DRAFT: An account of the life of my Grandfather
|The most colorful lives are not necessarily the cleanest nor the easiest to decipher either. My grandfather Frederick Brown was the wild card of our family and the only person in that family I never really knew. Information has been collected over the years and it seems important to bring his life into a story that makes some sense of these snippets. Reading this story bear in mind that borders were not as fixed in those days and especially if you were white, had a little money, and spoke native English. So the family crossed the Rio Grande and Atlantic too and fro many times in the saga below. It seems he may have acquired as many as four passports/unlimited visas during his life and travels including those of the USA, UK, Mexico, and South Africa.|
The back story of my grandfather's life begins with a man called John Baptiste Hardy b, Feb 4, 1864, Clarendon Garden London England (originally Thomas Ford.) William Ford, his father died early and he was educated in private boarding schools including: Ongar Grammar School, Beckenham, Kent; School in Neuwied (Werner-Heisenberg-Gymnasium), Germany; University Germany- degree in Chemical Engineering.
He did not get on with his new stepdad Rupert Tratt or his three daughters. As a result of his international education, he spoke German, Italian, English, and French acquiring Spanish in later life also. He was working as a clerk when he fell in love with Rowena Margaret Victoria Louise Richards (b.1872). She was the daughter of Lady Margaret (Possibly Unk) and the family of Sir Richard Richards, a shipbuilder. Apparently, Rowena's uncle became the Premier of Canada - (then John A. Macdonald.) Thomas married Rowena on September 5th, 1889 in Gretna Green London. The marriage was annulled shortly after by actions due to his wife's parents. Heartbroken by this and the death of his own mother, also called Margaret, who left him 400 pounds, he changed his name to John Hardy and fled on a tramp steamer to the USA. Apparently, he chose Hardy as he was a distant relative of Thomas Hardy the author whom he admired.
He worked in Texas a short while before finding work in Mexico City. There he met a wealthy heiress Carolina Salazar y Terreros. He converted to Catholicism and married her there in Silao, Guanajuato, Mexico Nov 22, 1890. He acquired the name Bautista at this point which was later adapted to Baptiste. He had a daughter Maria de la Luz with Carolina shortly after but this child did not live long. About the same time he was tracked down by his ex-wife in England and their child Lucy Margaret Louise was given to him. It was difficult explaining this to Carolina who eventually accepted the child, calling her Lucita, and pretending she was the child that they had lost even though that child was younger, and the new Lucita grew up blonde and blue-eyed like her tall father. Carolina never loved Lucita as much as she loved her son John who came later.
John Baptiste Hardy then proceeded to work on the railways. He was very protective of his daughter sending her to the Sacred Heart Academy, New Orleans for her education between 14-17 after Raul, a local boy, had tried to elope with her. JBH acquired a job as a Superintendent with Huasteca Oil Company in Tampico Texas. The family lived there and Lucita was sent for Secretarial Training in Dallas. Later she returned to Tampico where she met the Englishman Frederick Archibald Brown, a British Accountant. They married in a Catholic church in San Antonio in 1914 where they also had their honeymoon. At this time the revolution had closed down the churches in Mexico.
They had seven children all of whom lived to be adults. Frederick was born in Mexico City, on May 14th, 1917. The family lived south of the border in Mexico for most of his childhood.
Frederick had six more brothers and sisters:
Frederick's older sister - Victoria Louise Brown (Vicky) born in 1915, in Tampico Texas, would go on to become a Mormon and have three main loves. The first Godfrey Winn was a famous journalist and author, who later came out as a homosexual but was undecided at the time. They had a relationship in the thirties but did not marry. Vicky and her mother spent time in a literary circle with Winn as a contact that included gay writers like W. Somerset Maugham (former SIS-Mi6). Vicky's husbands included a colonel and a man called Bill Hasim who kidnapped her child Bill for a time. She was the only one who really kept in contact with Fred when he went to South Africa.
Richard Archibald Brown 1919 (Dick) became a ship captain and was a hit with the ladies. He was 6 foot 7 inches tall. He was in the British Merchant Marine before the war started and was torpedoed during the war spending ten days on a life raft in the South Atlantic. He became a ship captain in later life and was married twice ending in New York where he had three sons.
Edward Albert Brown 1920 (Ted), in RAF during the war.
Robert Louis Brown 1921 (Bob). In RAF during the war. I met Uncle Bob on a trip to Mexico City where he lived and died. I remember him as being 6 foot 5. He had adopted an Indian girl called Susan who was now a woman living in Acapulco and they took me out while I was there.
William Hardy Brown 1924 (Bill) - joined Merchant Marine like his brother Dick during the war.
Margaret Diana Brown 1931 (Peggy), married a Mexican doctor who later became a General called Frank Balderama and a son called Antonio (Sometimes Tony or Anthony F.) who worked in Hollywood as a cameraman /Cinematographer. We met in Torreon, Mexico, where I fried an egg on the poolside tiles of his parent's house (Yes it was that hot.)
In 1932 aged fifteen Frederick ran away from home finding refuge with an Indian tribe for six months. He spoke very little about this experience after the event and why he left his family in the first place is also lost. When he returned he had pins through his nipples which later went septic and had to be removed.
