It's pretty much common knowledge that many of London's children were sent away to the safety of the English countryside during the WWII Blitz. What's less commonly known is that a number of those children who went to charity institutions never returned to their families but instead were sent overseas to the Commonwealth countries in a child migrant program that relocated thousands of them. Most were told their parents were dead. In general, that wasn't true but the parents who went looking for them later were told they'd been adopted by loving families who were taking good care of the children. That turned out not to be true in many cases either.
In all, approximately 130,000 British children between the ages of three and fourteen were deported to Australia, Canada, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and New Zealand between the 1920s and the 1970s. Rather than finding new homes and loving families, never mind the oranges, sunshine, and ponies they'd been promised, many of them suffered servitude, hard labour and abuse in remote orphanages and farms. You can read more about it here if you're unfamiliar with the story. I'd write more about it myself but having spent several days reading about the tragedies that befell so many youngsters it's easier for me to direct you to some of the sources I found. Many of the individual stories are shocking and very disturbing.
Even more distressing, if anything more were needed, was learning that the British government began the policy of sending away it's 'surplus children' as far back as the 17th century when 150 'waifs' were shipped to Virginia to work on farms. Between 1869 and 1935, it's estimated 100,000 unaccompanied children were sent as indentured workers to countries that needed the laborers and also to enlarge their population of white people.
It was not until the early 1980s that Nottingham social worker Margaret Humphreys found out that there were former migrants in Australia who were just realizing they might have living relatives in the UK. One day an Australian woman contacted her, to say she was trying to find her mother. The woman said she had been taken from a children's home in Nottingham and sent to Australia by boat, aged four, during the 1950s. Could Humphreys help? Her plea lead to a quest that would take Humphreys across the world and uncover a scandalous policy used to forcibly ship thousands of British children away from their homes.
While a number of those now grown children were able to be reunited with their families (and apologies made by the governments of Britain, Australia and New Zealand - but not Canada), it's not possible to undo the damage or to take back the years. I wept while I watched the video of the 65 year old woman meeting her 86 year old mother for the first time in more than six decades.
I understand childhood was always hard for the poor but I imagine there were compensations in being poor among your own. Thank goodness Margaret Humphreys was there to help before it was too late for any reunions.