On their own - Britain's child migrants

Grace Toohey

Barnardo's group on arrival in Sydney, pictured by the Harbour Bridge. Reproduced courtesy Barnardo's.

Listen to an interview with former child migrant Grace Toohey.

This will be replaced by the SWF.


Grace went to Australia in 1924, aged 12, with Barnardo’s. Listen to her speak about being happy with life in Australia but still retaining her British identity.


As you get older you can make the comparisons. To start with look at this a winter’s day, it’s beautiful. And also I say to myself if I’d been there I could have been through another war. I mean I was in the village when the war was on in 1914 and I was only about 4 years old, this was in between the time I went back to my aunt at Colchester.

I can remember I was only 4 years old and we all had to go to the village school irrespective of age and we were given pieces of squares of material and we had to pull all the... for gun cotton and we had to learn to knit washers and wooden needles for the people in the army.

They thought we were safer all under the one roof but we mightn’t have, there might have been more of us gone bomb.

And do you know we used to pick up bits of shrapnel around the school, we used to see the dirigibles dropping and we’d look up and we’d see these flights of aeroplanes and mother would come in and she’d say ‘Come in! Come in! They’re Germans! Germans’. We’d all rush in.

And the air raids at night, we had a man that used to come, Mr Worland, and he used to call out ‘Take cover! Take cover!’ and we’d all tumble downstairs and there were mattresses under the table and a very mean little fire going, just embers and all blackouts. We’d all have to get under the table and I was the baby in the cot so I sat on mother’s knee near the few embers. It was terribly exciting and then he’d come back and he’d say ‘All clear, all clear except the fog’. And we’d all go back to bed. It was very, very exciting.

I have him to praise on every Sunday just to see the lovely background and sing along with them and oh I watch the Jubilee programme, not the pop star the first one. Oh yes I’m English up to there no matter what and under no circumstances am I going to change my nationality. I don’t care if I lose my pension; I’m British to the core.
I think it’s quite ridiculous, see if I was Chinese I’d still be a Chinaman wouldn’t I.

But I know why it was, you see I went overseas in 1967 and the whole thing is they were catching people that had come in during the war without passports and whatever they need. If I was to get an Australian passport I was to answer a dossier about this long, even what school I went to, who was the headmaster, you have no idea. And I thought oh, this is quite absurd so I got a British passport, a nice gold front cover and the awful part was I had to go to a place here, St Leonard’s, and go to a building there and write an Affidavit to say I was who I was and sign a big paper. Then they sent that to the High Commissioner in Canborough to see if they’d grant me a British passport and it didn’t arrive till three days before we were sailing.

Ah I nearly swooned, oh and here’s me with all my things packed and oh.

See now just looking at that Jubilee programme, look at the beautiful, beautiful areas there are and all the little country. Oh there is so much to see and I looked at King Arthur.

Now I had a friend that lived in Cornwall and you know of course Tinagel and Daisy lived at a place called Camelford.

And I truly would, I truly would like to go back. I was over there for seven months 67. Oh and I loved England, I’d go there look if it wasn’t for... no don’t know, I’d have to be very rich and live in luxury at this stage of my life wouldn’t I, nice and warm and a chauffeur, the whole lot [laughs].

There’s a brother, I don’t know where, actually where he fits in and his name is oh Colson. My mother must have remarried or something and he’s got a very big glass factory in... now what’s that place, Dorset, he lives at Poole. He’s been out twice and we met him at Circular Quay and oh very, very nice, very well off. Oh you know after the war with all the broken glass everywhere and all the work that had to be done repairing. And so he is very well off and he goes for a cruise somewhere nearly every year. And the last time...

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