Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Empty Cradles - Margaret Humphreys

A friend in one of my book groups gave me this book to read.  It reveals the history of the British empire's deporting of almost 150,00 children to other countries from the 1920's until 1967.  The story is told by the social worker in Nottinghamshire who learns of the program when asked to find the parents of a woman who comes under her care.  She discovers that after WWII, children in the care of the government and charitable organizations were sent to Australia, New Zealand and Rhodesia to populate these far corners of the empire with "good white British stock".  She later learned the program was also conducted in the 1920's and 30's with the export of children to Canada.

The children were in most cases told they were orphans and were going to foster homes.  In reality, they were often sent to institutional settings in the other country, without their parents knowledge, to relieve the government and the charitable organizations of  their overburdened family assistance programs.  Horrific stories of abuse, loss and despair are told to illustrate the effect of the policy on the children and their families.

The arrogance of the English  and Australian governments and the charities involved is clearly shown in quotes from memos authorizing the program.  To grow up without any family, not knowing your history or heritage was heartbreaking.

Two television broadcasts were produced on the program, the documentary, Lost Children of the Empire, in 1989 and the drama, The Leaving of Liverpool  in 1991.  A movie was also recently released called "Oranges and Sunshine".  The author founded "The Child Migrants Trust" to fund research and provide support to families looking to find their roots and deal with the effects of their deportation.  Her organization manned phones during the broadcasts and had victims and their families calling until early in the morning.

I felt I gained insight into the ways a social worker cares for people, how they are skilled at listening and being accepting of the person's feelings.  The author says at one point describing her encounter with an adult that was sexually abused as a child while in one of the institutions in Australia:

"...and then suddenly there is a programme on the television and he somehow finds the courage or the anger to come and say "I'm giving you this.  I've carried it for long enough, I'm giving it to you now."  It's no good sitting there saying I don't want it.  You take their baggage because you know its too heavy for one person to carry through a lifetime. "

A shameful history for Britain and a sad and moving story.

Published:  1994  Read: June 2013  Genre: Non-fiction, history

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