Oranges & Sunshine Info

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Now a major film, the book that exposed the
incredible scandal of Britain's forgotten and abused child
migrants
 
In 1986 Margaret Humphreys, a British
social worker, investigated a woman's claim that at the age
of four she had been put on a boat to Australia by the British
government. At first thinking it 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
British empire, right up until 1970. Many were told that their parents
were dead, and parents often believed that their children had been
adopted in Britain. In fact, for many children it was to be a life of
horrendous physical and sexual abuse far away from everything they knew.
Here, Margaret reveals how she unraveled this shocking secret and how
it became her mission to reunite these innocent and unwilling exiles
with their families in Britain. Originally published as Empty
Cradles

Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for Oranges & Sunshine:

4

Nov 18, 2009

Rewritten, having just seen the movie from last year.

*

This is a hell of a story, which has a whole skein of personal connections to me.

In the mid 1980s Margaret Humphreys was your average social worker living about three miles away from where Im typing this review, in West Bridgford, Nottingham. She got interested in what happens when adopted children try and trace their biological parents, which as we know is an emotional minefield. One day a letter arrived from Australia from someone who Rewritten, having just seen the movie from last year.

*

This is a hell of a story, which has a whole skein of personal connections to me.

In the mid 1980s Margaret Humphreys was your average social worker living about three miles away from where I’m typing this review, in West Bridgford, Nottingham. She got interested in what happens when adopted children try and trace their biological parents, which as we know is an emotional minefield. One day a letter arrived from Australia from someone who thought Margaret might be able to help her. This woman wanted to find out who she was.

I was four years old when I left England. I was living in a children’s home because my parents were dead, and was put on a boat with other children and sent to Australia. I don’t even know if my name or birthdate are right. All I know for certain is that I once lived in Nottingham.

Margaret checked this woman's sketchy information and fairly quickly found that her mother, at least, wasn't dead at all. So why did she think she was? So she began to tug at this little thread, and found several more, and finally unravelled the whole sorry astonishing story of the child migrants.

BASIC HORRIBLE FACTS

The essential facts of the matter are easily told, but not so easily believed. Between the 1920s and the 1960s various British charities, most with religious affiliation, took about 130,000 children between the ages of three and 14 from children’s homes in the UK, put them on boats, in shipments of varying sizes, and sent them without any family members or guardians firstly to Canada, then in the 40s and 50s to Australia and in a minority of cases to Rhodesia and New Zealand.

When the kids arrived in the colonies they were sent to what was basically the children’s version of prison farms – remote farms run by organisations such as the Christian Brothers where they were schooled and also did all the farm and building maintenance work. The discipline was severe and the pay was poor. Actually, they didn’t get paid at all, they were children. Oh, and quite often they were sexually abused. But you’d guessed that.

When they were grown up they were turned out and left to get on with life wherever they might be, with no explanations of where and why and who they actually were.


WHY DID THE CHARITIES DO THIS THING?

It was a solution to two social problems at once : the children’s homes and orphanages of Britain were full to overflowing in those years - because, as we know, if a woman had an illegitimate child it was taken away from her and put in an orphanage if no adoptive parents could be found - those were the days, hey?; and the British colonies were perceived to be in dire need of “good white stock” - that was the phrase they used!. Wow!

11 August 1938 : His Grace the Archbishop of Perth, Henry LeFanu, in a speech welcoming a shipment of 37 boys (as published in The Record, a Catholic newspaper) :

At a time when empty cradles were contributing woefully to empty spaces, it was necessary to look for external sources of supply. And if we did not supply from our own stock we were leaving ourselves all the more exposed to the menace of the teeming millions of our neighbouring Asiatic races.


To simplify matters, the kids were all told they were orphans (the vast majority weren’t). And the parents (probably mostly single women who thought their kids were in care temporarily while they got their lives together) were told the kids had been adopted by English families!! - they had no idea their kids were put on a boat and sent thousands of miles away.

What extraordinary lies. And of course, the authorities, the Christian charities, the governments who organised this, all thought they were doing a good thing, providing a lovely life for the kids away from the English slums they were born in, in sunny Australia or Canada!

THE ROAD TO HELL IS PAVED WITH GOOD INTENTIONS

So the kids grew up with no family at all, none. They didn’t know what age they were, what their right birthday was, or what their last name was. They had problems but they didn’t know who to talk to. A journalist got interested in Margaret’s investigation and wrote an article in the Observer. The lid was off, and the letters began arriving :

I’m shaking as I write this. This is the first time I’ve allowed myself to think about some of these things.

