On their own - Britain's child migrants

Fred Wardle

Reproduced courtesy Fred Wardle.

Listen to an interview with former child migrant Fred Wardle.

This will be replaced by the SWF.


Fred’s mother and uncle were sent to Canada with Quarriers in 1927. He established the Quarriers Canadian Family organisation in 1996. Listen to him talk about the work of the organisation and attitudes to child migrants.


There was a stigma attached. My mother reported on her first Sunday in Canada, the farmer’s wife took her to church and people were whispering in the row behind, ‘oh it’s just another one of those home girls’.

Certainly even at her wedding her husband’s sisters were over by her whispering saying that isn’t she nice for a home girl. And so that kind of stigma was attached. We have countless stories of that; every one of them felt that stigmatism. And so that’s the reason that some of them carry on to this today.

These were the rough kids from the gutters of England and Scotland coming out to Canada and they should be treated with some disdain. Their parents were probably alcoholics or ne'er-do-wells, they’re probably all criminals, that sort of attitude I think prevailed at the time.

Some of the families are still I guess don’t understand the background, maybe they haven’t looked into the historical record and think that there’s something evil in the background of their family’s gene pool and maybe they’re worried about what’s going to happen to future generations. Those are the things that we would like to enlighten people about, there’s no shame in having been a home child.

In working on the Courier’s Programme I was astounded one day to be chatting with a colleague who is a successful publisher in Canada and after two or three of these episodes where he’s burbling on about all the work we’re doing with couriers, he sidled up to me and said ‘you know my father was a Barnardo boy’ and that was the first time he had been able to say that to anyone over all of these years. So there’s another I guess sort of a knock-on effect of damage to the second generation. We think that that will disappear and there’s evidence that it’s disappearing with the third generation. So perhaps in another 20 years this story will be strictly academic.

I’m sitting at the first International Congress on Child Migration which was organised it seems to deal with the issues of child migration to Australia really and if you take that further to abused children in the Child Migration Movement to Australia. So we came to this meeting feeling as though it’s an opportunity to discuss both the horrors of child migration and the successes of child migration and we’ve heard nothing but horror stories.

I think that’s probably what would have happened had this congress been held in Canada in the 1940s, we’ve moved beyond that but I think there is a great deal that the children in Australia could learn from the Canadian experience and they can see how we are moving on and moving away from the horror stories that they have experienced.

Its all healing, pride and recognition, those are the three objectives and I think in Canada we’ve had some very successful meetings. We had the dedication of a historical plaque on a receiving home last year and local authorities were overwhelmed with the turnout, it was thought that we’d get about 100 people out and many thousands turned out and we had to change the venue to a fairground’s hall that would hold everyone. And again there was a great sharing of wellbeing at that meeting last year in Stratford, Ontario.

The organisation in the early stages was very concerned about getting access to records. Couriers in Scotland were very appreciative of this and when they came out to a reunion that we had in 1996 they brought records with them and they shared these with families at the time. They had a team of six social workers who worked with all of the people who came out to this conference to share records and they’ve made them available through our organisation, Couriers Canadian Family and people applying directly to Couriers in Bridge of Weir and so those records are very, very important. In the early stages that’s what people needed.

We would like to find more Canadians; we would like to get more couriers children to come forward but we have really only contacted a few hundred families out of thousands. There is still perhaps a stigma attached in the minds of many.

We know of a friend of my mother’s for example who came out on the same ship with her who is still alive and we’ve tried three times to get her to come out to meetings but she doesn’t want anyone in her current village to know that she was a home child. So that’s the concerns that we are trying to address today to try to get the word across Canada that Couriers Canadian Family exists, that we are proud of our heritage and as second generation Couriers children are extremely proud of our heritage and we want everyone to share in that.


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