Firstly through correspondence, then through tentative phone conversations, John learnt that his birth name was John Barrie Easterlow. He was born on March 1, 1933, at Barras Heath Hostels, a rundown area of Coventry that was soon to be demolished. He was the eighth of 11 children born between 1920 and 1935. ‘When June and I first spoke we were a little wary, but once we started we haven’t stopped. There is a lot of time to make up for,’ he said.
John was raised in Coventry as the only child of George and Alice Tarver. It was not a happy childhood and he was glad to be sent away to the Royal Navy at 14. He met and married a Wren, Moira Cottier from the Isle of Man, and they settled in Ramsey. After nearly 50 years of marriage, he was widowed in 2004. Their son and daughter and families live in Scotland.
The highlight of John’s week is Age Concern’s social get-togethers, but now he has more to look forward to — his phone conversations with June and making plans to visit his new-found family.
June was the baby of the family, yet she is the one who left no stone unturned in her search for her siblings. Like John, she was brought up by adoptive parents in Coventry, but the difference is that she had a happy, fulfilled childhood. She now lives in a village near Chelmsford, Essex. When she reached her teens, her adoptive parents told her she was adopted and mentioned there had been other children of the same family. It was only when her beloved adoptive parents died that she felt able to start looking for her brothers and sisters.
She only had their surname, Easterlow, to go on. The fact it was an uncommon name made the search a little easier. What unfolded was a tragic tale. Their mother Annie died in May 1936, aged 40, pregnant with her 12th child. Her husband Arthur Easterlow, who had been in the Navy prior to their marriage, died three months later of pneumonia, aged 44.
The 10 orphans (one child died as a baby) were ‘scattered to the winds’, he said. June’s persistence paid off and she managed to trace Olive, Freda, Betty, Derek, who live in different parts of England and John in the Isle of Man. She also made contact with Winnie, Ellen and Cyril, who have since died.
There is just one piece of the family jigsaw missing: no one knows what happened to their brother, Harold.
John was three at the time the family split up, has no memory of his earlier life, although he has now seen photos of himself and his real mother and father. ‘I have a family I didn’t know existed and it has given me a wonderful new life,’ said John. ‘We are still hoping to trace Harold. Then we will be a full set.’