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British 'War Babies' Still Seeking Out Their American Fathers

April 06, 1986|ALAN ELSNER | Reuters

BIRMINGHAM, England — The only thing Shirley McGlade knows about her American GI father is his name and the fact that he came from somewhere in Idaho.

McGlade, 40, is one of thousands of British "war babies"--products of wartime romances between British women and U.S. servicemen stationed in England.

Now, four decades after the end of World War II, hundreds are still searching for their unknown fathers, armed with little information but fired by a burning, almost obsessive, need to know their origins.

"I admit that I'm obsessed," said McGlade, today a housewife in Birmingham, central England.

'A Jigsaw Puzzle'

"It's like having a jigsaw puzzle with a piece missing. Even if my dad has died, if only I had a picture. I've fallen in love with my dad from what my mother told me about him."

The U.S. Embassy in London says it still receives hundreds of inquiries each year from Britons looking for their American fathers, but the 1974 Privacy Act bars the release of information without the veteran's written authorization.

"We get at least one inquiry a day," said Anne Girbon of the embassy's reference center.

"We refer them to the military personnel records center, but of course there are very strict restrictions on the type of information that can be released and the people to whom it can be released," she said.

Like many illegitimate war children, McGlade was told as a child that her father had died in combat. It was not until 1972 that she pried the truth out of her mother.

A Founder of 'War Babes'

She became a founder of "War Babes," an organization that helps people seeking their GI fathers. As of now, there are 137 registered members.

In the nearby town of Northampton, Janet O'Reagan runs TRACE (Trans-Atlantic Childrens' Enterprise), which has 200 members devoted to the same aim.

O'Reagan, 41, a department store worker, said her organization achieved 10 "happy endings" last year when children were reunited with the fathers they never knew.

"I've never heard of a case where the father wasn't overjoyed to discover he had a long-lost child, and sometimes even grandchildren, in England," she said.

Checking Phone Book

O'Reagan herself is now engaged in the task of plowing through the New York phone book, writing to all the people with the same name as her father.

"I wrote 550 letters last year to people with my father's name. Eventually, I will track him down," she said.

Unlike McGlade's father, who never knew that his English sweetheart was pregnant when he was shipped abroad, O'Reagan's father was aware of her birth.

"He paid the hospital bills but he was married with a child in America. I have a letter from him which he sent to my mother saying, 'Yes, my darling, I love the name Janet,' " she said.

Lives Deeply Influenced

McGlade and O'Reagan both said their mothers' wartime experiences had deeply influenced their lives.

McGlade's mother married six years after the war but her former relationship cast a shadow over the family.

"I hated my stepfather and he hated me. One day, when I was quite young, he had a terrible row with my mother and I heard him say he would rip up everything to do with 'that damned Yank,' " she said.

O'Reagan said her mother never married because "she was still in love with my father."

Both women speak with bitterness of what they describe as the lack of cooperation from U.S. officials. McGlade recently wrote to President Reagan complaining that she felt as if she were being treated as "someone else's dirty laundry."

But McGlade and O'Reagan have not been deterred.

"I'll never give up my search," McGlade said. "I deserve the simple human dignity of knowing who my father is."

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