If I ever get to England I would go to them and say : look what you have done to me.

So suddenly Margaret Humphreys had become the champion of all these now middle-aged and elderly child migrants. They all wanted her to find out who they were. What a job. She got a secondment from her social work position and created the Child Migrants Trust and it took over her whole life. As she began to make enquiries MH was met with institutional amnesia and flat-out hostility from the charities and church organisations. Surprise!!! She had to prise the information out bit by bit. They hated her.

They really hated her.

Well, this plainly written and very compelling book tells the story up to 1994 – there was a documentary, a mini-series, the Order of Australia award for MH, and on 16 November 2009 there was finally an official apology from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and from Australian PM Kevin Rudd :

"To you who were sent to our shores as children without consent ... we are sorry. Sorry that as children you were taken from your families and placed in institutions where you were so often abused, sorry for the physical suffering, the emotional starvation, and the cold absence of love of tenderness of care. Sorry for the tragedy, the absolute tragedy of childhoods lost, childhoods spent instead in austere and authoritarian places where names were replaced by numbers. The truth is a great evil has been done."

A MOVIE

In 2010 they filmed the story as Oranges and Sunshine starring Emily Watson as Margaret Humphreys. It's a very solid decent attempt to tell a complex story of human unhappiness. One of the things that came through very strongly is that

religious institutions of the past were magnets for sadistic men who enjoyed being cruel to children, and that some of these sadists were also paedophiles, or perhaps men who used kids for sex because their options were very limited, it's hard to tell, and who's going to say anyway. And who wants to draw these distinctions? But here's another head-rattler -

None of these criminals ever came before a court. Their organisation (in this case the Christian Brothers but elsewhere other religious groups) closed up like a giant clam full of vile secrets.


PERSONAL CONNECTIONS

- My maternal grandmother, I discovered, after many years, had an illegitimate child who ended up in Australia. Maybe he was one of these migrant children, maybe he emigrated on his own initiative. I'm not sure.

- One friend of mine who had been adopted got Margaret Humphries to trace her parents - that's a whole other story, but it did have a quasi-happy ending. At the age of 31 she found two sisters she had no idea about.

- And finally, if you watch this movie on dvd pause it at 46 minutes and 20 seconds. Through the car window you can see my old house, the first one I bought!


...more
2

Aug 30, 2012



Sometimes, important emotionally charged true stories are ruined by bad writing.

This non-fiction book is about the dreadful and covered-up history of child migrants. For three decades (1940s - 1967), thousands of English and Irish children were taken from their homes and shipped to Commonwealth countries (namely NZ, Canada, Rhodesia and Australia) to populate the colonies and provide (slave) labour to farms. They were told they were orphans and sometimes their names and birthdates were changed.

Sometimes, important emotionally charged true stories are ruined by bad writing.

This non-fiction book is about the dreadful and covered-up history of child migrants. For three decades (1940s - 1967), thousands of English and Irish children were taken from their homes and shipped to Commonwealth countries (namely NZ, Canada, Rhodesia and Australia) to populate the colonies and provide (slave) labour to farms. They were told they were orphans and sometimes their names and birthdates were changed. Frequently records were destroyed, thus preventing parent-child reunions in the future.

The author (a social worker by profession) finds herself involved in reuniting families and before long, the trickle of cases becomes a flood. Ultimately she becomes centre-stage and she seems to not see the irony of leaving her own young children and husband in England for many months at a time, several times a year to pursue her mission in the Southern hemisphere. Her adoring child migrants - how often we are reminded that she alone is their only saviour! I don't doubt this is true, and I don't denigrate or belittle anything, I just found it sickening.

This book mostly covers the plight of those who were sent to Western Australia (where I happen to live). It reveals the abject neglect and abuse these poor children suffered at the hands of so-called Christian charities. When the conditions and parent-child reunions were illustrated by real examples, as quoted in reports or personal letters, I felt a deep stab of emotion. It's a shame the writing style was unprofessional because what could have been a sustained emotional journey in reading this book became a painful filtering of Humphrey's constant re-hashing, haughtiness and indignation.

What a shame. This is an important book and the story should be made known, but put simply I was so irritated by Humphrey's writing and her vendetta that it lost a lot of impact for me. ...more
4

Jun 02, 2011

This was a fascinating and absorbing story clearly narrated and very readable. The detective element of uncovering an almost unbelievably large, organised and hidden abuse of power is well developed and described. I would recommend this book to anyone in Australia.

