She was discovered in a field by dog walkers at just one day old, racked with tuberculosis.
Petrina Hodges’ incredible story began in Bransbury Park, Eastney,
She was abandoned there by her mother, and brought up by nuns at Nazareth House convent, in Lawrence Road, Southsea.
Petrina, now 73 and living on Hayling Island, was always told her parents were dead and she had no family. Yet she always had a feeling that there were others out there.
As her four children grew up and one by one her grandchildren arrived, she longed to share the experience with siblings.
Then, six months ago, out of the blue, she was contacted by a woman from Canada who thought she may be her cousin. DNA tests proved they weren’t related but the woman, Ann Baker, felt sure Petrina had relatives and went on a mission to find them.
Fast forward six months and, thanks to Ann’s hard work, Petrina is celebrating Christmas in Ottawa, Canada, with the two half sisters and one half brother she never knew existed. She is overjoyed at having finally put the pieces of the jigsaw of her life together.
Calling from her brother David Robinet’s house, she said: ‘It feels as if I’ve known them for years.
‘My stomach was churning as I got off the plane but I was so happy as soon as I saw them. We all look alike, we’ve all got the same chins. My sister Dolores and I are both the same – both a bit mad.
‘It feels like a dream. I woke up this morning and thought, “where am I?”. It’s lovely.’
Petrina’s mother Margaret Baker was 17 when she gave birth to her first child and, being unmarried, felt she had no choice but to abandon her. Petrina has no idea who her father was.
In 1945, Margaret met a Canadian soldier and they moved to his homeland where her new life began. Only her husband knew her secret and she made him swear never to tell their three children, Dolores, David and Lorraine. He kept that promise until his wife’s death in 2002. Their father Joseph died in 2003.
The children, all now in their 60s, tried for 10 years to trace their sister without success, until Ann stepped in.
David, a policeman, said: ‘My father disclosed we had another sister on the day my mother passed. It is very cool that she was able to find us.’
The siblings had very different lives.
From the age of five Petrina was put to work at the convent, in the laundry and in the kitchen, but doesn’t have bad word to say about the nuns and the priests. Petrina left the convent at 17 and became an auxiliary nurse at a TB hospital.
She married her first husband Thomas Rellis and they had three boys and a girl. And, in 1979 she married the man she calls the love of her life, Don Brooks. He sadly died in 1996.
Petrina said: ‘Don was such a kind man, a man in a million. When we decided to marry he said to me “It will be nice to have someone from your family at he wedding”
‘I used to wonder if I had siblings, if my mother was still alive.
‘I wanted to ask her why she didn’t put me somewhere where I would have been easier to find. ‘
But she didn’t get anywhere with the authorities who said all the documentation relating to her mother was missing. The trail went cold until earlier this year and finally the family are now united.
Thanks to travel firm Canadian Affair which dramatically cut the price of the flight, Petrina was able to fly to see her siblings for Christmas.
Petrina added: ‘It was hard to leave my children and the grandchildren burst into tears at the airport because it’s the first time I’ve not spent Christmas with them. But I just couldn’t miss this opportunity of spending Christmas with my brother and sisters. It’s a dream come true.’