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“Searching for my brother Billy”

“Searching for my brother Billy”

…born in a pub in Devonport: bashed, abused & abandoned!

Born to a murky past, a heart-breaking tale of a sister’s search for her brother after being abandoned by her mother in England - before being sent to Australia - further lost to a world that had treated her so cruelly.

My sad story with Sandra Stafford as she searches for her brother Billy.

By Ian Browne Shamrock News

I was born on or about 18th October 1949, due to the fact mum gave birth to me in a pub and abandoned me – so no one knows when I was born. I was born Sandra Yvonne Stafford, mum already had a son, David Stafford, whom she also locked up in the room with me. David was born June/July 1948. We were both constantly abandoned for the first 9 months of my life, and I was also physically abused by mum – or maybe one of her boyfriends. Dad was stationed in the Royal Marines in Hong Kong, and apparently mum was having affairs left, right and centre (so dad told me). However, she never ever did anything to David, only left him locked up with me.

I have ribs missing! A baby’s ribs are rubber. The doctors cannot believe what has happed to them. I was stabbed in the arm with a fork, beaten, my face is out of alignment! I have extremely scarred lungs due to pneumonia - which came from being abandoned. Apparently, this happened seven times, and was all due to my physical abuse. When I finally met my birth father in 1997, he broke down and told me he had no idea what was happening to me, until finally, he was flown home from Hong Kong. He was met at London Airport by Inspector Wurnham, who was the inspector from National Society for Cruelty to Children - who had arrested mum 17 times, but each time I was given back to her! He told dad I was dying. Dad said he walked into the hospital in Plymouth and fainted when he saw me, he said I had absolutely no face, it was like a black ball! He immediately filed for divorce – found out mum was 5 months pregnant (not to him) and she was finally jailed as the cruellest mother the judge had ever met. It made front page headlines in an English newspaper. She lasted just two weeks in jail and was released. The baby she was then pregnant with was born Graham and adopted at six weeks old. I have found him, but never met him.

I was supposed to go on Surprise Surprise – a show in England run by Cilla Black. They came to Sydney and filmed us in 1991. The show was to find families and connect them on TV. They would invite people to the studio and then surprise them by bringing their family on stage. Then Cilla called me and said her show had been cancelled. This was not true. However, she had found my dad, and he told her what mum had done etc and it was not something that could be shown or talked about on TV. She then paid for me to be on an adoption register in England, in the hope that my mum would find me one day. In 1997 mum told her seven daughters that she had, with the next two husbands, their other sister and brothers, out there somewhere in the world. They picked the exact adoption register I was on out of the phone book, and we made connection. I went back to England and met them all, except my brother Graham, whom to this day I have not met. He is not interested, as he didn’t know that he had been adopted.

….I wish it was you that had been killed, not David!”

David, I discovered when I went to meet my birth family. Sadly, he was killed when he was 18/19 years old, in an accident. I met his adopted mum Naomi, but his adopted dad had died. I went to his grave etc. and it had the incorrect name and date of birth, and even date of death! When I questioned this, I was told to mind my own business. David’s adopted mum Naomi had never ever been to David’s grave, which I found weird. When I told mum David had been killed, her response to me was: “I wish it was you that was killed, not David! I loved him so much.”… You can imagine how I felt, I came back to Australia crying my eyes out for two days, then I realised I had to move on with my life, and thankfully, I did.

Re: My adopted parents – My birth dad told me that he had a nervous breakdown and put David and I up for adoption. Unfortunately, we were adopted separately. I was adopted by Frederick and Elsie Nicholson, and Billy was living with them when I was there. I was adopted in 1952 and abandoned a year or so later, as they split up. Fred took me down to Plymouth from Kings Lyn Norfolk, where we were living. He left me with his mum and dad and said he would come back the next day and get me – he never did. I lived with my adopted granny and grandad for 10 years, we slept in one bed, had one meal a day at lunch time: potatoes, carrot, peas and beans from the garden. As they had no money, I never had new clothes, never had toys etc. and hated Santa because he never brought me a present!

