Brothers Who Found Each Other After 55 Years

The internet is fast becoming a powerful tool for more and more people around the world to communicate with each other and seek and find information. The following is a perfect example of how useful the world wide web has become and how it brought together two half-brothers who, for many years, didn’t even know the other existed.
This remarkable story begins on the 6th October, 1944 in Salisbury, Wiltshire, when Bob Burwell, who now lives in William Street, New Skelton, was born. Of course, during the wartime years, there were many soldiers stationed in England from abroad. One such man was Louis Walden Burwell, a Canadian from Winnipeg. Louis was stationed with the Royal Canadian Artillery in Aldershot and the Salisbury Plain area between 1940-45. Like many of his colleagues, Louis met a girl, Sheila, over here and enjoyed a wartime romance. Louis married Sheila on 21st February, 1942 but he hid from her the fact that he already had a wife and family back in Canada. Sadly, before Bob was born, the relationship ended and Louis eventually left our shores at the end of the war to return to Canada. Bob doesn’t think Louis ever saw him, although he later found a poignant letter Louis had written to Sheila before he went, leaving her and the child fond wishes.
After the war, Bob’s mum brought him up in the county of Hampshire (he still has the accent!) but she spoke little of his father, so as he grew older Bob was determined to discover more about him himself. When his mum died, Bob found a few photos and letters and it soon became obvious that some of the photos were of his father and his family in Canada. It turned out that Louis must have confessed to his wife back in Canada about his relationship in England as, remarkably, she and Sheila began to correspond and exchange photographs.
Having moved up to this area, Bob got himself a PC and became interested in the internet. There are lots of genealogy sites on the world wide web but Bob searched in vain for any information regarding his father. Then one day, after leaving some information on a website message board, Bob got his first breakthrough. He received an e-mail from a lady in Vancouver, Canada, who turned out to be a distant cousin – she informed him that his father was dead but that was about all she knew. Louis had in fact died on 3rd March, 1978.
Bob’s next success was through a website called ‘Project Roots’ ( www.project-roots.com ), a Dutch organisation who specialise in tracing Canadian fathers and their children from World War II, etc. After he had contacted them, they wrote back about a month later to tell Bob they had the phone number of Tom Burwell, one of Louis’ sons living in Garson, Manitoba, Canada.
So on 11th February, 2000, and with great apprehension, Bob made the call that would change his life. Tom’s wife, Jan, first answered the phone, but soon Bob was speaking to his new-found half-brother. Immediately, they ‘hit it off’ and soon became great friends, regularly corresponding by phone and written letters, exchanging many photographs. Of course, Tom could tell Bob all about his father and the family back in Canada. Louis Walden Burwell had been born in Winnipeg in 1908 so would have been about 36 when Bob was born. He had three sons over there – Tom, who is now 72, Bud (70) and Ken (67).
Eventually, Tom decided he wanted to come over to England to meet Bob. At 9am on 5th April this year, the two met each other for the first time at Teesside Airport. Tom had flown over with his wife Jan, and they stayed for a few weeks, Bob showing them around the area. Tom and Jan then returned to Canada to their 3 children and 7 grandchildren, saying ‘goodbye’ to Bob and his daughter, Belinda.
While Tom was over here, I was fortunate enough to arrange to meet him and Bob and hear their remarkable story at first hand while we enjoyed a pint at the Royal George. I’d like to thank them both for sharing it with us. Bob hopes to visit Tom and his family in Canada some time in the future – I wish them well and hope they all have a great time together. No doubt they still have many fascinating stories to share.

DB

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