I actually read it a while back during my criminology degree, I have just been to see the movie based on the book Oranges and sunshine which I think is a very credible job of it. Of course a lot is lost in transition to a movie but I This was a fascinating and absorbing story clearly narrated and very readable. The detective element of uncovering an almost unbelievably large, organised and hidden abuse of power is well developed and described. I would recommend this book to anyone in Australia.

I actually read it a while back during my criminology degree, I have just been to see the movie based on the book ‘Oranges and sunshine’ which I think is a very credible job of it. Of course a lot is lost in transition to a movie but I was quite impressed by the result. It should also have the advantage of bringing the story to a wider audience than would be captured by the book alone.
...more
5

Aug 16, 2012

What a shocking story to read....This book is a must read. Normally this is not the genre I will spend time on reading but it was so captivating that I could not put it down and it is still haunting me. I did not have any knowledge of this situation until I read this story. Margaret Humpreys, a social worker in England is also a very brave woman who took on the bureaucracy to help English child migrants also now known as the Lost Children, who were taken to all parts of the then British Empire, What a shocking story to read....This book is a must read. Normally this is not the genre I will spend time on reading but it was so captivating that I could not put it down and it is still haunting me. I did not have any knowledge of this situation until I read this story. Margaret Humpreys, a social worker in England is also a very brave woman who took on the bureaucracy to help English child migrants also now known as the Lost Children, who were taken to all parts of the then British Empire, but mostly to Australia never to see parents or relatives again. This is the story of how Great Britain, mostly in the 1950s, used their foster care system to exported young children to Australia, Canada and other countries, placing them in orphanages and often abusive situations to fill up and add to increase their population numbers and to fill the space of soldiers lost during the war years. This was done without the knowledge or permission of their birth families but with the consent of the government. Such a shameful act of how both the English and Australian governments organized it, how religious organisations managed to get away with hiding monsters who held positions of power and abused it in the worst possible way and only came to light when one of these children approached Margaret in the 1980’s and she started to investigate the allegation. Well worth the read. ...more
5

Apr 07, 2016

The author of this shocking non-fiction tale, Margaret Humphries, was originally a Nottingham social worker who, in 1986, began investigating the claim of a woman who stated shed been transported to Australia on a boat, unaccompanied, at the age of four years old.

She gradually discovered, to her horror, and the horror of the British and Australian public in general, that as many as 150,000 children had been sent (without parent or guardian) from British childrens homes, starting in the 1920s, to The author of this shocking non-fiction tale, Margaret Humphries, was originally a Nottingham social worker who, in 1986, began investigating the claim of a woman who stated she’d been transported to Australia on a boat, unaccompanied, at the age of four years old.

She gradually discovered, to her horror, and the horror of the British and Australian public in general, that as many as 150,000 children had been sent (without parent or guardian) from British children’s homes, starting in the 1920s, to a “new life” in Canada, Australia, Rhodesia or New Zealand. And that this had continued well into the 1960s.

She also discovered that many of these children were sent to remote farms run by religious organizations, and that this “new life” was, sadly and shockingly, filled with neglect and abuse, the children often working as slaves.

Once these children reached adulthood, they were turfed out into society to find their way as best they could, with no idea of who they were and where they’d come from. Or why.

For the charities, the child migrant scheme was apparently a solution to the overflowing British orphanages and the fact that the colonies were in need of a cheap labour force.

At great cost to herself, both financial and emotional, Margaret Humphries made it her mission to try and reunite some of these child migrants with their families.

Empty Cradles is a well-written, heart-wrenching, tragic, but ultimately uplifting, story about the child migrant scandal from the UK to Australia post WWII, and I would highly recommend it to readers interested in such shocking social issues as this. ...more
5

Mar 02, 2016

Poignant, heart-breaking, but ultimately uplifting novel about the child migrant scandal from the UK to Australia post WWII. Very well-written.
4

