Moving tale of love and loss in wartime Assam
A quite remarkable event happened in Leicester in June 1987, when Mrs Mary Mitchell met her niece, Ann Poyser for the first time: until only a few weeks beforehand, she had not even known of her existence.
In his recently published book, Tea, Love and War, Searching for Roots in Assam, Mary's son, local retired solicitor David Mitchell, has written the extraordinary story of how his uncle, Mary's brother, Stuart Poyser, had left England in 1932 to become a tea planter in Assam.
He was 21, single, a sports-loving young man who had loved and left a number of girlfriends behind.
In remote Assam, he formed a relationship and eventually went through a form of tribal marriage with a native girl, Monglee, by whom he had two daughters.
He regularly wrote letters home to his parents and sister (Mrs Mitchell still has some of them) but never dared mention the existence of his secret family in Assam.
When war broke out, he trained as a sapper in the Indian Army and was killed in action in Singapore in 1942. His daughters were six and two. He had provided Monglee with a piece of land and a "bustee'', or dwelling, in her jungle village, but she had little money and struggled to bring up her children as a single parent.
The local Catholic church helped her to secure an education for them in a distant town, but the older child died there and it was many years before the survivor, Ann, was able to return to her mother.
Monglee was devastated when her treasured box of papers with details of Stuart's family in England was stolen, leaving her with only a few pages of photographs and the Poyser name.
Years later, as a teenager Ann began a long search to find details of her father's death and to locate his family in England. Ultimately, now a single parent herself, she found details of his war service and the location of his grave, and that he was the son of Arthur and Millicent Poyser, of Leicester.
After further searches and help from the chairman of the Makum Company where she was by then an executive, she was able to link up with her aunt, Mary Mitchell.
Like Moglee, Mary was widowed when her husband, Arthur Mitchell, Stuart Poyser's best friend, was killed in action in Italy in 1944. Her son Christopher was then two, and David was born a month later. Mary's memories of bombs falling in Leicester and of the day she was notified of her husband's death, are among many poignant pages in David's book.
The reunion between Mary and Ann, and Ann's daughter Anita was a very happy one on all sides. Both Ann and Anita have visited Mary, now 96, and their cousins several times. When Anita was married in 1989, David and his wife, Liz, were principal guests at her wedding in Bengal.
David describes his book as "a patchwork''. In it he has skilfully blended a number of elements – Stuart's letters, Mary's diaries, Ann's memories of an often far from happy childhood, into a riveting story with a happy ending , or, as he puts it "a story of goodness emerging from wartime tragedy''.
Tea, Love and War, Searching for Roots in Assam, by David Mitchell, is published by Matador at £6.99 (ISBN 978-1-78088-089-1). It is available from Troubador Publishing (0116 279 2299), or from David at: