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Gordon Watts Reports
Column published: 04 June 2010
By: Gordon A. Watts   Biography & Archived Articles

Gordon A. Watts
Topics in this column include:
  • Britain apologizes to British Home Children
  • British Home Children noted on FaceBook
  • Library and Archives Canada digitization project

Articles in this issue of 'Gordon Watts Reports', as did my last column, focus predominantly upon information relating to British Home Children. The BHC articles included here are the result of information forwarded to me by readers of my last column. I offer my thanks to those who gave me the 'heads up' leading to these articles.

Scroll down this page to read the complete articles...

Britain apologizes to British Home Children (BHC)

On Wednesday 24 February 2010, at a reception held in the palace at Westminster, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown extended an apology to British Home Children and their descendants for the injustices that occurred as a result of child migration schemes that took place from 1869 until the late 1960s. The following is a transcript of the address given the reception by PM Brown.
    "It is with humility that I address you here this afternoon and address the many others watching and listening around the world. Your presence here today is a demonstration of your endurance against pain, your courage in the face of rejection, your bravery even in the face of betrayal.

    You are heroes, and your presence here today sends a message to the world that no injustice should last forever and that no one should ever again journey in sorrow without hope.

    Now, most of you here today are from Australia and I welcome you. But we have with us also men and women who were sent as children to Canada, to Zimbabwe, to South Africa and to New Zealand, and let us not forget there are people all over the world who were sent from the United Kingdom under child-migrant schemes. And let us also remember those child migrants who are no longer with us, those for whom the events today come too late, some of whom died fighting for freedom in the great wars of the last century.

    Now, I do not intend to speak at great length. Instead, this is your chance to be heard. Today is your day - one day among the many years lost, I know - but it is an important and momentous day, both for you and for our country because today your pain is recognised, your suffering is understood, your betrayal is acknowledged by the apology that I make on behalf of our whole country.

    I stand here humbled by your determination to have the failures of the past acknowledged and I am inspired by your refusal to be victims. And I am inspired also by the strength of your spirit, and therefore I do stand here as Prime Minister on behalf of everyone in our nation to apologise to you and to your families.

    A few years ago and again today, I listened in pain to the appalling experiences that I was being told about. And then I read the harrowing testimonies of others. I was troubled then, as I am saddened now, at the number of childhoods that were destroyed. But no one can fail to be touched by the terrible human suffering that sprang from the misguided child-migrant schemes and the mistakes that were made by successive United Kingdom governments.

    Many of your stories tragically speak of cruelty and of neglect, of the physical, sexual and emotional abuse in uncaring and brutal institutions, of the unrelenting hardship suffered by you and your families, of the utter devastation wrought on so many lives and of the ghosts that haunt us to this day.

    You know how it is to be torn from your brother or sister as you stand frightened, holding hands on a cold and windy dockside, never to see each other again. You know how it is to be five or six and told coldly by someone you hardly know that your parents are dead when really they are still alive. You know how it is that you are fighting to find your feet in the world, to be systematically deprived of food and starved of tenderness and love. And how it must feel as a child to never celebrate your birthday because the date has been changed, never unwrap a Christmas present or be hugged. I can barely imagine, but many of you here today, you know and this is an ugly stain on our country.

    It is harder still to grasp that these terrible events happened not in the opening chapters of our history, but in the living memories of most of us here today. Child migration didn't happen in the dark ages, so long ago that we weren't expected to know any better. No, this was happening in the United Kingdom until the late 1960s. Children as young as three, and I've met children who were sent away at the age of three today, were sent alone to the farthest corners of the world, the names and birthdays of some deliberately changed so it would be impossible for families to reunite, some dispatched in cases without the consent of their mother or father as Andy has just said. Indeed, many parents did not know their children had been sent to foreign shores at all; they had no idea where you were, no way of bringing you home. And this cruel and unnatural practice was, as you have said, not so much transportation as deportation, deportation from your mother country.

    And as nations, we need to know these uncomfortable truths. That is why I determined early on when I became Prime Minister to do everything in my power to recognise this shameful episode for what it was in our history. It's why we worked with the Australian government when they acknowledged their role in these misguided practices, and I am pleased too that the Canadian government has recognised the contribution of child migrants by designating 2010 the Year of the British Home Child. And it is why we are here today and why I can echo the words I said in the House of Commons just a short time ago.

