch that recorded the awful accident and showed a picture of the couple on their wedding day.
Alongside the cutting, Rosemary also discovered the record of her baptism in October 1942 at St John’s Church in Burgess Hill when her natural mother, then Winifred Standing, became her godmother alongside her adoptive mother, Agnes Buckman.
Rosemary, who was adopted by Agnes and her husband, George, in Haywards Heath in April 1942 when she was nine months old, grew up with them at Franklands Cottages in Burgess Hill.
At the age of 12, the couple told their daughter that her natural mother had given her up for adoption for fear of her being left an orphan during the war.
But there is one overriding mystery that still remains and that is, who was Winifred’s real father?
The birth certificate she found includes the information ‘father unknown’. Yet, Rosemary would like more than anything to know who he was, not least because a genetic condition known as Fragile X Syndrome, which she believes passes down the male line, was inherited through her by two of her four sons.
“I would still, all these years later, like to know who my father was,” Rosemary said. “The condition Fragile X is passed from the male line so it had to have come from my father, and trying to find who he was is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.”
Rosemary still recalls the day she discovered how her natural mother died. “When I found the cutting in the tin box it was absolutely awful. It was after my adoptive mother died in 2004. We went straight up to the churchyard at Horsted Keynes and I found her there. It was awful when I actually stood by her grave; I thought ‘You poor thing, what must you have gone through. I would like to have got to meet her, even just for a day.”
Rosemary, who worked at the former Cuckfield Hospital from 1966 until she retired two years ago, said the article in the Mid Sussex Times in August was also a shock.
She said: “I would like to have known about the new stone being commissioned and blessed but nobody knew about me I suppose, so there was no one to tell.
“The only thing I have of my mother is the photograph of her in her wedding dress from the newspaper cutting.
“Although I didn’t know her I am very proud of her, that she did her bit in the war when you were putting your life at risk the whole time.
“My adoptive mother said Winifred wanted me to have a stable home and not end up in an orphanage. I think Winifred’s parents were strict baptists so being pregnant with me must have been very hard for her. She must have been a very brave lady.”