Mar 02, 2013

A remarkable book about unspeakable pain inflicted on generations of British children by government policies and volunteer or charitable organisations entrusted with their care. As I read these pages, with the snippets and details of many individual stories, I was reminded of so many people I have met over my years of working in various institutions in Australia where untold stories were ever lurking just below the surface.
It was not just the child migrants sent out from England who were to A remarkable book about unspeakable pain inflicted on generations of British children by government policies and volunteer or charitable organisations entrusted with their care. As I read these pages, with the snippets and details of many individual stories, I was reminded of so many people I have met over my years of working in various institutions in Australia where untold stories were ever lurking just below the surface.
It was not just the child migrants sent out from England who were to suffer. Many around them also suffered in similar ways, or silently bore some of their tragedy which remained unspoken. Some of the details in these stories were so much the same as those I heard in prisons or mental services, that I began to wonder how many child migrants I had come across without knowing. The untold cost lies in the following generations of children who feel so deeply the hollowness of a parent or grandparent who cannot tell a vital part of their own story. Often it is only at this time of becoming a parent that a person is reawakened to the missing pieces of their own tradition to pass along. That we so often blame the vulnerable person in an institution for the conditions which oppress them shows how we are all accomplices in such tragedies.
Margaret Humphreys herself is a remarkable woman for her fortitude, persistence and clarity. That she never got diverted by the agendas of others, yet kept to her course and her cause makes her unique contribution as a British citizen awarded an Order of Australia medal a truly deserved tribute.
Part of me wishes that I had such strength to bring to light the stories I have heard and would wish to correct, but part of me is also glad that I have not pushed to the extent she has when I consider I have not had a partner to help share such a burden with me, nor the clarity of a simple story told by many. For me the stories have always been diverse, the needs of the people involved varied, and the journeys seemingly individual and private despite their occasional similarities. But to not be in a paid position from which to leverage a platform has also been a greater challenge than I have yet been able to overcome.
As her husband so rightly points out, Margaret was indeed the right person in the right place at the right time and with an astonishing family. I take what lessons I can here, but I also have some further challenges yet to face. Not least is finding out whether my son’s father was indeed a child migrant as I now have such a strong inkling that he was.
...more
5

Jan 30, 2014

'Did this really happen? How could this be? Surely we would have heard about it.'

My thoughts exactly. Why have I not heard more about this? I think this book should be required reading for everyone! I highly recommend it to all adult readers.

I actually picked this book up from the library because the title caught my eye. I had never heard of it and had no idea what it was about. This is the true account of Margaret Humphreys, who uncovered and investigated the deportation of up to 150,000 'Did this really happen? How could this be? Surely we would have heard about it.'

My thoughts exactly. Why have I not heard more about this? I think this book should be required reading for everyone! I highly recommend it to all adult readers.

I actually picked this book up from the library because the title caught my eye. I had never heard of it and had no idea what it was about. This is the true account of Margaret Humphreys, who uncovered and investigated the deportation of up to 150,000 children from Britain to other parts of the "Empire". Most were not orphans, as they were told, and were raised in institutions where horrendous conditions and abuse existed. Margaret's work lead to the exposure of this little known scheme and helped many people reunite with the families they left behind years earlier. The most shocking part of this to me was that this migration of children happened clear up until 1970. ...more
5

Jun 11, 2019

This heart-wrenching story of the child migrants also known as the Forgotten Australians. A colleague recommended this book as his father works for the trust the author set up. The story is of the 130.000 child migrants who were taken from their families in the UK and sent to NZ, Canada, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and the majority went to Australia. They were promised sunshine all day and riding on kangaroos to school while picking oranges of the trees. The reality was anything like it, children's This heart-wrenching story of the child migrants also known as the Forgotten Australians. A colleague recommended this book as his father works for the trust the author set up. The story is of the 130.000 child migrants who were taken from their families in the UK and sent to NZ, Canada, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and the majority went to Australia. They were promised sunshine all day and riding on kangaroos to school while picking oranges of the trees. The reality was anything like it, children's homes where the children were severely abused and treated like slaves. I knew a bit about this horrible history, but reading it was quite something. I had to put the book down a few times, it was too horrible to read even for me. ...more
5

Feb 07, 2014

In 1986 Margaret Humphreys, a British social worker, investigated a woman's claim that at the age of four she had been put on a boat to Australia by the British government. At first thinking it 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 British empire, right up until 1970. Many were told that In 1986 Margaret Humphreys, a British social worker, investigated a woman's claim that at the age of four she had been put on a boat to Australia by the British government. At first thinking it 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 British empire, right up until 1970. Many were told that their parents were dead, and parents often believed that their children had been adopted in Britain.


Oranges and Sunshine is a hard book to read, a definite tear-jerker,also an eye-opener into the inhumanity of man to the weakest,even by those professing to be Christians!

