Friday, 17 February 2017

Finally the apology that matters .......... “a sincere apology to the former British Home Children” ....... reflections from a British descendant of a BHC

Now the news is just filtering through over here of the historic vote in the Canadian House of Commons offering a “sincere apology to the former British Home Children who are still living and to the descendants of these 100,000 individuals who were shipped from Great Britain to Canada between 1869 and 1948, and torn from their families to serve mainly as cheap labour once they arrived in Canada.”

Report on Roger Hall 1914 ......our BHC
It is of course long overdue particularly in the light of my Government’s apology back in 2010 and a similar one from the Australian Prime Minister.

But that is a churlish response to what is a most important recognition of the countless broken lives and awful stories which followed from that migration.

All the more so because living in Britain I was unable to sign the petition calling for that apology but as a descendant of a BHC I am so very pleased, and appreciate the hard work that went into the campaign.

St John's River, NB, 2008, along way from Derby
It made me reflect on a story I posted in 2012 soon after discovering that one of my great uncles was a British Home Child.

At the time I reflected, that I had “mixed feelings about the need for Governments to apologise for acts done in their name or on their watch when those events have long since passed from living memory.

The opponents of such apologies tend to distort the argument by citing ancient acts of wrong doing from Herod’s massacre of the Innocents to the murder of the small Jewish community in York in 1190. 

William Henry Hall, circa 1930s
Who after all could be held responsible? Not only is there no one who could in anyway be linked to such acts but the very systems of government around at the time have long since vanished.

More recent crimes are no less easy to deal with. In most cases successor Governments had nothing to do with those past events and apologies do not allow those who suffered to escape from being seen as victims. 

How much better then to follow the South African policy of truth and reconciliation which has been a brave 
way of coming to terms with the years of oppression and apartheid. 

But I think this is to miss the point. It is not so much about saying sorry as allowing those who suffered to feel that their lives and experiences were important and deserve more than a footnote in a history book.”

Laura Isadore Pember, nee Hall, 1968
That is why I was pleased that the British and Australian Governments and now the Canadian  House of Commons have apologised for the way that thousands of our children were taken from Britain and placed in Canada and Australia.

Many may have had better lives as a result and made great contributions to their adopted countries, but few had much say in what happened to them. They paid the price for the fact that the biggest and richest world empire could not look after them, and chose instead to let a group of individuals and organisations solve the problem of child poverty by taking them elsewhere.

Now the same people who oppose such apologies will argue that it was a different time and under different rules, except there were plenty of people at the time from socialists and trade unionists to middle class reformers who criticised the way capitalism tolerated such poverty as an essential part of the system.

John  Hall, date unknown
Sadly for my great uncle and most of the children shifted off to Canada it is all too late. The last that went across in the 1940s will be very old. Most of them never talked about their lives as British Home Children and so the stories of who they were, how they got to Canada and their early childhood experiences are in danger of being lost.

Some of us have begun to do our own personal research and storytelling. In my case I have been helped by the growing network of others doing the same thing, and by the Library and Archive of Canada, as well people over here.

Along the way BHC has become a legitimate area of historical research and the apology is another step to a greater understanding of what happened.

So, not that they need me to say so, but well done to the Canadian House of Commons.

And while we have no photographs of our BHC we do have image of his three siblings which will always be as close as we will get.

Location; Canada, Britain & Australia

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson and the Pember family

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