War is hell but imagine being sent far away from your native home and told you are an orphan but you are not. That is the story in The Guardian about 1,400 still seeking to learn who their parents were. LINK>‘I couldn’t love her’: the last UK child migrants to Australia on the long, lonely search for their mothers by Susan Chenery.
Michael Lachmann had always believed he was an orphan. There was no childcare during WWII, unless you were rich. Much like my own maternal grandmother, his mother was doing what she could to provide care for him, while his father was away fighting in the war and she was working. Instead of being available for her to pick him up at a residential nursery, he was shipped to Australia at the age of 5 and placed in the Castledare Boys Home, run by the Christian Brothers, where numerous boys were starved, beaten and subjected to sexual abuse.
Between the 1910s and 1970, 7,000 children aged between three and 14 were transported to Australia as part of Britain’s child migrant program. Promised a better life and loving families waiting to adopt, most were instead delivered into institutions where large numbers suffered abuse. Often their names or birth dates were changed, erasing their links to their families of origin. Very few were adopted or fostered.
Even in their 70s and 80s all these people want is to find their mother, to know who she was. Two years after he was sent to Australia, Lachmann was adopted by a middle-aged Catholic couple, making his situation better than it was for some. Now 80 and living in Perth, after reading a newspaper article 10 years ago, he contacted the Child Migrants Trust. “I had no identity for my own children. It is terrible not having a family history, it is like being in the universe alone.” Thirteen years ago then British prime minister Gordon Brown gave a heartfelt apology to the former child migrants. “Your cries for help were not heeded.”
That apology came after decades of work by Margaret Humphreys, the founder and director of the Child Migrants Trust, who advocates for and seeks to reunite family members after a lifetime of separation. In addition to forensic work in finding mothers who had often kept illegitimate births secret, she took on governments, the power of churches and the establishment to uncover the injustice suffered by these children.
Humphreys had been a social worker in child protection in Nottingham in 1986 when she received a letter from a woman in Australia. “She said that at four years old she was put on a boat with lots of other children. She said ‘my parents are dead, I have no birth certificate, I don’t know who I am. Can you help me find my mother?’” Humphreys thought it was “preposterous” but investigated it, “as social workers should do”. She found the mother was “very much alive” and had been told her child was dead. Very similar to how Georgia Tann operated (she ran the agency my mother was adopted from), many of the children came from single mothers who had put their children into care, until they could get back on their feet. That is how my maternal grandmother lost my mom and my grandmother was married but for reasons I’ll never know, my mom’s father had abandoned them before her birth. So often, when the mother arrived to collect her child where they had been left for care, the child was gone.
There is much more to this heartbreaking story at the link in the opening paragraph.