The Peter Lewis Story
I was born Peter Laurits Rasmussen on the 5th April l952 in Copenhagen, Denmark. My mother and father were not married but my birth certificate gives my father’s name. Although my mother, Joan Lewis, was still going by her maiden name, the intention was for them to marry especially as they already had a son, Karl David born in 1950. But sadly it was not to be, as shortly after my birth my father disappeared, leaving us no option but to return to my mother’s home town of Leicester in the UK.
On arriving back I was put directly into care as an un-married mother with two sons was not socially accepted in those days. At first I was put with foster parents, which was short lived, and then on 4th July 1952 I put into care with Dr Barnardos Homes and sent to Garden City for Boys in Woodford, Essex, where I was to stay for 5 years.
By now my mother had changed my surname to Lewis as there was to be no sign of my father. Then shortly after my 5th birthday a car came to take me to a new family, ironically they weren’t new; it was my mother and my new father to be Robert Rohtle. They had been married for nearly three years and decided it would be nice for me to grow up with my brother Karl, and my new brother Eric who was four months old, and born on the 18th march 1957. We were to be one big happy family. All was going well with mum, dad, my two brothers and me. The years came and went as did the Christmas and birthdays, and of course the presents. It was all so perfect. What could go wrong?
Then shortly before my 8th birthday, my case was packed and I was to leave all I’d grown to love: Mum, Dad, Eric and Karl. I was going back into care once again. By now I was at an age where I wondered what had I done that had been so bad that they didn’t want me any more. This time being older it was harder the second time round in care, and was to become quite a handful. For the next seven months they tolerated my outburst’s of frustration until finally they’d had enough and it was time to move on to anther home .Ironically I was being sent back to Leicester and to this day I can still remember the journey back, Arriving on the outskirts of city I started to recognise the place where I’d been so happy for three years, my face must have lit up as I though that whatever it was I’d done wrong in the past I’d been forgiven and I was going home. But it wasn’t to be and I was taken to a place called Glenfield Hall, where physical and mental abuse was rife, and I was to stay there for the next four and half years during which I never had a visitor, even though my so called family lived less then three miles away, I was never to see them again.
Finally luck was to come my way, by now I was thirteen and had been told I was going to live in Australia. I had nothing to loose and besides I didn’t have much say in the matter! So on the 20th April 1965 a car arrived to take me to the Village Homes at Barkingside where I was to meet up with the rest of the party. Altogether there was to be nine of us, six boys and three girls. Prior to our journey we were to spend one week at the village preparing for the trip and I became instant friends with one of the party: Tony Bates. After a week of preparation and a two day flight we arrived in Australia on the Friday 30th April 1965.
On arrival, we were greeted by cameras flashing and the press interviewing us. We were all excited and happy and felt like celebrities, but once again it was short lived and our family group was split up and each of us kids was farmed out to different homes across Australia. Finally there were just three of us left, Tony, his brother Pat, and me, but at least we were still together – or so I thought. Then my name was called out, I looked on in sheer disbelief as I realised that me and Tony were to be separated. Again my name was called and I followed my new guardian toward the open door, I turned to take one last look and that was the last time I was ever to see Tony. But that was life in institutions, no sooner had you made good friends it was time to move on. Funny word that ‘Institutionalised’ it means ‘a person needing care’. How desperately sad that most children that were institutionalised never got cared for.
My new home in Australia for the next 2 years was to be in Illawong House in Woollongong. Despite being in a new country, nothing was any different from any other homes I’d been in. At the age 15, I was too old for Barnardos homes, and although I could barely read and write I was told it was time to find my own way in world, find new digs and to fend for myself. But I couldn’t settle. By the time I’d earned a weeks wages and paid my board and fares there was nothing left, so went from job to job. I even put my age up to get more money, changed my digs several times but nothing I did helped – I just couldn‘t win . So in desperation I turned to crime, but I got caught and was given 12 months probation and fined $75. But there was no other way to survive and I returned to crime. I was a boy in a mans world. Eventually the law caught up with me again, and I was sentenced by the juvenile court on March 7th 1969 to 18 months in Milleewe detention centre for young offenders.
I was released shortly after my 18th birthday in 1970, and during my stay in Milleewe I’d managed to save a few quid. By now a lot older and a wiser for the experience I came out and got myself a job. I moved into a house with four other guys in Kings Cross, Sydney, and for a while I tried to walk the straight and narrow, but in 1971 after numerous jobs, digs, problematic situations – it was time to move on, so my girlfriend Diana and I moved to her home town of Auckland in New Zealand.
On arrival in Auckland we moved in with a friend of Diane’s – Moana TeHei. Moana was a true New Zealander of Maori descent and was from the East Coast of the North Island, where all her family lived. She became a true friend. Shortly after our arrival mine and Diane’s relationship broke down and she moved out, I was on own again. Fortunately Moana and the rest of the house guests made me welcome, so I stayed for the next three years. During this time I had a number of jobs but could never get used to discipline, or come to that any form of authority. At the age 23 I was just about to hit rock bottom again and could see no future for me at all, but little did I know that fate was about to turn my life upside down.
One day in June l974 I arrived home and Moana introduced me to her sister Nati who had just come back from Japan on a culture tour. The rest, as they say, is history. After a whirlwind romance I was taken in by the largest family any man could wish to be part of, and moved to the family home town of Ruatoria where my Maori princess and I were to be married.
That day I will carry with me to my grave as it was like a scene from a movie. The whole town came out to celebrate and Nati’s father gave us a piece of land at place called Reporua, right on the beach, to set up home. After the honeymoon period was over and real life kicked back in, I realised it was time to support my new family, but with what? I had no skills. It was then Marino, Nati’s father, who offered to teach me the way of the land and the sea, how to tend the soil and fish the ocean, I was finally to find my vocation in life. I didn’t realise life could be so good after half a life time of being pushed from pillar to post, job to job, home to home – finally I’d found paradise.
Nati and I have been together now for 33 years been blessed with two sons Ariel and Aaron, as well as two grandchildren, Tangaroa (5 years) and Hine Ariki (1 year). I’m not a religious man but I would say if there is a heaven, I sure must be living in it.
Would I ever go back to England? Who knows, may be one day, but on the other hand I have everything I want and need here. Would there really be any point as everything I’ve ever wanted in life is here in New Zealand. To my Maori princesses Nati and all my extended family I say thank you for giving me back my life. ….Thank you…….
So, after years of not hearing from anybody came a blast from the past, it was my old mate Tony Bates who called me out of the blue on February 2nd 2007. After a long chat I asked him if he could find any information on my family in England. But I wasn’t expecting any results – but Tony pulled through for me. Unfortunately my brother Karl David died in September 1977, my birth mother also died on the 23rd September 2003 taking me, her secret, to her grave. That just left my brother Eric, who I can just about remember and would have been three years old when I went back into care. During the years following my admission into care, my mother gave birth to two more boys, my brothers Richard and Anthony, and thanks to Tony we are now all in touch and I have a new family to complete my already perfect one.
Does life get any better?
Two pictures just submitted to Tony show Peter and his family in 1958 on a picnic. The other picture is of Peter and his brothers Karl and Eric in the summer of 1959 shortly before Peters return into care.
Peter Lewis’s Story
Thank you very much for sending me a copy of Pebble on The Beach. My Goodness, you have been through the mill! Well done for all of it and for managing to turn it into a very inspirational read.