08 October 2018

Robin W.G. Stephens and the Estrangement wrought by War

A few years ago, I received an email from a cousin of Robin W.G. Stephens (commandant of Camp 020). Robin had an aunt... and this cousin is the grandson of the aunt. I think.

Julia Elizabeth (Howell) Stephens (Jersey 1940 Registration
Julia Elizabeth (Howell) Stephens
(Jersey 1940 Registration
I had applied for Stephens' army records in 2016 but, without a family connection, I received the sanitized version of his file. With his cousin's signature, however, we were able to get the entire file released. One of the most interesting things was a letter written to the War Office in February 1946 by Robin's father, William Henry Stephens.

I knew that Robin's parents had been caught on the Bailiwick of Jersey when the Germans invaded and had remained there during the German occupation. I also knew that Robin's mother, Julia Elizabeth (Howell) Stephens had passed away on 13 September 1949 in Cheltenham. Robin's father passed away in Cheltenham in 1962 and his will listed his sister as beneficiary. This was perplexing. While Robin's brother had been killed during the First World War, Robin was still alive. What had happened between Robin and his father? William's letter to the War Office answers some of those questions.

Sitting in the Sunrays Hotel in Droitwich on 24 February 1949, William wrote to the Under-Secretary of State for War:
William Henry Stephens (Jersey 1940 Registration)
William Henry Stephens
(Jersey 1940 Registration)
Dear Sir,
   I shall be grateful if you can send me any trace of my son, Captain R.W.G. Stephens, I.A. Retired. I have written to the Military Secretary, The India Office, Whitehall, who states that he has no information; so in case my son was engaged in any of the other expeditions of this last War I venture to appeal to you for help in tracing him; and I enclose a note on his career which may suggest possible clues.
   I am now 80 years of age; my Wife is 75, broken in health since her collapse under the German Occupation of Jersey, where we were marooned from 1940 to 1945: she has been unable to walk unaided since. We had lost our only other offspring, 2nd. Lieut. Howell C. Stephens, of the 1st. Worcesters, who was killed at Ypres (Hooge) in 1917, at the age of 19.
   We saw little of our sons, as I was in the Egyptian Civil Service from 1890-1926. Robin married in India, a Mrs. Fletcher, who had divorced her husband; and her extravagance estranged us. We have no news of her; but we long to get into touch with our son. He was known personally to Field Marshall Sir Claude Jacob, who wrote a preface to one of my son's Legal Books.
   We should love to be of help to our son in case he has need of us. Can you help us to find him?
                           Yours faithfully
It is rather a poignant letter and William included a brief career synopsis of his son, along with a reference letter regarding his service in Ethiopia with the Red Cross in 1936.

Someone at the War Office made a note on the letter: Address 1940 - R. Stephens, Box No. 500, Parliament Street. Given that this letter is in Stephens' army file, someone clearly made the connection with him. In 1946, however, Stephens was commandant of the CSDIC interrogation centre at Bad Nenndorf, Germany which would ultimately end with his court-martial and subsequent acquittal.

The real question is... did Robin and his parents reconnect? I guess we'll never really know, although the very fact that William's will made no mention of Robin could lead us to believe that the estrangement continued.

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