There was a myriad of stories about saving, hope, kindness, second chances, and compassion during times of chaos and uncertainty like World War II. Most of them were lost in history and forgotten through time, but not those whose lives were directly affected by the action and changed forever. One of them was Mary Crabb, who was once an abandoned baby during World War II, but thanks to three Canadian soldiers who found and saved her, her life was changed forever.

Uncovering Her Past

Mary Crab grew up in a wonderful home with her parents, Mabel and Hubert Sheppard. She was seven when she found out that she was adopted. However, her adoptive parents could not give her many details and information about why she was abandoned. From the day she knew she was adopted, she just assumed that she was just another adoption case, like all those many other abandonment and adoption stories. Although she would often wonder who her real parents were, she never really looked into it since she has “had such a lovely life” and “most wonderful” adoptive parents.

Crabb was adopted at the age of five months in 1942. (Photo courtesy of  Mary Crabb via cbc.ca)

She’s had her own family and has three children of her own, but when her adoptive parents died, she felt that there was still a gap in her life that needed to be filled, and that was knowing about her past. With the help of her daughter, Crabb finally had the courage to take the first steps toward uncovering her past. They began tracing back her parents. From there, she discovered that her story was far from ordinary.

Mary Was Saved

Mary Crabb’s journey began when she was born on September 23, 1941, in Woking, near London. Her mother, 29-year-old Lilian Williams, was a Land Girl who kept her pregnancy a secret as she was worried that she would lose her job in the Land Army. She went into labor while she was cycling back home from a long day’s work one evening, so she decided to give birth behind some trees. Later on, she would plead guilty to abandoning her baby and be sentenced to two years of probation.

As it turned out, Crabb’s father was Frederick Elliot, who was in the Army and was married with three children. On that day, she was left unwrapped under blackberry bushes in a park in Surrey. The Royal Artillery Troops, who were at that time exercising in the area, heard the newborn’s squeaks but thought the noises were from a chicken. When the “chicken” did not stop, three of the soldiers investigated, and they were not expecting what they found out: a cold and blue baby in the bushes who was almost dead. The soldiers did not waste time and cut her umbilical cord with a pocket knife before wrapping her up in a shirt and driving her to Victoria Hospital.

The doctors who cared for the baby thought she would not survive because she was dangerously cold. By now, we know very well that she did and that she was adopted by Mabel and Hubert Sheppard five months later and then took her back to Hertfordshire.

A photo of Royal Canadian Artillery sergeant Ernest “Ernie” Curtis. (brandonsun.com)

Crabb’s story was featured in the Mirror and other newspapers in the soldier’s hometowns, but the story soon faded into history. As for the men who found and saved her, they were so fond of the baby that they even donated some of their own wages for her.

Reconnected

Fast forward to the time 80-year-old Mary Crabb was searching for her biological parents, she stumbled across an old photograph of her and her three saviors: Gunner Brackett, Ernie Curtis, and Bob Griffin. Curtis’ son, Harry, 71, heard about the story, and he connected with Crabb. His father passed away in 1995 but talked about rescuing a baby once during the war and that he was wondering what happened to that baby.

“Dad would never talk about the war, but this is a story he told often,” he said.

The two met for the very first time via a video call in 2019. Since then, they had formed a strong bond, and Curtis even sent his father’s lapels to Crabb to make her feel connected to him.

As for her mother, she was able to trace back her relatives, but no one really knew what happened to Lilian as they had not heard from her again after 1952. Regardless, it’s still amazing how the acts of kindness of the three men extended and affected the lives of other people, even after many decades.

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