I read the PB edition. ...more
5

Apr 13, 2019

When Margaret wrote this book it blew the lid off a story that you couldnt think would happen. I thank her for her dedicated work in helping the families affected by this horrific policy and for bringing some of the stories to light. This is just another sad example that powerful governments and powerful institutions think they can do what they like to whom they like, when they like and they can lie about it (and similar things continue to happen today), all the while it inflicts unnecessary When Margaret wrote this book it blew the lid off a story that you couldn’t think would happen. I thank her for her dedicated work in helping the families affected by this horrific policy and for bringing some of the stories to light. This is just another sad example that powerful governments and powerful institutions think they can do what they like to whom they like, when they like and they can lie about it (and similar things continue to happen today), all the while it inflicts unnecessary suffering on people who deserved better. ...more
4

Mar 26, 2012

I work in a university library and have to catalogue hundreds of books. I usually look at the parts of the book I need to to do my job and then I move onto the next book, but this book was different. It grabbed my attention and before I knew what I was doing I had already started reading it. I live in Perth, where some of the largest migration took place and the worst abuses. The author talking about her special uneasiness about Perth, during her many visits. And then there were the death I work in a university library and have to catalogue hundreds of books. I usually look at the parts of the book I need to to do my job and then I move onto the next book, but this book was different. It grabbed my attention and before I knew what I was doing I had already started reading it. I live in Perth, where some of the largest migration took place and the worst abuses. The author talking about her special uneasiness about Perth, during her many visits. And then there were the death threats whilst she was here. I had no idea. Infact, I had no idea about a lot of this forced child migration and the large part that Perth had to play. All in all, the book was riveting and shocking, to say the least. The author writes with deep respect for her clients and honesty about her observations and reactions. I intent to watch the film 'Oranges and Sunshine' that this book inspired. ...more
5

Jan 04, 2015

This book was an amazing insight into a long and ill conceived period of social engineering presided over by several governments and many powerful institutions and probably the most absorbing and informative books I have read in a long time.
Child migration is a very emotive subject but for the most part Margaret Humphries writes clearly and factually. It was shocking to realise that Child migration was still happening when I migrated to Australia in the early 1960s and even more so when she This book was an amazing insight into a long and ill conceived period of social engineering presided over by several governments and many powerful institutions and probably the most absorbing and informative books I have read in a long time.
Child migration is a very emotive subject but for the most part Margaret Humphries writes clearly and factually. It was shocking to realise that Child migration was still happening when I migrated to Australia in the early 1960s and even more so when she described how some of the child migrants travelled to Australia on the same ship that I travelled on with my family albeit several years apart. The book started with an interview between a child migrant and a social worker and documented a 23 year crusade to achieve freedom, reunion and rehabilitation for thousands of child migrants. Excellent book, ...more
5

Aug 05, 2011

In the mid-1980s, English social worker Margaret Humphreys made a shocking discovery.

For several decades up until the 1960s, over a hundred thousand British children were taken mostly from orphanages under false pretenses and shipped overseas to Commonwealth countries like Australia and Canada where they were promised happy new lives - but in many cases were instead treated like slave labour, suffered physical and sexual abuse, and forgotten about...except by anguished relatives back in Britain In the mid-1980s, English social worker Margaret Humphreys made a shocking discovery.

For several decades up until the 1960s, over a hundred thousand British children were taken mostly from orphanages under false pretenses and shipped overseas to Commonwealth countries like Australia and Canada where they were promised happy new lives - but in many cases were instead treated like slave labour, suffered physical and sexual abuse, and forgotten about...except by anguished relatives back in Britain who had been told that the children had died, just as the children themselves had been told that their parents had died or no longer wanted them.

Despite a lack of resources, much official resistance and at times even death threats, Humphreys and her colleagues persisted in bringing to light the awful history of 'The Lost Children Of The Empire', as it became known. Thanks to their dogged determination, not only did the British and Australian governments finally acknowledge what had happened and took steps to redress it, but Humphreys and her colleagues were able to reunite many of the adult Lost Children with surviving family members.

'Empty Cradles' is Humphreys' story, and although at times it's very depressing and sad there are also many wonderful moments of hope and triumph. Several times, I was almost moved to tears.

The recent film 'Oranges And Sunshine' is an adaptation of 'Empty Cradles', and is a good complement to the book - while some elements had to be compressed or left out, the visuals and especially the acting help to illustrate what it was like for the Lost Children. ...more
5

Sep 01, 2018

Wow. This is one of those stories that's hard to love simply because it's a horrendous bit of history that's difficult to take, but I love it all the same as I bawled through most of it. Rather like watching Schindler's List or Hotel Rwanda, it's dark and brutal, touching and emotional, and I loved it for that, but it's a heavy, difficult story to get through.

On the story alone, this book deserves 5 stars. It's a first-person account of the British social worker who started a charity to help the Wow. This is one of those stories that's hard to love simply because it's a horrendous bit of history that's difficult to take, but I love it all the same as I bawled through most of it. Rather like watching Schindler's List or Hotel Rwanda, it's dark and brutal, touching and emotional, and I loved it for that, but it's a heavy, difficult story to get through.

