Friday, 19 February 2016

Those British Home Children who joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force .............. stories behind the book nu 5

I am beginning to think the story of those young men migrated to Canada who enlisted to fight in the Great War deserves greater attention on this side of the Atlantic.

James Wright; date unknown
Now I am well aware of the prominence given to them within the study of British Home Children in Canada but suspect their contribution has yet to be fully explored in Britain.

To be fair the Together Trust who as the Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuges has done some excellent work in detailing the contribution of the young men who passed through their care to the war effort. **

And I suspect some of the other charities have done the same.

But I have yet to come across a book which looks at the big picture, exploring why a group of young men who had not always been treated well by their mother country should opt to fight for King and Country.

After all some at least had been migrated because they had been failed by the very society and prevailing ideology they sought to defend.

The Britain of the late 19th century may well have been an improvement on what it had been like in the early and middle decades when the Industrial Revolution was at full tilt, but there was still a huge disparity in wealth and for many a sudden bout of ill health or unemployment could pitch a family into destitution and the workhouse.

My own great uncle had crossed to Canada after years in care and there will many whose own BHC had similar experiences which all goes to ask the simple question why did they then enlist.

For some like my great uncle it was the promise of adventure mixed with a desire to escape the farms he had been placed on.

Thomas Wright, date unknown
For others it will have been a sense of loyalty and duty to their newly adopted country which sat beside that powerful belief that the Allied cause was just and the Central Powers were the aggressors.

I have been reminded of all this while I research the new book on Manchester and the Great War. **
In the course of which I have started to read not only the military records of my own family but also those young men who having crossed the Atlantic to start a new life after Britain had failed them went onto enlist in the C.E.F., and by degree found themselves back in the home country.

In the case of my own great uncle this was in a training camp close to the home of his father who had apparently shown no interest in him and his siblings.

Now I have no way of knowing whether Private William Phillips of Manchester ever made his way back to his home city.  He had been migrated in 1906 aged just nine, enlisted in 1916 and fought on the Western Front.

And as yet I know very little about James and Thomas Wright who arrived at Fairknowe Home, Brockville, in Ontario in 1910 and joined up six years later.  Their story belongs to Margaret Roper who kindly shared her photographs of James and Thomas.

Location Ontario, Canada

Pictures; James and Thomas Wright, date unknown courtesy of Margaret Roper

*Getting down and dusty,

***Manchester and the Great War, Andrew Simpson, due out at the end of 2016

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