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She had known my father for only 18 months when, in November 1950, she realised she was pregnant.

At 40, my mother was young for her age, and knew little of the facts of life after a very religious upbringing in south-east London with a Baptist foster family.

The turnover at Birdhurst Lodge was brisk, with each woman's stay limited to three months: six weeks before the birth and six weeks afterwards.

The timing was partly to give the mothers a chance to bond with their babies before deciding whether to have them adopted, but also a calculated move to let enough time elapse to make sure the babies were developmentally healthy, since adoptive couples did not want disabled children.

"But although we handed over the government maternity allowance to pay for our keep, we still had to work very hard at keeping the floors clean, scrubbing the huge staircase and doing all the washing; and they would make us get down on our knees in a group to repent.

There must have been 20 of us girls and we slept in dormitories."And they weren't even able to hide their 'shame' entirely, since twice every Sunday the women were marched to church in crocodiles, like children – which led to a cruel local nickname for Birdhurst as "the home for naughty girls".

Without family support, the teenaged Gwen had no alternative but to give up her daughter for adoption.

My Irish father had met my English mother in Oxford, where the refrigeration firm she worked for as a filing clerk had relocated from London.

At the time, she was on the rebound from a disastrous, unconsummated marriage to an Oxford college cook.

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