It was a real joy this morning to see all age groups, faiths and political persuasions represented at our local act of remembrance outside the parish church. Over recent years it feels like this simple act has become a more inclusive part of our communities, and it is wonderful to see children and young people from local schools and community organisations taking part.
Whoever, and however, we remember, it’s important to recognise the role that our armed and community services play in maintaining our safety in these turbulent times. From first aiders at events, through our youth organisations, police, fire and ambulance personnel to veterans, volunteers and serving members of the armed forces; you all play a part in maintaining peace and safety, and are deserving of heartfelt thanks, not just in November, but all year round.
There are so many individuals and groups of people who we stop to remember. For me, the first servicemen I think of are my two great uncles. They were just two of over 118,000 children who were sent to Canada from England to work as indentured farm workers or domestics. Thousands more were sent to Australia or New Zealand, and the programme didn’t end until almost 1970. Some were orphans, many, many more were just poor, and were taken away from their families, often never to be seen again. Current estimates are that about 10,000 of these children joined the armed forces in Canada to fight for the country that had let them down so badly. Jennifer Layne, Head Researcher for the First World War Project run by BHCARA says:
They strapped on Canadian uniforms, and they went back to the country that has sent them away. They went home to defend the land and the freedom of the very people that used them as slaves. They gave everything when they were given nothing. They had no reason to fight and yet they stood for us. They died for us.
From what I have learned, one of my uncles was fortunate to be taken in by a family who treated him well. He stretched the truth to make himself appear old enough to sign up in WW1 and now lies in a war grave in France, forever 18 years of age. His younger brother was less happy in his new situation, and ran away more than once. His ‘adoptive’ family claimed an allowance for him for a considerable time after he left them, until the organisation which sent him found out. He couldn’t get into the army proper, though did enlist towards the end of the war. Afterwards, he was in the Merchant Navy and in WW2 served on the Atlantic Convoys until he was torpedoed in 1941. He and the rest of the crew remain in their watery grave just off Ireland. He was 39.
The stories of these British Home Children are heartbreaking. Most people know very little about the scheme, but if you dig into your family history a bit, maybe someone who disappeared between censuses and you can’t find a death record, or a trail that just goes cold for no apparent reason – these could well be some of the children who became known as British Home Children.
Remembering with love, pride and sadness Uncle Ernest, Uncle William and all of the BHCs who gave their all despite having been given so little.