A BABY fondly held in the arms of a nurse. What could be more natural? Sadly, all is not what it seems. The unfortunate mite had been abandoned in the grounds of a Southampton club and might have perished but for the chance arrival of a porter.

But who was she?

It was late February 13, 1931, and honorary member Bill Wilson was about to enter the Queen’s Club in East Park Terrace when he heard a whimper. At first he could not make out where it came from but searching the grounds, he made a shocking discovery – a fair-haired girl with deep blue eyes dumped on concrete beneath a hedge running alongside a footpath.

The child was about a month old and had obviously been well cared for, not only nourished but dressed in a new, or nearly new, blue woollen knitted suit. As a safeguard against the cold, she was wrapped in a woman’s beige evening shawl.

He took the baby indoors and handed her over to the wife of the steward. Mrs Watts, who had children of her own, soothed her with milk from a bottle.

Police were naturally informed and the baby was taken to the St Mary’s Institution while they conducted inquiries.

It was not long before a public appeal brought information from a local man who had gone on board the India-bound Dorsetshire which had just departed from the docks with troops and their families.

Daily Echo: Karachi in the 1930s.

Harry Pennicott, who lived in Bedford Place, Southampton, told investigators he had been seeing off his daughter-in-law who was rejoining her husband in Aden and had been allotted a cabin with a woman whom he understood was the wife of a serviceman stationed in Karachi.

She was accompanied by the children and during the course of a short conversation she said the elder one, aged about four, was her own. The other, a baby, she explained, belonged to a friend and she was dropping her off in the town.

The airman’s wife took the baby ashore and Pennicott distinctly remembered she was wrapped in a brown evening shawl.

It was not until he read the Echo the following day that he connected her with the abandonment and called the police.

Pennicott, steward of the RAOB club in Portsmouth, was brought to Southampton and without hesitation confirmed the child as being the one he had seen on the Dorsetshire and was wrapped in the same shawl.

He told the Echo: “Shortly after 4pm on Friday afternoon, a woman accompanied by a boy, aged about four, entered the cabin which my daughter-in-law and her children were to occupy on the voyage to Aden. The woman laid what appeared to be a parcel on her bunk. I was then surprised to hear the cry of a baby coming from the bunk and realised it was a child she had placed there.

Daily Echo: Aden in the 1930s or 1940s.

“I said to her ‘You’ve got two children too.’ She replied ‘No this one (indicating the baby on the bunk) is not mine.’ I asked her how she had got the baby on board if it was not hers and she said no one had questioned her. She added she only had one child on her papers.”

Pennicott said he threatened to report her and would get into trouble for having a stowaway on board. The woman then explained someone had been due to meet her and take the child who belonged to a close friend, a single woman in service.

“She seemed so agitated that I would show her the way to the office to obtain leave to go ashore to the address of her friend. She said she did not know the address but she knew the direction. She went to the orderly room and was told she would be allowed ashore until 9pm. She left the ship about 5.30pm, telling me as she left that she intended taking a taxi.

“She walked towards the taxi rank and that was the last I saw of her.”

From inquiries with the shipping company, detectives soon established the identity of the mystery woman and visited several addresses at which she stayed before boarding the troop carrier.

Police took steps to contact the ship by wire before she arrived at Aden – and there the matter seems to have ended, leaving an abiding mystery.

Did the woman rejoin the Dorsetshire that February evening or disappear fearing she had been found out, or was it simply a case of mistaken identity?

The story was left unfinished.