In 1986 Margaret Humphreys, a Nottingham social worker, investigated a woman’s claim that, aged four, she had been put on a boat to Australia by the British government. At first incredulous, Margaret discovered that this was just the tip of an enormous iceberg. Up to 150,000 children, some as young as three years old, had been deported from children’s homes in Britain and shipped off to a ‘new life’ in distant parts of the Empire, right up until as recently as 1970.
Many were told that their parents were dead, and parents were told that their children had been adopted. In fact, for many children it was to be a life of horrendous physical and sexual abuse far away from everything they knew. Margaret and her team reunited thousands of families before it was too late, brought authorities to account, and worldwide attention to an outrageous miscarriage of justice.
Amidst reading for the blind Orphans of the Empire (Alan Gill) my curiosity was pipped and I went in search of video content. This lead me to the movie Oranges and Sunshine which is the movie adaptation of the book Empty Cradles by Margaret Humphreys.
With initial exposure to Orphans of the Empire, and in my subsequent reading of Empty Cradles opened my eyes to something which I since learned few New Zealanders are aware of. This is despite the fact that the British Child Migrant Scheme saw not a small number of children arrive on our doorstep.
Margarets story was honest and gave a transparent glimpse into her own inner turmoil. I got the sense that she really felt for those on whose behalf she had committed herself (and in fact made significant sacrifices). The writing style was far less journalistic than Orphans of the Empire and this made for a much more compelling read. The common refrain amongst book worms “Just one more chapter” was my own.
Her story was very personable, giving insight into those former child migrants whose story became wrapped up in her own. All the while she wrote with a degree of sensitivity that pointed the finger at the engineers of the schemes, rather than desperate parents whose children were exported instead of supported with a robust system of social charity.