The love at the heart of our familys wartime secret

By  | 

When Margaret Esiri and Andrew Evanss mother died, they read her diary and unravelled a lifelong mystery

In April 1939, Doreen Bates presented Bill Evans, the man she had been seeing for six years, with a sheet of paper. It listed, in two neat columns, the pros and cons of having a baby together.

What made the list unusual was that Bill was married to someone else, and would remain so, until his death in 1974.

Amazingly, Bill agreed to Doreens plea to start a family. And, after the birth of twins in October 1941, he spent every other weekend and summer holidays with Doreen and the children.

His wife, told of the twins existence when they were four months old, agreed to the arrangements, insistent that they should know their father. She and Bill had no children her choice and she never met the twins.

After Doreens death, aged 87 in 1994, Margaret Esiri and Andrew Evans discovered the list among their mothers many papers, which also included detailed diaries from 1931. Now the twins have edited and published the story in Diary of a Wartime Affair.

We didnt know our parents were unmarried until they told us when we were 10, recalls Margaret. Doreen always wore a wedding band and called herself Mrs Evans. We were told our father worked away.

Doreen Bates in 1934.

The weekends he came were the best, partly because we felt like a normal family, says Andrew. He slotted in immediately. We were conscious our situation was different, and I think staff at the school knew, but it never really got out.

Like many other wartime babies, Margaret and Andrew had been born outside of marriage, yet Doreens pregnancy had been, less typically, a meticulously planned one.

After meeting in 1930 when they began sharing an office at the Inland Revenue in Paddington, London, Doreen and Bill known as E in the diary struck up an instant rapport over long discussions about favourite books. By late 1933, their relationship had developed into a romantic and physical one.

Oh, I would give so much to have children, and the right to love him, Doreen wrote on 15 December 1934 after an illicit weekend with E in Winchester and a resulting pregnancy scare.

He, for his part, told her: I wish you wouldnt talk about babies. You have made me want them, too.

That E, however much in love with Doreen, would not leave his wife K in the diaries was never hidden. He was, I think, very fond of her, says Margaret, and he felt very guilty. He had a terribly strong sense of duty towards her.

In September 1935, Doreen wrote of her wish that E would tell his wife about their affair, despite believing such a move would end it. He would keep K, though he might suffer, I know.

Racked with guilt, E did eventually confess his infidelity, going on to tell Doreen by letter in November 1937 that their affair must end.

Bill Evans in 1934.

The hiatus lasted just two months. My love for him just leapt up out of the careful wrappings I had tried to smother it in all these weeks, she wrote on 22 January, after an impassioned meeting at Waterloo station.

The couple found ways to spend more time together snatched trysts in the office, lunchtime picnics, theatre trips, and a philosophy lecture course.

They also began a series of night walks around the countryside of the south-east. On 27 May 1934, Doreen wrote of meeting E on a night train from Charing Cross to hike the hills around Horsley. On top of Black Heath we rested and watched the moon sink We were rather cold but we were close and finally we slept for half an hour, she recorded. May my memory remain fresh and unblurred. Hers was, she noted, a gossamer happiness.

I must reconcile myself to having no children and not being Es wife, Doreen wrote in January 1935, going on to write in her diary, later that year, a stirring, but never-delivered speech to him. You think I should soon get over it catch another man, marry, have babies and live happily ever after. That is a convenient picture Well its not true.

With time though, her stance changed, and increasingly she considered the possibility of single motherhood. By November 1936, one week into a pregnancy scare, she had decided she would not seek a termination. I should manage This feeling of certainty and acceptance is quite independent of E, whatever he may say, or do, or not do.

Though keenly aware of the potential problems, by April 1937 her desire to have my baby, pure and simple and his baby something of him I should have the right to love and look after and help, was overwhelming.

Doreen began to take practical steps towards motherhood. She visited her doctor (who was, perhaps surprisingly, encouraging), arranged for her sister to care for the baby should she die and told her mother a deeply religious widow who also depended on her daughter financially that she was considering adoption.

It had to be him, says Margaret of the idea that Doreen could try to find another partner. She was deeply committed to Bill and remained so all her life, but she wanted to do this whether he stayed around or not.

She was determined to bring him round, she continues. She went on and on and I suppose there was an element of him giving in. His mother, adds Andrew, was too honest to have ever tricked Bill into a baby.

Doreen also accepted his initial insistence that his wife must know first. But the diary reveals her growing frustration at Ks fragile health and Es subsequent continual stalling. He found it very difficult to tell her, says Margaret. She had become very anorexic when he had told her about the affair and he was very worried it would happen again.

By the time he finally agreed to Doreens request to go ahead without Ks knowledge in 1940 believing that war would make the arrangement easier the announcement that she was to be transferred to Belfast appeared finally to dash her dreams.

Then on 7 March 1941, the day before her departure after a secluded hike in Surrey, one of the loveliest days we have ever had Doreen discovered she was pregnant.

Everything somehow just dovetailed into place, says Andrew. The timing was critical. Once she had gone it would have been impossible and she was getting older [aged 35], she felt time was running out.

Still unsure of Es continuing involvement, Doreen eventually returned to London in August, where she set about making arrangements for the birth. She found her employers to be surprisingly broadminded about what they deemed an unfortunate accident (the notion that it could have been a deliberate decision was apparently unimaginable). She was offered a long period of paid sick leave and a job to return to if she could avoid scandal.

She was lucky. It was wartime, the usual conventions could be stepped around a little and she was good at her job. They needed her, says Margaret.

For Doreens mother, Rosa though she did go on to develop a loving relationship with her grandchildren the news was harder to accept. The shock was great and she was quite prostrate all the evening, Doreen wrote in her diary. She was only allowed to visit after dark and the arrival of an ambulance to transport her, in labour, to the nursing home, horrified her mother.

Even after we were born, with E coming every other week, Rosa never reconciled herself to him, that he had put Doreen in that shameful situation, says Margaret.

It was a sense of shame Andrew and Margaret believe their mother never felt. She was uninterested in conventions of social behaviour and an ordinary, respectable life, says Andrew.

Bills commitment, of which Doreen could never have been sure, became apparent quickly. E is very thrilled more doting than I should have thought possible, her diary records of his first visit to see the twins.

He helped install Doreen, the children and a nanny in a house in London. Bill visited regularly, establishing the semi-formal arrangement when the family settled in Surrey after the war.

We called him Bill. She was more of a constant, but we were always clear that he was our father, says Margaret.

Involved as he was, Bill never told the rest of his family about his children. They met an aunt and several other family members for the first time only after their fathers death.

From time to time, as a young girl, Margaret received gifts of ballet shoes from K (a ballet teacher), but occasional meetings between K and Doreens sister never succeeded in establishing the rapprochement the aunt hoped for.

Watching the children play one weekend, Doreens diary recorded, E announced that having children was the supreme human experience. It was, says Margaret, a moment of vindication. It was what she had sought to tell him all along.

The Diary of a Wartime Affair by Doreen Bates is published by Viking, 16.99. To order a copy for 14.44, go to or call the Guardian Bookshop on 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of 1.99.

Read more:

We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By agreeing you accept the use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.

Privacy Settings saved!
Privacy Settings

When you visit any web site, it may store or retrieve information on your browser, mostly in the form of cookies. Control your personal Cookie Services here.

We use Google Tag Manager to monitor our traffic and to help us AB test new features.

Decline all Services
Accept all Services