Sunday, April 23, 2017


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.


Tom said...

A history for which the UK governments of the times might well hang their heads in shame. No doubt there were seemingly good reasons advanced for their actions. How easily we can be conned by government logic. Maybe with the coming elections here in the UK and France, we might bear that in mind.

susan said...

There are good reasons and then there are plausible excuses; what starts out as the former often transforms into the latter. Or, as my mother (and perhaps yours too, Tom) used to say, 'There's many a slip twixt cup and lip'. Too bad we have no moral philosophers in high places.

Should Fish More said...

The things we've (all nations, really) have done under the name and phrase of 'being best for the country', 'for the good of the country'. We are capable of such mind-boggling mistakes and, frankly, evil.
No one, no country, is immune. Sometimes the siren call of anarchy has a strong pull.

susan said...

You're right we have no modern example of a government that rules with wisdom and sanity. There may have been societies in the past that were more kind, but we can only imagine them now.
Anarchism describes a belief that government has an inherently malevolent influence on society, and that it perpetuates dependency and ignorance. Those who first described it thought that as people became more educated that government would simply shrivel up and die. Perhaps that's true, but we've yet to see the former. Anarchy as a war of all against all is a frightening concept.

Tom said...

Not sure my mother ever said that, but Lucy certainly says it. :)

Ol'Buzzard said...

I never knew that. The smugness of bureaucrats have resulted in many atrocities: here in the US internment camps for Japanese during the second world war (doesn't deserve to be capitalized.)
the Ol'Buzzard

susan said...

I've always liked the term 'donkey's years' as well. :)

susan said...

You're right that many evils have been initiated by bureaucrats, OB. Reading any histories of the British Empire can be sobering to say the least - millions died of starvation in India because of mismagagement and the stories about the Opium Wars made on China are chilling - all in the name of business opportunities.

Canada has nothing to be proud of when it comes to the WW2 Japanese internment. After Pearl Harbor thousands of Japanese Canadians resident on the west coast were rounded up, had their property seized, and were sent to work camps.

Sean Jeating said...

There's not much to add. ... ? ... Oh, there is. ... I am ... Whenever ... It makes me ... Ah, don't get me started.
Max Liebermann once said: "Ich kann gar nicht soviel fressen, wie ich kotzen möchte." / I just can't eat as much as I'd like to vomit.

clairesgarden said...

think there's been documentaries on television about it here. I've heard of it. I hope there are as many good stories to balance it up, but they wouldn't make an exciting story so aren't chased up. and there's children in this country to this day who suffer the same abuse, unheard ..... and politics I stay out of , even the good ones Politian=Liar. yes I am cynical.

susan said...

The unexamined complacency of those who choose to ignore their own history while blaming others really gets on my wires.

susan said...

I'm pretty sure you're right, Claire, but since we haven't watched television for years we've missed seeing them. I agree with you too about the trustworthiness of politicians.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan,

Former ABC managing director David Hill informed the historic inquiry into child sexual abuse in Britain that up to 60 per cent of the child migrants sent to Fairbridge farms in Australia were sexually abused.

It was reported that a fact finding mission in 1956 wanted to black-ban the Fairbridge farms, but the prohibition was overturned by the power Fairbridge Society's British Secretary who used all the establishment clout they could muster to reverse the ban. It was reported The Fairbridge Society's president was the Queen's uncle — the former Governor General of Australia — the Duke of Gloucester. Apparently within days the blacklist was lifted and the British Government allowed children to be sent to the Fairbridge farms in NSW and WA, where they were continued to be abused. They even helped subsidise the journeys.
"The documents show how politically powerful the Fairbridge society was. It was the plaything of the aristocracy," said Hill, who was also a victim while he was there.
A class action, commenced in 2009, alleged the Fairbridge Foundation and the NSW and Commonwealth Governments allowed a system of institutional abuse to develop and persist at the farm school over many decades was successfully concluded with compensation claims finalized for victims of abuse at Fairbridge Farm in June 2016.
Best wishes references
British Government knew Fairbridge farms were unfit for children, documents show
7.30 By Steve Cannane ;

susan said...

Hi Lindsay,
Thanks for the further information.
David Hill's support of Margaret Humphreys' investigations into the forced transport of children to Australia was incredibly important. He encouraged people who had never discussed their mistreatment with anyone (including their families) to bring the shameful program to public notice. That rich and powerful people were behind the operation of Fairbridge comes as no surprise, and only confirms the adage that says 'Power tends to corrupt, but absolute power corrupts absolutely'.
In Canada, the deportees who were known as 'Home Children' were given to farmers who were in need of laborers. They suffered great physical and/or emotional abuse being isolated on farms with virtually no supervision or care.
Unfortunately, there's no way to compensate those who lost their childhoods.
All the best