On the story alone, this book deserves 5 stars. It's a first-person account of the British social worker who started a charity to help the children torn away from their homeland to find their families again, and it weaves the author's own story with historical documentation and first-hand accounts into a picture of what happened, why it happened, and the public response to it.

I will say that at times the writing is a little lacking. The author isn't a writer. She's a social worker and advocate. However, I do think she does a stellar job at conveying the story. She jumps between the victims' accounts with historical evidence, and manages to keep the pacing of the book fairly even. All in all, I think she did really great, and even exceeded my expectations for someone who is not a professional writer. The story can come across as disjointed, but I thought it was really effective for this narrative.

Generally, I'm not a huge non-fiction fan, but I really enjoyed this book. Of course, it did take me a bit longer than normal to get through it because there were quite a few times that I had to walk away from it and get a breather. It is extremely heart-wrenching and difficult, but it's a fascinating piece of history that has been buried. The abuse described isn't graphic, but it's still disturbing and left me blubbering.

For those of you wondering and/or worried about how graphic the book gets into describing the abuse, it's generally really light on that topic. It describes what happens to the kids but in general terms and without a lot of detail. Enough to make it clear to the reader without detailed descriptions. ...more
5

Oct 28, 2010

I almost gave this book a "miss" when I first glanced at it, because I thought it would be a rather dry, historical narrative and while the subject has merit, my concern is that it would make for a rather boring read. I am glad to say that I was quite mistaken.

The criminally cruel migrant scheme which removed thousands of British children from everything familiar, including, in some cases, family members who wanted them and were told that they'd died, and plunked them down in foreign countries, I almost gave this book a "miss" when I first glanced at it, because I thought it would be a rather dry, historical narrative and while the subject has merit, my concern is that it would make for a rather boring read. I am glad to say that I was quite mistaken.

The criminally cruel migrant scheme which removed thousands of British children from everything familiar, including, in some cases, family members who wanted them and were told that they'd died, and plunked them down in foreign countries, is now more known. This is due to the belated apology from Gordon Brown in 2009 and the film "Oranges and Sunshine" (which I have yet to see) which is apparently based on this book.

It all began with a letter. Margaret Humphreys was a social worker in Nottingham who happened to receive a letter from a woman living in Australia, saying, in essence, "I was sent here as a child and would like to know if I have any family left in England." Humphreys was sure that this had to be some error, until she did some investigation, and realized that this woman was only one in a very large crowd of children who were essentially kidnapped and dumped in institutions. They were told that they were orphans, even as their parents were told that they'd been adopted into loving families in England, or worse, that they'd died of some childhood disease. It really beggars belief, but it happened.

What makes this book such a fascinating read is that it isn't a clinical study of the organizations and their remits, but of Ms. Humphreys' search and the toll it took on her personal life and health. She was and is blessed to have a loving and supportive family who shared her with this cause, but the emotional strain of taking on endless stories of pain and abuse, the death threats, and the sheer amount of work almost killed her. Empty Cradles is at least as fascinating as a work of psychological examination as it is a work of historical narrative.

For those who might be tempted to think that this is distant history and that we have moved beyond such ugliness, it's fair to note that the last children were sent in 1967. As recently as the early 1990s, when Humphreys was in the heart of her work, the British and Australian governments were busy either denying wrongdoing entirely or pointing fingers at each other. Meanwhile, time was running out for people seeking the families they'd lost decades earlier, and the records continued to be withheld or obfuscated. One man found his mother and was saving furiously to visit her in England, only to lose her before he could arrive. His first steps on British soil after his kidnapping were to attend her funeral.

This is an appalling, infuriating, shameful story, and it should be required reading for anyone who values justice. ...more
5

Aug 30, 2018

Great book. Highly recommend it. Had to put it down at times as it was quite confronting in places
5

Feb 18, 2020

This was a very compelling read and difficult to put down. So many tragic stories of young children sent from Britain to Australia and other countries and their terrible treatment at the hands of their caregivers. This was a very compelling read and difficult to put down. So many tragic stories of young children sent from Britain to Australia and other countries and their terrible treatment at the hands of their “caregivers”. ...more
3

Jul 14, 2017

It is sad how much pain and hurt poor choices can make from a select few people. God Bless Margaret Humphreys for persevering in her journey and sharing her story and the stories of countless others who have grown up in such horrible circumstances.
4