In 1933, The family went to London where Fred senior still had family, and he tried unsuccessfully to find work. He was forced to return to well-paying jobs in Mexico from where he supported his family in England. Fred Junior appears to have qualified as a Chartered Accountant, like his father, but in England. The boys, therefore, grew up as teenagers without a father's influence in the prelude to war. Dick ran away to the Merchant Marine before the war started.
It appears that Fred was already in the Grenadier Guards before the war started and being over six feet tall may have been with the King's company for a brief time, based in the barracks in Windsor. That he was slightly pigeontoed may have militated against the precise discipline of his ceremonial roles but the buttons he gave his daughter came from a ceremonial Guards uniform.
In March 1939 his mother returned to Mexico taking his younger sister Peggy. They sailed on a German boat the Orinoco that returned to port, after it sailed, due to having "illegal" Jews on board. These were taken off by soldiers on the quay in Germany. The ship then sailed on to Veracruz, Texas.
In 1939 Fred went on a double date with an American friend and two British women. At that time his date Nesta Reed was engaged to a policeman. She met Fred at Finsbury Park station, London, where he was holding a newspaper over his face as a sign to identify himself along with the fact that he was tall. Nesta was a woman from Pentre in the Rhondda Valley, four years older than himself, and worked as a nurse in London. Frederick was apparently 6 foot three, 79kg (174 lbs) with British size 12 boots at the time of his enlistment. He was also a little pigeon-toed. He drank and smoked a lot and my grandmother said he was a man of vigorous appetite. Their first child, my mother Mary, came just over a year later in January 1941 born in Pentra due to the blitz in London and Fred being absent due to the war. Indeed the bombs destroyed the block of flats opposite where they had lived in Hornsy in the Mountview Road area. Ironically Mary's husband Mike would move into that very same road when he came over from India in 1947.
What Frederick did in the war is a bit of a mystery but we can fill in some of the gaps from where he went. Given his early enlistment, before the war, and where he served, the 3rd Battalion seems to be the most likely unit he served in. Some of these, including him, also received parachute training. He received training or had an assignment in South Africa during the war and he served in Italy. It seems he cannot have told Nesta the whole truth about where he was and what he saw in the war as all the Grenadier Guards served in France in the BEF and were at Dunkirk which my grandmother never mentioned, later they were also in Tunisia during the North Africa campaign. After the war, they were in Austria for a short time and also the German Occupational force before being deployed to Palestine, though it is possible he was decommissioned in Austria. He spoke six languages fluently: French, Spanish, German, Italian, English, and more strangely Esperanto. My mother remembers him wearing a peaked officer's cap but we have no idea of his rank. The rumors are that he was in Allied Intelligence due to his language skills, that he had been in the King's company, and because of his early enlistment and parachute training. Since his Guards record is not in the official listings but we know that he was a Guardsman this seems very probable. People in intelligence were not listed in released records.
Nesta had been in Pentre in the Rhondda with her child for most of the war without Fred and she lived there with her mother who ran a sweet shop for the mining community in the town. Frederick newly returned from the war warmed the house with bundles of now worthless Reichsmarks which he threw into the fire. They had the option of returning to London to a rent-free flat that just needed occupants but Nesta was persuaded by her mother and aunt not to do that on the pain of losing her child to their care. During this time Fred took his child Mary to the Catholic church in Treorchy. It was important to him that she had faith like his mother had had. But Fred was a caged animal in this location after all the experiences and stimulation of the war and the marriage quickly broke. He left his wife and child and went off to Kenya, East Africa where he acquired a job in the Valor oil company. He left his daughter with a few buttons from his Grenadier Guard uniform and some futuristic sketches of cars that seem very much like the cars we drive today. It seems he had a good eye and artistic ability. When established in his new job he wrote to Nesta asking her to join him but she refused.
After that very little is known of this man and his life. I remember my mother receiving the letter that said he was dead like it was yesterday though. We lived in a very old 15th-century house at that time. I was standing on the balcony in our hall looking down towards the front door, There was an ancient carved oak settle in the hallway and a stags head, which we called Clarence, hanging over that. These were in my view as I saw a bundle of letters come through the postal slot and I stopped to watch my mother pick them up. She narrowed in on one of the letters immediately and opened it while crouched by the door. I then saw her burst into tears. She told me that her father was dead. I remember shrugging as I had never known the man. He had died of lung cancer in South Africa on October 22nd, 1979. This was not a major surprise since he had always smoked prolifically. My grandmother gave up smoking in the fifties, persuaded by her daughter, and died at 97 despite having been a two-pack-a-day woman before that.
Later we found out that Fred had married again even though he had never actually divorced my Grandmother making him technically a Bigamist. He had another family in South Africa, though it seems he did not father any extra children and the woman was much older than he was. His mother and Vicky visited him there. The mother was angry at him for his abandonment of his family in Wales but she could see that he was happy there.
The elder sister Vicky remained in contact with her brother and with my mother. But she was never able to link the two as Frederick never wanted that after he left. He never returned to Mexico though it seems most of his brothers and sisters ended up living in the USA or Mexico scattered across the whole of Mexico, Texas, California, Louisiana, and New York. When asked what he wanted to say to my mother after all these years I guess he figured there was no way back but nonetheless said 'May God bless her.' So maybe despite all his wildness the man, baptized a Catholic, still had faith at the end of his days and a hope for redemption also. I definitely hope to meet him again when my own time comes and hear the true story of his life.