Richard Oliff: Did baby Willie Heinz even exist?

Was Richard Oliff given to the wrong mother for a few hours after he was born?
Was Richard Oliff given to the wrong mother for a few hours after he was born?

Within most families there are stories: tales passed down from one generation to another.

There will be nothing in writing, just verbal accounts of people from and by other people or events that have helped shape the way we live.

Some such narratives turn out to be true, as I’d discovered with one “rumour” that inspired my own investigations which in turn led to the publication of a book.

Others? Well, these are more difficult to track down, if they ever had foundation in the first place.

Some can get out of control: become exaggerated or even hurtful for no apparent reason.

One such example occurred to me this week. It is said that when I was born at Kettering’s St Mary’s Hospital there was another child born within the same hour called Willie Heinz.

Apparently, the tags that Willie and I were wearing became mixed up and we were, for a short while, given to the wrong mothers.

However, the mistake was soon discovered and rectified. Now, this is a story I remember hearing several times during my youth and I had no reason to doubt its validity.

However, my eldest brother, some 13 years older than me, saw fit to embellish the yarn in an adolescent attempt to annoy or irritate. “You’re adopted, you are”, he would say. “You’re different: you don’t belong”.

To a five-year-old boy this was incredibly wounding and most certainly hurtful, and I would run crying to my mother for reassurance.

I would then get it all over again because I was then seen as a “tell-tale”.

However, it has recently made me wonder if there really was a Willie Heinz born at St Mary’s on the same day as me, where he might be now, and above all, how different both our lives would have been had the error not been discovered: if indeed it was ever made in the first place.