Living in a box

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Phil Parry is a former BBC news and current affairs reporter. He is winner of the BT Wales award for journalist of the year, BT Wales TV reporter of the year and radio reporter of the year.
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This is a life

There is nothing special about a cardboard box.

Except when it contains the life of an extraordinary adopted woman who was desperately seeking knowledge of her biological parents.

She was known as Ira Mills-Calford from the Heath area of Cardiff, but her name at birth was Dorothy Parry and she was given up for adoption as a baby 74 years ago in Gloucestershire.

She had no known relatives who could be traced after she died recently from cancer, and in her Will she left all her money to charity.

A fine father figure

Reading the documents in the box, it is clear that over a long time she made concerted attempts to find out information about her birth parents.

In a letter dated November 25 1995, from the ‘General Register Office’ in the ‘Office Of Population Censuses & Surveys’, details are revealed, written in a spidery hand, of an appointment at the ‘Fostering and Adoption Office’ with the ‘Newport Home & Family Finding Team’.

Stuffed into an airmail envelope is a copy of her biological mother Irene’s birth certificate from April 20 1922, with the registration details giving her home when Ira was born as Newnham in Gloucestershire, so Irene would only have been 20 when her daughter was born.

Irene’s father (Ira’s birth Grandfather) is named as Thomas Parry, whose occupation was recorded as ‘General Labourer’.

Closer inspection of the airmail envelope shows that it came from the ‘Family History Library’ of ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’, otherwise known as the Mormons who have created a vast archive by collecting the birth details of long-dead people.

A leaflet in the cardboard box is from the ‘Family Search Center’ of the Church’s headquarters in Salt Lake City, in USA.


Ira had a happy childhood

So Ira had contacted the Mormons to provide information about her birth parents.

Earlier that same year on May 16 1995, she had been given authority from England’s ‘General Register Office’ to receive details from ‘Littledean Juvenile Court’ about ‘the name of the adoption society or local authority which made arrangements for the adoption of’ (written in pen) Dorothy Jeanne Parry, at the age of just eight months.

She must have had a happy childhood though, with her adoptive parents in Cardiff.

In the cardboard box is a small dog-eared drawing of a Christmas tree with on the back, in a child’s handwriting, ‘To Mamey From Ira’.

The Western Mail from 1961 with news about a man calling from Warsaw published as front page news 

Along with the endless documents about life insurance, Ira kept cards from well-wishers after her adoptive mother’s death in 1992.

One says:  “No one could have done more…”

She has also kept mementoes – including a copy of the Western Mail from August 12 1961 with a picture on the front of Prince Andrew as a baby, and an advert for ‘The Compton Electrone’ with the wonderful slogan ‘Only the BEST is good enough for YOUR Church’.

The ‘Sole Agent for South Wales’ for ‘The Compton Electrone’ is the ‘TARRS’ store ‘PIANOFORTE & ORGAN DEPT.’ on The Square in Ammanford, giving a four digit telephone number.

A front page story in the Mail is headlined:  ‘PHONE CALL FROM MAN IN WARSAW’.

Inside is details of the GCE (as it then was) examination results, printed with the words: “PROVISIONAL pass lists in the General Certificate of Education advanced level examinations of the Welsh Joint Education Committee are published below” along with lists of the lucky people in each county of Wales.

Perhaps this is why Ira kept it.

Ira kept sympathy cards when friends offered condolences after her parents died

There is of course no photograph of Ira herself in the box – she would presumably have been far too modest for that.

The ‘look-at-me’ celebrity news of today would have been beyond her.

Did she ever marry?

It seems Ira remained a spinster all her life – one of the letters in the cardboard box is addressed to a ‘Miss’ Ira Mills-Calford.

Intriguingly there is a photograph of a handsome young man in a hat and wearing a flower in his buttonhole, but judging by its age this is almost certainly her adoptive father John Calford.

He was a ‘Plumber, Decorator & General House Repairer’ and his business card is also in the box with the same address in Cardiff where Ira grew up.

Ira was born to different parents

She inherited the house when both her adoptive parents died.

Census records show that Ira always lived in the Heath suburb of Cardiff, and ended her days there.

All this amazing life has been reduced to a few possessions in a cardboard box.

It’s rather sad.

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Phil Parry is a former BBC news and current affairs reporter. He is winner of the BT Wales award for journalist of the year, BT Wales TV reporter of the year and radio reporter of the year.

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