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Coronavirus: ‘I’m in lockdown with my long-lost sister’

Sue Bremner and Margaret Hannay

Sue Bremner and Margaret HannayImage copyright

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Sue and Margaret have spent a lot of time cooking together during the lockdown

“The lockdown has been an absolutely fantastic silver lining for us. It’s given us an opportunity to make up for lost time.”

Sue Bremner and her husband David, from Shropshire, are stranded in New Zealand due to the coronoavirus pandemic.

But it’s given Sue the chance to get to know her long-lost sister Margaret Hannay – who she didn’t know existed for more than 40 years.

Margaret, 71, was given up for adoption at two weeks old by her mum, who had a short relationship with Sue’s dad in 1948. It was only last year that the sisters met for the first time after Margaret – who lives in Auckland – got in touch with Sue in the UK.

Sue, 65, and her husband went out to see her sister again as part of a two-month trip across New Zealand and Australia on 5 March.

But two weeks later, the country went into lockdown and they couldn’t get back to the UK. So Sue has been able to spend some extra time with Margaret and her husband, John.

“We’ve been having a wonderful time here,” says Sue, who lives in Ludlow. “We’ve been spending lots of time together drinking wine and cooking and having fun.”

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Margaret says she now calls her sister the “Sue-chef”

“We haven’t killed each other yet,” Margaret laughs. “It’s been great. It’s really hard, as you probably know, to share a kitchen with someone. But we seem to manage, everything works.”

Sue found out she had an older sister in 2000 when her dad told her that he’d had a child with another woman before he’d met her mum.

“My dad asked me would I try to find Margaret because he wanted her to know there’s never been a day gone past when he hadn’t thought about the child that had been adopted.

“He was very regretful that somebody had been brought into the world and he didn’t know them and he wanted to apologise for that.”

Sue gave her details to the General Register Office – which holds records of births and deaths – and searched on social media and ancestry websites.

She was told she wouldn’t be able to find out any information about her sister unless Margaret got in touch saying she wanted to be found.

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Margaret (second left) met up with her siblings John (far left), Sue and Lawrence (far right) for the first time last year

Margaret, who moved to New Zealand 45 years ago, always knew she was adopted but didn’t really have any desire to track down her birth parents. But last year, she told her daughter she had started to wonder whether she had any siblings.

She then got in touch with the General Register Office and within two weeks they got back to her to say she had a sister – giving her Sue’s contact details.

“I was sitting there in bed with my first morning cup of tea with John snoring next to me and I opened this email and I was like, ‘Oh I’ve got a sister’,” says Margaret.

“So when he woke up he found me sitting in bed with my cup of tea sobbing. When I told him he was delighted as he has two older brothers. I always wanted to have brothers and sisters but I never did.”

Sue says it was “amazing” when she got an email from Margaret introducing herself – but unfortunately their dad had died before they were reunited.

“Receiving that email was like winning the pools. I would’ve loved to have told my dad but I just kind of feel he’s inside me and he knew it was happening.”

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Margaret and Sue spoke to the BBC on FaceTime from Auckland

Margaret and Sue also have two brothers – Lawrence and John Connell – and all four siblings met up for the first time in the UK last year.

“It was a great opportunity for all of a sudden meet the rest of family to see how we all got on,” says Margaret. “Since we’ve known each other we’ve found so many similarities it’s uncanny.”

Sue and Margaret say they both like weak coffee and they suffer from “wobbly knees”.

Sue and her husband have already had two flights back to the UK cancelled – but are booked on a flight to return home on Saturday.

Currently, there’s only been one coronavirus related death in New Zealand and their daughter – who is a doctor – even advised them to stay on there.

“She says stay where you are, it’s very safe in New Zealand. But we’ve got children back in the UK and grandchildren. It’s a hard decision. Your heart is pulled to come back. We need to get back really but we’re having a wonderful time.”

The sisters had planned to meet up again in the UK later this year – but they’ve put the trip on hold until 2021 now.

“I’m already starting to plan as I’ve got to match this stay,” says Sue. “I’m thinking of booking Ludlow Castle and getting all the family together.”