    On behalf of this nation, to all former child migrants and to all families, we are truly sorry you were let down. We are sorry that you were allowed to be sent away when you were at your most vulnerable. We are sorry that instead of caring for you, your country did turn its back on you. We are sorry that it's taken so long for this important day to come round and for you to receive the apology that you so richly deserve. And we are sorry that, as children, your voices were not always heard, your cries for help not always heeded. Today we hear you.

    But I must say also I have been inspired that so many of you have overcome these unfair, dreadful experiences to lead fulfilled and happy lives. The people I have met this afternoon, you do not see yourselves as victims; you refuse to be victims. You show a spirit that is unbowed and unbroken; you are survivors who have built good, decent lives despite the trauma inflicted upon you in these most previous early years.

    And I know from the Child Migrants Trust of successful, happy reunions with loved ones brought home after decades to your origins, to your families and your communities. Patrick, who is here today, experienced firsthand just how crucial the work of the Child Migrants Trust can be. Patrick was reunited with his family last year. The search for them took time, it was extensive, it took almost 20 years, and sadly - as I know from so many others I have met today - Patrick missed out on meeting his mother. He was warmly welcomed by his extended family. After 60 years, Patrick was able to return to his roots; he never gave up hope and neither did the Child Migrants Trust. Patrick now has a real sense of belonging and a future with a family he yearned for over many years. And I hope for some others of you, this is the experience that you can now have.

    The Child Migrants Trust have told me too of letters from 1956, written by a couple who discovered that their son had been sent to Australia without their knowledge or consent. The letters demand the return of their child, saying he still belongs to his mother and pleading 'restore him to his mother immediately'. It was only 35 years later that the Child Migrants Trust was able to reunite mother and son.

    An interview with the mother of a former child migrant paints an even more tragic picture that we've got to understand before we can move on. The mother spoke of visiting her four-year-old son, who was placed in a residential nursery while she went to work. One day she was told it would be her last visit; her son was leaving for Australia. She spoke of going to the train station as the train was starting to move off; she saw her son on board and tried in vain to get him out of the train. He was shouting for his mother. Again, I am pleased to say that the Child Migrants Trust was able to reunite mother and son, but it was 40 years later.

    The Trust has worked tirelessly for over 20 years without break to uncover the truth on behalf of child migrants and their families. It has conducted painstaking research on family histories. It has helped former child migrants prepare emotionally to meet their family members after decades of separation, with all the unanswered questions that that brings. So let me pay tribute on behalf of our country and all of you to the Child Migrants Trust. It is a voice for many who were so long unheard, and I want to thank them as you want to thank them on everybody's behalf.

    The Trust, I know, has received extensive support from Nottinghamshire County Council, especially for Dennis Pettitt and Joan Taylor. It has worked with the International Association of Former Child Migrants and their families, ably led by Norman Johnston, Desmond McDaid and Harold Haig, and I thank all of them on your behalf and our country's behalf for what they have done.

    And I want to praise Margaret Humphreys, founder of the Child Migrants Trust, the relentless campaigner she is for justice. We are so proud of her. You know, a number of you as I met you said that Margaret's endless campaigning should be recognised by our country, and I tell you I will be leading that campaign. She has just presented me with a leather-bound inscribed copy of that powerful book, Empty Cradles. I shall cherish it always and I want to thank you for your dedication, compassion and most of all your stubborn refusal to give in.

    Now, I am pleased to tell you today that the government will continue to fund the Child Migrants Trust. You can press on, therefore, with your well respected work in seeking resolution for former child migrants and their families. We are also setting up a new £6 million family restoration fund to support travel and other costs for former child migrants who wish to be reunited with their families.

    And I would like to acknowledge, as I did in the House of Commons earlier, the work of the Health Select Committee, particularly its former and current chairs, David Hinchliffe and Kevin Barron, who first brought this unfairness to my attention and to so many others, and let me thank both of you for what you have done.

    Winston Churchill once said, 'All people make mistakes, but only the wise learn from their mistakes'. And from this disgraceful set of events that we've had to acknowledge, we learn that it is the responsibility of all of us to safeguard and promote the welfare of our children. I trust that today can be a turning point; that we can now, as a nation, apologise and take time to reflect on the truth before us, and remember the stories of child migrants, and commemorate your and their lives.

    And it's my genuine hope that today's apology, which is an apology from your nation, will go some way towards easing even a small amount of the pain that you've endured for many decades. So I say to our sons and daughters here: welcome home. You are with friends. We will support you all your lives. Thank you."
The Prime Minister's website provides links to further information relating to this apology, including his statement to the House of Commons, and to some video clips relating to the apology and reception.

