Saturday, 26 March 2016

Working together to reveal the stories behind our British Home Children

I wonder what my great uncle Roger would make of the search to find him.

William Henry Hall, circa 1930, grandad
He was born in Birmingham in 1898 arrived in Canada as a British Home Child in 1914 and ran away to join the army a year later, and along the way changed his name, lied about his age and falsified his next of kin.

And not content with that when he was demobbed he seems to have vanished.

My cousins and I have had various attempts at finding him and every time we get a bit closer he always continues to be one jump ahead.

Now I know he was not deliberately avoiding his family but the lack of hard evidence and the multiple trails almost suggest he was playing with us.

The family stories have him going out west sometime after he left the army and there is a reference to him on a ranch in Alberta but there is also a tantalizing record of a man with his name crossing into the United States in 1922 and of another on an electoral roll thirteen years later in Silver Creek British Columbia.

The difficulty is that his assumed name was James Rogers which I always thought was just a simple process of rearranging part of his name, but it may be that he had already stumbled across the fact that there were a lot of Rogers in Canada and moreover plenty of them had James as a first name.

Laura Isadore Pember, nee Hall, 1968
All of which would make it very difficult for the Middlemore Homes to track their runway, and when he did write back to Fairview Station he was safely enlisted in the C.E.F and in Britain on route for the Western Front.

He was never one to accept authority and in 1913 aged 15 he had almost been sent to a Training Ship designed to “sort out” wayward lads.

It was where his younger brother who was my grandfather ended up, but for reasons we don’t know great uncle Roger was offered the alternative of migration to Canada.

All of which makes him a British Home Child and it was that discovery that led me to BHC sites and fellow family historians, some of whom are now my friends.

What we have in common is that search for information about our relative and a real desire to make sense of why children as young as four were migrated from Britain to Canada, Australia and other Commonwealth countries.

Like all family historians there is a keen willingness to help each other out which is made all that more important because the stories behind many of those young people migrated across the Atlantic are very fragmentary.

And so in the last few days we have had magnificent help from Susan,Sher, Dona and Lori who have dug deep into the records on the Canadian side and sent me and my cousins Marisa and Chris off on new avenues of research.

John Nelson, Montague, Hall, date unknown
In the fullness of time I hope I can help those in Canada make their way round the British records, because although the online revolution has made it easier for all of us, there remain obstacles.

That said I remain excited that what began for most of us as a search for a missing or unknown relative has turned into a major area of study and one that has come of age.

The official apologies by the British and Australian Prime Ministers have set the bar, while the growing research into the policy of migration reveals a complicated and contradictory set of motives which fits with that simple idea that history is messy and doesn’t just offer up one neat interpretation.

All of which brings me back to great uncle Roger and the search I started with another of my cousins Jac almost a decade ago.

I have to say we are still no nearer finding out what finally happened to him, but along the way I have become fascinated by BHC studies, discovered more cousins I didn’t know I had and made lots of new friends.

Now that is pretty good, and leaves me to wonder if great uncle Roger looked like his siblings.

I don’t know yet but I am hoping one day I will, and that in turn makes me wonder what he would have made of that quest his descendants have been on.

Location; Canada

Pictures; William Henry Hall, born 1899,  Laura Isadora Pember nee Hall born 1902, and John Nelson, Montague Hall, born 1896,  from the Pember and Simpson collections.

No comments:

Post a Comment