Photo sourced via

…I would cry for Billy Boy every night!”

When I met my adopted dad, when he came to Australia, I asked him who Billy Boy was, and he told me that he was my brother, to my birth mum. Billy had been put into a Naval Orphanage when Fred and Elsie split up, but it was only for boys, and apparently that is where he was before Fred took him to live with them. It looks like Fred had an affair with my birth mother. Billy was born William Ernest Bryan – Fred’s dad (my adopted grandad who raised me) was called William Ernest. My births mum’s maiden name was Black, but on her wedding register it says ‘Black/Bryan’ and on my adoption certificate it says ‘Black’ and on David’s it says ‘Bryan’. She was married when she was 16 years old, and had David at 17, me at 18, and Billy at 14. It is weird that all my adoptive family knew everything about Billy but nothing about David or Graham, except they did tell me I had three brothers. And they all seemed to know my birth mother, so I do believe mum had an affair with Fred.

I called Billy, ‘Billy Boy’- and when I went to live with my adopted grandparents, I would cry for Billy Boy every night. Granny told me he was my birth mum’s son and that my birth mum had burnt Billy across the face/shoulders with an iron! When I was being sent to Australia, Granny took me to Brixham, and she showed me a building, and said, “That is an orphanage for little boys, the sons of Naval Officers. Please don’t forget that.” She never said why she had told this to me, but now I realise she was trying to tell me that that is where Billy was.

One day in April 1963 two men came into our flat, I was told to go into the bedroom. When they let me out, Granny and Grandad were crying. Granny told me I had to leave them. She never told me why. I never knew until about a year or so ago, something came into my mind when I saw an old teddy bear in the antique shop here in Murwillumbah. Grandad did something to me in front of my best friend, and she went running out leaving her teddy bear in our flat. I grabbed it and went to bed crying. Grandad came in and put the teddy bear over my face so no one could hear me crying/screaming and did something awful. Granny was in hospital that night, I was never left alone with him, and I don’t know why I was that night.

When I went back to England, I tried to get in touch with my friend, and she said, “I cannot talk to you, and please don’t contact any of my family!” Is it because her parents had dobbed Grandad into the police? Two families tried to foster me so I could still see Granny and Grandad, but the government refused, and I was sent to Sydney 12th December 1963 on the Fairsky. I went to live with Granny and Granddad’s daughter Irene, her husband Charlie and their son John, they were then my foster parents, and I was a ward of the state for the next four years, during which Charlie sexually abused me. I broke out of the house and walked for hours to a police station and they refused to do a thing and took me back to him!

Searching for Billy…

This is a photo of me and Fred, my adopted father - on the day I was adopted 21st October 1951. This is what I would have looked like when Billy and I were together. I have been searching for Billy ever since I came to Australia in 1963, with no luck. I have had front page articles covering my story in the newspapers in England, I was on TV for five nights in a row telling people how I was looking for my three brothers: Billy, David, and Graham. From this I found out about David and Graham, but not Billy. The newspaper journalist never gave up wondering what had happened to Billy. Last year he contacted me and told me the following: “Billy was in the Brixham Boys Orphanage. When they turn 18, and if they don’t join the Navy, then they are sent to Australia with a new identity etc.” He believed Billy was sent with me on the Fairsky with the Big Brother Movement. All of a sudden, I remembered that the Sargent of Arms on the Ship took me downstairs to E Deck and introduced me to the boys from the Big Brother Movement. Then he turned me around and said, “This is your brother, he will be looking after you while you are on the ship.” He didn’t call him Billy, so I didn’t twig that it could have been Billy.

So, I have been looking for Billy all my life, in England, when there is a chance he could be here in Australia! I have contacted magazines, tv stations, etc and no one is interested in helping me find my brother. All they need to say is: “Did you come on the Fairsky with the Big Brother Movement 12th December 1963, and look after a young girl called Sandra on the ship?” They believe Billy may not have remembered me because no one would have talked to him about me, yet all my adopted family constantly talked about Billy with me, and I could never forget him.


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