Friday, 11 August 2017

Letters from Ontario .......... stories of homesickness and great adventures

Now I have to thank the archivist of the Together Trust for the opportunity to read the letters and reports of some of the children the charity migrated to Canada.*

The party of 1897
It began later than most and stopped much earlier, added to which the number it sent was small in comparison to some of the other migrating societies.

The letters and reports on the children remain confidential which is as it should be, but in writing the new book on the history of the children’s charity I was given permission to roam over the archive.**

For a historian they are a fascinating resource and as a descendant of a British Home Child they add to what I know about our great uncle Roger.

In his case apart from a few official reports we have only a handful of letters and these from the time after he had run away and joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1915.

So to read through so many of these letters and reports is to get a view on the migration scheme from the sharp end.

In Canada, 1904
Leaving aside the big issue of the legitimacy of the policy here are the voices of those who left for an unknown future, along with the reports on how they fared.

Interestingly mixed in are also letters sent from siblings still in Britain.  These can be equally revealing like the one to Lizzie which began

“Dear Sister do you think if me and Martha Ann saved enough, do you think your mistress would let you go because you get on quite as well here in service and went on to say how much “mother does cry for you.”

And there is no hiding the degree that some of our young people felt alone and admitted they were home sick.

But history is messy and others having felt uneasy at first later wrote home that they “liked the country” and revelled in new adventures including “I milked my first cow today.”

One of the only letters from our BHC, February 2, 1916
There are plenty more to read, and  it would be wrong to draw conclusions on either the policy or its impact on those who were sent. The  the devil is as always in the detail.

But what these “home thoughts from abroad” do, is begin to offer a comprehensive insight into what it meant to be a British Home Child.

Each of us will carry something of the experiences of our own relative and will have read accounts which draw on collective written and oral testimony.

But seldom will many of us get to view such a range of either letters or reports.

I doubt even if I read the lot it would be possible to come to some arithmetical final assessment, and for every horrific account there will be others like that of Harriet who expected to “take a medical course and then go on to China or Japan" or the young couple who met in Canada, fell in love and married.

Well we shall see.

Location Manchester, and Canada

Picture; the 1897 party from the Manchester & Salford Boys’s and Girls’ Refuges on the steps of Manchester Town Hall, and in Canada, 1904,courtesy of the Together Trust and extract of a letter from Roger Hall, 1916 from the collection of Andrew Simpson

*The Together Trust,

**A new book on the Together Trust,

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