At the age of 77, Peter Pateman is about to meet the older brother he never knew existed.

On Saturday, Peter will shake hands with his 78-year-old brother John Tappenden who has flown in from his home in San Diego to bring a conclusion to years of family mystery.

The retired engineer only learned of his brother's existence last year after his daughter-in-law Sarah-Jane spent ten years tracing the family history. Both men had been fostered as babies and had no contact with, or knowledge of, their biological mother until Sarah-Jane unravelled the past.

And at his Burgess Hill home this week, Peter said: "It was about two years ago that we realised I had a brother and it was a shock to start with." Since learning of each other's existence the brothers have also discovered they both left school to work in garages, both served in the RAF as ground crew in the war and both were in Burma at the same time.

But now as the day of their meeting draws near Peter says he is "thrilled" at the prospect of sitting down with John and catching up on a whole lifetime.

It was Peter's daughter-in-law Sarah-Jane who finally tracked down John following a decade of research and trawling through documents. Sarah-Jane said: "Twelve years ago I married Colin and I started to question Peter, my father-in-law, on his past and so the story started to unfold."

She discovered Peter had been given away by his mother when he was only seven- months old. Sarah-Jane said: "One day she was told, pay up or move on, leaving Peter behind. She left letters behind for Peter but his foster mother burnt them, believing this would end all ties with his past."

Peter did not know he had been fostered until he was 17, but said he had always had his suspicions. Saddened by his story Sarah-Jane embarked on a mission to unravel the past and discovered Peter's birth mother, Gertrude Mary Tappenden, had married a man called Frank Tappenden back in 1914.

But she had an affair with a naval officer, George Nichols, and when her husband found out she left Portsmouth in 1922 and got divorced.

Although the trail then ran cold, because divorce papers are closed to the public for 100 years, determined Sarah-Jane gained permission from the Lord Chancellor to view the documents, and discovered Gertrude had a son with her lover - born 18 months before her father-in-law.

This son was John Tappenden who was fostered to a family in Kent and unaware of his true origins emigrated to America 30 years ago.

However before they discovered John's whereabouts the Pateman family's pursuit of knowledge took them to Derby where Gertrude had been lain to rest in an unmarked grave in 1972, having never re-married and spent her life working in the drapery


Peter's son Paul said: "She died without any friends, didn't have anything and was buried in a pauper's grave. And now after all these years she has been buried the whole family is coming together."

However a matron at the nursing home where Gertrude had spent her last years presented the family with a picture and Peter was able to see his mum for the first time in his life. Peter's wife Peggy said: "He sat in his chair and cried when he saw it."

Several years then passed before Colin Pateman, who has an interest in RAF memorabilia, came across the name of John Tappenden in a book and RAF archives revealed John had served in the Second World War.

And finally late last year Sarah-Jane sent a letter which was forwarded to John at his last known address - 30 years ago. However less than a week later her years of painstaking work paid off when John phoned from California.

When asked what he and his new-found brother are going to talk about on Saturday, Peter said: "It's not an easy question to answer. I think the two people have to make contact first and then we will take it from there."

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