On Marjorie Too Afraid To Cry with Pat Skidmore

On Marjorie Too Afraid To Cry with Pat Skidmore

Posted on February 20 by Kyle in Interview, Non-fiction
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Tell us about your book.

Marjorie, Too Afraid Too Cry is about my mother Marjorie, and while it tells about her not so unusual – as it turns out – experience of being a child migrant (home child) is also includes why it was not so unusual. For example – instead of her removal from her mother’s care being as a result of her mother failing her – a feeling that Marjorie carried with her for most of her life, I discovered that Britain’s policy of migrating their ‘unwanted’ children to the colonies was at the forefront and it was a practice that had been going on since 1618 when the Virginia Company took one hundred street children from the city of London to Virginia in order to supply labour to the plantation owners at Jamestown, Virginia. This was at the request of King James I, who ordered a group of unemployed young people to be sent to the colonies, thus beginning the practice of migrating Britain’s unwanted children, a practice that continued until the mid-1970s.  Canada, because of its closeness to Britain received the greatest number of children – over 118,000 between 1833 and the late 1940s. When my mother was sent in 1937 as a 10-year-old, it was a time of Empire building – Britain was struggling to maintain its control over its colonies thus the children served as ‘material’ to provide white stock as well as farm and domestic workers for the colonies.

My mother was traumatized by her removal and as she left Liverpool, she recalled pulling a protective cloak around herself, knowing the only way to face her uncertain future was to forget her past. By the time I started asking questions, my mother had effectively buried her childhood in Britain and her journey to Canada and she offered me little of her 5 years at the Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School. I felt frightened by this lack of information, of family, and roots. My fear came out as anger and it was directed towards my mother. My anger couldn’t help to access her past, and it took years for me to understand that she wasn’t hiding something, but that she had lost it. She had always been in touch with her English family – so that was where I started.

After several months/years of research, the pieces started to fall into place. When I shared my research with my mother and told her about the records I had found – from Whitley Bay in northern England to Victoria BC, she smiled and said, “Well, they didn’t just throw me away, they kept records of me.” That was when I knew it was okay to keep going. Together we went and found her past, and in the journey, I found myself the ‘roots’ I so longed for as a child, and my mother found that is was to her mother’s “eternal distress that she lost her children to Canada” and forgiveness and healing finally came for my mother. (My mother was one of three children sent to Canada.)

 

How did you come up with the title?

When I began to research my mother’s past, I started with a handful of her memories and one photograph of my mother as a child. It took a long while before I was able to identify the significance of the photograph – it was when her group first arrived at the Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School. I was haunted by the look on my mother’s face, as well as the faces of the other children standing with her. She looked gobsmacked, terrified, out of place yet, tearless. When I asked my mother about her feelings and about how she looked in the photo, she told me that fear kept her quiet, and kept her tears at bay. She said it was pointless to cry as it only brought more trouble. She also told me she needed to put on a brave face for her younger brother, who travelled with her in September 1937.

 

How did you research your book?

I started with interviewing my mother, and then her ‘Canadian’ sister, and then I reached out to her English siblings. I started collecting stories, photographs, newspaper articles and any bits of information that might be useful. I wrote countless emails and letters to addresses searching for information. I searched the Internet. I talked to other Child Migrants. I spent many hours in the bowels of any Archive that might have information on my mother and the Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School. (BC Archives, Cowichan Valley Museum and Archives, University of Liverpool Archives, Birmingham Archives.)

I found I was able to access my mother’s personal files: the Fairbridge Society files housed at the University of Liverpool and her Middlemore Emigration Homes file at the Birmingham City Archives.

I brought my mother back to England in 2001, then again in 2007, 2010, and 2011 and we visited her family, and stood by her parent’s graves. We visited the Middlemore Emigration Home in Birmingham; we travelled to northern England to Whitley Bay to visit her place of birth. We attended Gordon Brown’s Apology in February 2010, and travelled to England in May 2011 under Brown’s Family Restoration Fund in order for Marjorie to meet a younger brother for the very first time. He was born after Marjorie was removed, and is presently living in Cypress and was not in England the few times we were there.

I travelled to New Zealand, Australia and Great Britain meeting other Fairbridge Child Migrants and getting their stories and visiting two other Fairbridge Farm Schools – one in Molong and one in Pinjarra. (The first Fairbridge Farm School was established in Pinjarra, WA in 1912 (closed 1981), then two more Farm Schools were established in Australia in the 1937, in NSW (closed in 1974) and Victoria (closed 1944, the children were sent to Molong), one in Rhodesia in 1946 (closed 1962) and finally one in Tasmania in the 1957 (closed 1974).)

I kept copies of everything and I was soon swamped. I realized that I needed to catalogue and organize my research in order to have the important information at my fingertips.

Today I have over 2500 photographs and images, well over 700 newspaper articles, and several hundred letters and documents from microfilm, I have collected a number Fairbridge Society Annual Reports and countless articles all of which pertain to the Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School and Child Migration. I have paper as well as digital files for most of my documents and images.

In order to easily access the information in this growing collection, I have catalogued everything, and have put together a searchable electronic database with keywords, important quotes and the highlights from the reports, newspaper articles and other articles and books.

As a grand finale to my research – I went to my mother’s place of birth for a third time – and took my manuscript with me. I found a room that overlooked her beloved Whitley Bay sands, one where I could also see St. Mary’s Lighthouse, and I completed the manuscript there. When I needed a break, I walked around the town, going down streets Marjorie would have run down as a child, standing by her former schools, and her former homes, taking the train into Newcastle, and walking to the former Fairbridge Office on Dean Street. As I sat on the train, I tried to imagine what it might have been like. I started to get a picture in my mind of what my mother was like as a child in Whitley Bay, as a young girl at the Farm School, as a teen working as a domestic servant in Victoria and as a young woman falling in love with my father and starting her adult life with him. With her childhood timeline in place, and combined with my knowledge of her as my mother, and today as a grandmother and great grandmother, I saw the complete woman – a woman with a past and with a family. I saw her strength, her determination and a pride that I was her daughter swelled in me, and I finally knew that I too belonged.

 

What inspired you to write your first book?

When I first started looking into my mother’s experience as a child migrant – I didn’t realize that I carried with me the belief that just our family had failed. I had no idea that I would find that British Child Migration had a 350-year history. Like so many people I talked to – even my mother held the belief that her removal from her family was because of the war (World War II)  - but the war – if anything stopped the migration of children to Canada.

I had no idea that 95% of the 329 children sent to the Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School were not orphans.

When I talked to others about British Child Migration, so many told me that they had never heard of it. Most often the details of child migration were met with amazement and disbelief. I felt the need to be part of the group who are working to include this important piece of Canadian history into the classrooms – instead of perpetuating our feelings of shame to continue to keep our story buried.

I quickly discovered that there were so many layers and each one I uncovered exposed another unknown aspect of child migration – and I wasn’t alone in my amazement – and I quickly realized that I needed to uncover the truth – and the history – and in doing so – was able to find healing not only for my mother, but also for myself.

More than anything, though, is the desire to hand my 86-year-old mother “her-story” – a story devoid of the shame she carried for much of the past 76 years, a story with family roots that span the world, a story intact and one which honours her strength and determination.