Real Life

Am I Jean Batten’s secret love child?

New Zealand Woman's Weekly speaks to Auckland woman Val Linton who believes she is the daughter of New Zealand’s world-famous aviation icon.

W hen Auckland woman Val Linton began her search for her real mother, she never thought it would lead her to Kiwi aviation icon Jean Batten.

For the past 54 years, Val (73) has been trying to identify the mysterious woman listed on her birth certificate. But now she believes her real mother may be aviatrix Jean Batten, who reached celebrity status in the 1930s by flying solo from New Zealand to the UK.

However, there’s no record Jean ever married – or had children. Speaking to New Zealand Woman’s Weekly from her and her husband Roy’s Auckland home, Val reveals her torment in trying to trace her ancestry.

Born at the Alexandra Home For Unmarried Mothers in Wellington in October 1938, Val was 19 when she discovered the woman she called “Mum” was not her real mother. It turned out her father had married her stepmother two years after she was born.

When she asked about her birth mother, the answer she received from her normally loving father Frederick was, “I’ve given you a good home. I had to fight to get you and I don’t ever want the subject talked about again.” “But he was a wonderful father,” Val adds.

Her stepmother, who went on to have two children, also knew the truth about Val’s mother but took the secret to her grave. While researching her birth mother, Val discovered a number of anomalies in the official documentation.

On her birth certificate, Val’s mother is listed as Elaine Valmi Crosby (née Hoffmann) and her father as Frederick Crosby. However, a marriage certificate for the pair dated two months after Val’s birth has since been uncovered. And a divorce certificate has never been found, despite Val’s father marrying again when she was two.

Years later, when Val’s son was attempting to search his mum’s mysterious past on genealogy websites, he entered Val’s maternal grandmother’s name – Jean Val-mi Gardner – as listed on her parents’ marriage certificate. He was shocked when it returned the name Jean Gardner Batten.

That was the first time Val began to consider that the woman who broke the world aviation record could possibly be her mother. It’s a claim that’s been strongly denied by Jean Batten’s nephews, Jim and Colin Batten, and a researcher, who has dug out news clippings about Jean in Europe during September 1938 – one month before Val’s birth in Wellington.

Val can find no record of her listed mother, Elaine, and she also doubts the authenticity of the marriage certificate. She later discovered that her father, who served with the Royal New Zealand Air Force during World War II, knew Jean Batten and Val says she found out they were in love after speaking to a great-aunt, Joyce Keely, who introduced the pair. “She was more or less implying [they were lovers] without revealing the confidence.

They were both very good looking and I do believe it might have been a love match,” says Val, who adds there must have been opposition to the union. Val claims if Jean had fallen pregnant to Frederick, who was an insurance canvasser when they met – and not wealthy – then the scandal would have been too hard to bear, and they would have been forbidden from marrying.

“Somebody kicked up an almighty stink,” says Val, which is why she believes Jean remained unmarried and was forced to give birth at the home. Trying to find information about her birth from the Alexandra Home For Unmarried Mothers uncovered more mystery about Val’s past.

When she requested her birth information, she was told her name was not listed on the main register. “They found me on a separate matron’s register, born to a Mrs Crosby.

This was weird because my father was never married in 1938. But at least I had a time for when I was born – it was 10.38am,” says Val. “[Being on a separate register meant] no information went to the board of trustees – if it had gone there, it could have been made public.”

Just two years after Val’s birth, Frederick married Kathleen Goodwin, without any record of him divorcing his so-called first wife. Val is convinced Frederick’s first marriage certificate is fake, designed to make it look more probable that Elaine was her biological mother.

“I think Jean’s given the bride a made-up name and she’s put her name as the mother of the bride. It seems as though she wants to be identified, but not wholly identified,” argues Val.

When Val asked her greataunt if there was a possibility that Jean Batten was her mother, she replied, “Well, she is an icon and maybe therefore you’ll never know.”

Although Val is 90% certain that Jean could have been her mother, she acknowledges her lack of hard evidence. “I know that everything is circumstantial and I don’t have anything concrete, but how can I get something concrete?” she says. “The Batten family was very pleasant. They didn’t tell me I was a nutter or put the phone down.”

Now diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, Val would love nothing more than to find the truth about her heritage, which is why she’s telling her story. “I always get so far, then I hit a brick wall. People have said I’m in it for the money, but I’ve always worked and I’ve paid my way,” says Val.

“I don’t care about a famous lady, I just want to know who my mum is. I’ve got three children, 14 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren and it’s [so they] know about their heritage,” says Val. “They had their time – Jean and Dad – and it’s not really very fair to leave this legacy to me.”

Val and Roy live close to Jean Batten Drive at Auckland Airport and on a recent visit to Rotorua, Val took comfort in visiting a statue of Jean at the airport. “I went and held her hand. Everybody must’ve thought I was quite strange, but it was the first time in my life I’d ever been able to hold her hand.”

Being unable to confirm the truth about her mother has tormented Val, and she’s upset the Weekly’s investigations have not helped to prove her suspicions. “I feel disappointed and upset.

I just want the truth. I still believe there’s a probability that Jean Batten is my mother. The only way to know for sure is to take a DNA test. Everyone has a right to know who their mother is. Trying to find out who mine is has been a nightmare.”

Get The Australian Woman’s Weekly NZ home delivered!  

Subscribe and save up to 38% on a magazine subscription.

Related stories