On their own - Britain's child migrants

Did you know... that many former child migrants fought for their countries?

man in uniform
Private Robert Clapham. Reproduced courtesy Pier 21.

During World War I and II, thousands of former child migrants enlisted in the Canadian Army to fight. Many still felt a strong connection to their British roots and it was an opportunity to open up a new direction in their lives.
Enlisting was also a way of trying to reestablish family links – with many contacting their old organisations for information. Some ties were renewed, but few wished to remain in England and returned to Canada.

Many former child migrants to Australia also signed up to fight for their country. Years later they would discover they had never been granted Australian citizenship.

Robert Clapham went to Canada with the National Children’s Homes at the age of 14, sailing out to Halifax on board RMS Cedric on 16 March 1929. He was taken to the Hamilton Branch distribution home and from there worked on several placement farms. At the outbreak of World War II, he joined the 5th Division Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps and fought in the campaign in Italy. Private Clapham was mentioned in Despatches for distinguished service and later settled in Canada.

collecting box with picture of Dr Barnardo and text about Barnardos boys in the war
Collecting box. Lent by Barnardo’s

This Barnardo’s collecting box dates from the early 20th century and was one of many produced to promote the organisation and raise funds for their work with children. It refers to ‘10, 715 Old Boys’ who fought in World War I.


Liverpool Sheltering Homes memorial plaque. Reproduced courtesy National Museums Liverpool.

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