British Home Children (BHC) noted on FaceBook

The following article regarding BHC in Lambton County, Ontario, and a FaceBook site was posted on The Sarnia Observer
    THE OBSERVER Lambton County, On - 7 Apr 2010

    Posted By NEIL BOWEN, - Lambton took in 'Home Children'

    While child poverty continues to be a heart-wrenching problem, Great Britain solved it a hundred years [ago] by sending children as young as two to Canada. The 100,000 children who arrived in rural communities, including Lambton County, between 1869 and 1948 are known as the British Home Children. They were orphans or came from families that couldn't support them.

    A Facebook site, Descendents of British Home Children -- Lambton County Branch, has been set up to help descendants conduct research and learn more about an interesting chapter of Canadian heritage.

    Barbara Luckham, co-ordinator of Lambton's branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society, has been gathering information about Lambton home children for two years.

    They were told they would love Canada, a land of beautiful mountains, but the reality included a lot of "horror stories" in which children were treated as slave labour on farms, housed in barns and fed at the back door, she said.

    People who took in home children were supposed to contribute money to the orphanage, which could be returned to the child at age 16. She has a personal connection. Her husband's grandfather, William Luckham, cared for a home child in the early 1900s. "It sparked my interest," she said.

    A search of the family records produced a photograph of a well-clothed boy about the same age as her husband's father. The two must have been friends, Luckham said.

    Despite the horror stories, some children encountered caring families, like the Luckhams, that prepared them well for a new life in Canada. "I would like to think every child in Lambton was treated well," said Luckham.

    Three brothers came to Lambton in 1905 from the streets of London, where they'd been begging for pennies. Their father had tried to support the family by selling firewood, until he became ill.

    In 1903 the brothers entered a Barnardo Home, part of the British orphanage system. It had established connections with similar Canadian institutions, and those connections brought them to the new country. From Lambton farms they launched successful lives that took them to western Canada, then back to England as soldiers in the First World War.

    They built strong families and healthy homes, Luckham said. Two years of detective work in the local 1911 census and Veterans Affairs archives has enabled Luckham to compile information about 59 home children that came to Lambton. The information is contained in two volumes at the Lambton Room of the county library headquarters in Wyoming. She's eager to add to a third volume, that's currently being compiled.

    People with information can contact her by e-mail at Anyone interested or with possible connections to British Home Children can examine the library volumes.
The original article posted to the Observer can be viewed here.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) digitization project

Many of the collections of documents held by Library and Archives Canada have been copied to microfiche and microfilm. These mediums, while useful for retention of records and information, require first, access to the fiche or films, and secondly, access to machines capable of reading them. They are not therefore, easily accessed from the comfort of your home.

Library and Archives Canada has recently embarked on a project to digitize and place online many of the documentary collections held in their collections. At this time they have two collections available online - Form 30, Border Entry Records, 1919-1924; and School Files Series - 1879-1953 (RG10). Access to the digitized records is through links on the Microform Digitization 'Browse by Title' page.

Clicking on the link for Form 30, Border Entry Records, 1919-1924 takes you to another page having links to the first 30 of 96 individual microform reels that have been digitized. Each microform reel contains varying numbers of records - the ones I checked ranged from 4000 to 6000 records each. Before attempting to access these records, researchers would be well advised to click on the 'Help' link and read the information on what the records contain and how they are organized. While the records are quasi-alphabetical, they are not in a database and are therefore not searchable by keyword. The help section does however, give name listings on what each microform contains, which makes browsing the records somewhat simpler.

Clicking the link for School Files Series - 1879-1953 (RG10) takes you to another page having links to the first 30 of 317 microform reels that have been digitized. These records have to do with Indian and Inuit residential schools. The files deal with all aspects of Indian school administration in Canada. As with the Border Entry Records, users of these records would be well advised to read the 'Help' sections before attempting to find anything specific here. There is a description of how the records are organized, and a link is provided to a list that details the corresponding microfilm reel number for a specific volume, school, or agency.

Images in these collections are first presented in standard JPEG versions. There is provision for them to be viewed in PDF format which will allow you to print, zoom and rotate the images. Navigation links allow you to step forward or backward for either page-by-page viewing, or skipping to a specific page within the series of records using the text box provided.

Indications are that these are the first two collections to be digitized, with more to come. It will be interesting to see what comes next.

Until next time.

Gordon A. Watts

Your comments regarding this newsletter, and suggestions for future articles are welcome. Click here to send me a message with a subject line of "Gordon Watts Reports".

To view back issues of Gordon Watt's columns, visit Gordon's biography page where all of his archives articles are available.

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