World War II was not over when I was conceived, some time in January, 1945. VE Day was declared 8 May 1945.
Angus Calder wrote a book in 1969 titled “The People’s War” about WWII. Calder discovered that in the two months prior to the war, upwards of 3,750,000 people moved out of the populated cities. His research on evacuated children is an education: “When the children poured on to the railway platforms on September 1st, 1939, they were marched into whatever trains happened to be waiting until these were filled, in many cases with little or no attempt to control their destinations.”
The children from some areas were not very clean, and sickness soon spread. A sincere effort was made to keep the schools running, but “In the cities, half a million children were left to run wild. Children whose education was half complete took jobs. Others turned to hooliganism – so often were public air raid shelters wrecked by children that the authorities were compelled to keep them locked.”
As a dear friend told me, “It is especially important to put the events in the context of the times – only then can you understand why parents acted as she did. You need to realize that there were thousands of children born to foreign serviceman in England at that time. Authorities had to set up special homes to accommodate them, and fostering or adopting was very easy – anyone who would look after a child in any way was welcome. There were also more than a million children evacuated to foster homes to escape the bombing raids.”
After learning in 1994 that I was an unwanted “war baby,” another interesting tidbit came to the surface a few months later regarding my infancy. Just before my mother died, her executor suggested that had she not adopted me, I would have ended up in Australia under terrible circumstances. The wife of a BBC movie producer I had worked with confirmed that, “Many orphans and children from children’s homes were sent out to Australia after the war to what people thought was a new life, but in fact [was] to really bad situations.”
June Watkins sent me some newspaper clippings explaining, “The children were told their parents were dead. Parents were told that their offspring had been adopted.” In reality, tens of thousands of children were sent to populate the empire of Great Britain with “good British stock.” Many of the children were found, and claimed they “suffered years of neglect, beatings, and sexual abuse by the religious orders and charities that were supposed to care for them.” Hunger and forced labor were common fates for thousands of illegitimate and unwanted children as late as 1967. Several of the victims committed suicide. Many found it difficult to start families of their own. Fifty years later when they tried to find their roots, they found the records had been destroyed. A social worker named Margaret Humphreys became a champion for hundreds, and managed to trace some families, but her on-going task is formidable. Many parents and family members have died over the decades since this “national scandal of enormous proportions” was perpetrated on the innocent children.”
The migration “was carried out in secrecy and against every legal convention by up to 35 of the most respectable names in British children’s charities.” The resultant scandal was documented in a 1993 television program “The Leaving of Liverpool” on the BBC.
As CBS News reported March 24, 1999, “Too poor to care for (her son), Maud Jones had placed Tony in a children’s home in England after she divorced his father. She never gave consent for Tony to be shipped to Australia. She was never even asked. (As an adult) it took Jones months to save enough money to return home to see his mom. Their reunion was set for the middle of January 1993. But she died just two weeks before that. Jones went back for the funeral. “I saw my mother in the coffin,” he says. “It’s the most heartbreaking time of my life. And they knew she was alive. They knew. Bastards.” When he was a boy, the Church of England told him his parents were dead. That was a lie. When he grew up, the British and Australian governments told him his records didn’t exist. That was another lie. And Tony Jones was far from alone.”
It was very sobering to read the awful stories of these children and then realize that if it had not been for my adopted mother, my story could have been horribly different.
It could have been me.
Braid, Mary. “The Shameful Secrets of Britains’ Lost Children.” The Indpendent. London: July 13, 1993. p. 18.
Dalrymple, James. “How Britain Sent its Children Into Exile.” The Sunday Times. London: June 27, 1993. p. 7