Oct 01, 2012

Wow! There are so many things in HIstory we are not made aware of. I was shocked and appalled to discover during the time of my own childhood, children were still being shipped off, out of England to other places in the world without their consent or the consent of parents and family! Shipped to places like Australia, Canada...to face life in dire conditions, slave labor, subservient positions, all under the guise of Charity and furthering the United Kingdom in it's colonies! Sounds mid-evil and Wow! There are so many things in HIstory we are not made aware of. I was shocked and appalled to discover during the time of my own childhood, children were still being shipped off, out of England to other places in the world without their consent or the consent of parents and family! Shipped to places like Australia, Canada...to face life in dire conditions, slave labor, subservient positions, all under the guise of Charity and furthering the United Kingdom in it's colonies! Sounds mid-evil and so hard to believe!
Margaret Humphreys, a British Social worker literally fell into a hornets nest when she discovered the Child Migration Scheme. In spite of many dead ends, lack of documentation, lack of cooperation from the governments and charities involved, and not without great sacrifices to her own personal life, she forged ahead, determined to find an answer for the grown children involved in the Migration. In her research, she discovered many were not orphans, many had families and she was able to change their lives by giving them information about their past, if they had parents and family and successfully orchestrated reunions and closure for many, many people!
I was deeply touched at the stories of the individuals she wrote about. The longing to know who we are and where we come from, to know who we belong to lies deep inside each of us. Children as young as 3 we told they were not wanted, had been abandoned! Others suffered deep wounds from the mental and physical abuse they faced from the hands of their caregivers. Ms. Humphreys worked miracles to uncover information, open up records and bring hope to so many lost children. It is inconceivable, that from the start of the Child Migration Scheme in the 1930's until the end in the late 1960's, 10,000 children were taken from England and shipped off all alone to places half way around the world! Until she began her work in uncovering the answers, most never knew why they were sent away.
I am so very impressed with Ms Humphreys dedication and drive to uncover this horrible truth. As I started reading, I assumed it would be a basic account of history, facts on the topic and mostly informational. I was surprised as I read, how in her telling of the story, I couldn't wait to move on to the next chapter and discover more of the story! ...more
3

Aug 18, 2015

I saw the film Oranges And Sunshine, which is based upon Empty Cradles, several years ago so was already aware of the human tragedy at the centre of this book. Nottingham social worker Margaret Humphreys discovered evidence of a massive resettlement scheme undertaken by the British government together with several then Commonwealth governments that sent thousands and thousands of unaccompanied British children to foster families, children's homes and institutions in Australia, Canada, New I saw the film Oranges And Sunshine, which is based upon Empty Cradles, several years ago so was already aware of the human tragedy at the centre of this book. Nottingham social worker Margaret Humphreys discovered evidence of a massive resettlement scheme undertaken by the British government together with several then Commonwealth governments that sent thousands and thousands of unaccompanied British children to foster families, children's homes and institutions in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Zimbabwe. The scheme ran for several decades with the last children leaving the UK in 1967. Nearly always described as orphans in press reports, the children themselves were mostly told that their parents had died or just didn't want them anymore. Most weren't given any choice in their exile or destination and many were systematically abused, sometimes for years, in their new lives.

It is difficult to write a review of a book which deals with such an inhumane and emotive subject. Many of the former child migrants who spoke to Humphreys related terrible stories of their treatment. Isolation, desperation and long-term mental health problems have blighted many of these lives and the accumulation of these tales is harrowing. Not all the children were treated badly, but there aren't many of the happy tales in Empty Cradles. The book was written to help raise awareness and, ultimately, funds for the Child Migrant Trust - a charity set up by Humphreys to help reunite lost children with their families - so it does tug at heartstrings pretty much relentlessly. Also, this is Humphreys' story of her own efforts so we get to read a lot about her familial sacrifices, long hours, sleepless nights and manic globetrotting. I have no doubt that Humphreys and her family did give up a lot and the irony of her own frequently left-behind children wasn't lost on me, however the mixing of history and personal biography didn't sit well for me and I frequently found myself wondering who I was really supposed to be felling sorry for.

