For 71 years, "we didn't even know about her. I'm getting tears now just thinking about it," says Thelma Janes of Canada, days after discovering she has a Belgian sister. Janes' father, Herbert Louis Hellyer, married and had five children in British Columbia before heading off to war in 1939, reports CBC News. He returned from Belgium after six years, having suffered a serious brain injury, and committed suicide in 1948. Unbeknownst to any of his children in Canada, Hellyer also left behind their half-sister overseas, the result of an affair he had while stationed in Ghent. Belgium's Florence Heene, 71, who knew only that her father was a Canadian soldier named Herbert, found his photo in a box of her mother's things and shared it on Facebook recently in an effort to find out more about him.
Hellyer's great-granddaughter saw the photo circulating in the media in Canada—a blogger at the Toronto Sun was among those on the case—and thought it looked familiar. In a box of her own mother's items, she found an identical picture Hellyer had sent home during the war, signed, "Love from Daddy." "I'm an elderly woman, I know what went on in the war and it's to be expected," Janes, 79, says of her father's affair. But the discovery of a half-sister left her in "absolute shock," she says. Several family members have since reached out to Heene to share their father's story and to welcome her to the family. Heene, for her part, tells the CBC that "I have the piece [of my life] that I was looking for," she says. (Read more World War II stories.)