See more of my book reviews on my blog, Stephanie Jane ...more
5

Aug 15, 2015

Incredible! Who would have believed what atrocity happened to children who were sent to other countries as migrant "workers" and enslaved in the countires that they were sent to, told that their parents had either passed away, and in many cases were told that nobody wanted them. Many of the children were abused, both physically and emotionally. And, the parents of the children, when trying to find out what happened to their children, were told that the children had been adopted out.....none of Incredible! Who would have believed what atrocity happened to children who were sent to other countries as migrant "workers" and enslaved in the countires that they were sent to, told that their parents had either passed away, and in many cases were told that nobody wanted them. Many of the children were abused, both physically and emotionally. And, the parents of the children, when trying to find out what happened to their children, were told that the children had been adopted out.....none of which was true. Margaret Humpreys, a social worker in England, found out about the children when she heard about one case of a child who had bee sent to Australia, and years later was looking to find out if the now grown up child had any relatives left in England. When trying to find the "roots" of this person, she happened to find out about thousands of other people who had as children been sent to Australia, and a number of other countries throughout the world. Margaret Humphreys did a remarkable job searching to find families for the grown up migrant "orphan". This story will tug at your heart strings and make you wonder how in the world could such an atrocity have happened in a "civilized" country. ...more
5

Mar 28, 2014

An excellent account of a social worker in England discovering a shocking secret covered up for years by the British and Australian governments. Post war Britain had overflowing orphanages, so the government and "social agencies" decided to pack unwitting children off to the "colonies", Australia, "Rhodesia", South Africa and even New Zealand. Illegitimate children were also sent, often being told their parents were dead. Many of the children were subjected to the most inhumane and brutal An excellent account of a social worker in England discovering a shocking secret covered up for years by the British and Australian governments. Post war Britain had overflowing orphanages, so the government and "social agencies" decided to pack unwitting children off to the "colonies", Australia, "Rhodesia", South Africa and even New Zealand. Illegitimate children were also sent, often being told their parents were dead. Many of the children were subjected to the most inhumane and brutal treatment, such as at Bindoon where they built the building they eventually lived in, using their bare hands. They didn't know where they were or why they were there, often believing they must have done something very bad to have been sent there.
Margaret Humpreys stumbled on the cover up by accident, unable to believe that children were sent thousands of miles away without parental permission. Once she had found out the extent of the cover up, she and a small band of workers spent 12 hour days working to reunite children (now grown up) with their parents(if they were still alive. Margaret also travelled overseas frequently to meet some of the "children" and documented their stories.
A compelling read, veyr well written. ...more
5

May 13, 2013

The story of a woman approached a Nottingham social worker, to tell her that as a child she had been shipped out of a British orphanage to Australia, and what Margaret Humphreys subsequently uncovered - that up to 150,000 children had been shipped out in this manner, many with still living parents who had only temporarily left them at orphanages to overcome short lived financial difficulties.

I couldn't put this book down, my whole life went on hold until I finished it! It was recommended to me The story of a woman approached a Nottingham social worker, to tell her that as a child she had been shipped out of a British orphanage to Australia, and what Margaret Humphreys subsequently uncovered - that up to 150,000 children had been shipped out in this manner, many with still living parents who had only temporarily left them at orphanages to overcome short lived financial difficulties.

I couldn't put this book down, my whole life went on hold until I finished it! It was recommended to me by my mother in law, her father was one of these children. So many things fell into place for me about my husband's family after reading this!

I was absolutely shocked to read that this could have taken place, that the UK could have been involved in something so appalling. I can completely identify with Margaret Humphreys' initial disbelief that it happened. The lies, the cover ups and the magnitude of the entire scheme are astounding.

She is an unsung hero, her devotion, courage and sheer determination to reunite these people with their family members is inspiring - it made me want to do something better with my life. ...more
4

Apr 02, 2014

I read this book for my Toastmasters Book Club. This book is also known as Oranges and Sunshine.

This book is a true story. It tells the story of British Child Migrants. These were children that were sent to various places in the empire and commonwealth. These children were, or were suppose to be orphans. There were stories of neglect, abuse and horror.

Although this book is nonfiction, it will make you feel emotions. You will feel sorrow when you hear of the stories of children seperated from I read this book for my Toastmasters Book Club. This book is also known as Oranges and Sunshine.

This book is a true story. It tells the story of British Child Migrants. These were children that were sent to various places in the empire and commonwealth. These children were, or were suppose to be orphans. There were stories of neglect, abuse and horror.

Although this book is nonfiction, it will make you feel emotions. You will feel sorrow when you hear of the stories of children seperated from their mohters. Anger when you read the stories of their abuse. Frustration when you read that no one wanted to help them. Joy when you read stories of children reunited with their mothers.

The author of this book started the Child Migrant's Trust to help reunite these children with theri mothers. To give them a sense of belonging in this world. This is her story. She does not set blame, but presents facts. This is history that you might not read in school.

I really enjoyed the book. As a student of history and a lover of genealogy, I really got into the book. I would recommend it. ...more

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