The Lost Children

After Many Years, Painful, Emotional Reunions

Not only had these lost children been shipped 12,000 miles from Britain to the bottom of the world. Not only had they been exploited and abused. They had been deceived.

They weren't orphans. They had families back in Britain, families which had dropped them off at institutions with every intention of getting them back.

When Tony Jones discovered that his mother was still alive in England, he was shocked: "All them years, and they didn't even tell me I had a family?" he says.

Too poor to care for him, Maud Jones had placed Tony in a children's home in England after she divorced his father. She never gave consent for Tony to be shipped to Australia. She was never even asked.

It took Jones months to save enough money to return home to see his mom. Their reunion was set for the middle of January 1993. But she died just two weeks before that.

Jones went back for the funeral. "I saw my mother in the coffin," he says. "It's the most heartbreaking time of my life. And they knew she was alive. They knew. Bastards."

When he was a boy, the Church of England told him his parents were dead. That was a lie. When he grew up, the British and Australian governments told him his records didn't exist. That was another lie. And Tony Jones was far from alone.

That was the conclusion reached by Margaret Humphreys, an English social worker who began lifting the lid on this sordid chapter in Britain's history.

Humphreys stumbled upon the story accidentally when one of her clients insisted that her younger brother had been put on a boat to Australia as a child. Humphreys set up an organization called the Child Migrants Trust to help the children find their birth certificates, their parents and their past.

The trust bought copies of every birth, marriage and death certificate in England dating back to 1890, a total of more than 100 million documents on microfilm.

It was the database for a desperate search. Of the 10,000 child migrants, Humphreys and her staff could find only one who was actually an orphan. Month after month, year after year, they found more and more parents alive in Britain.

"The astonishing thing was that they had no idea that their children had been sent to Australia," says Humphreys. "They had not signed any papers for adoption or migration. And for most of them, they had gone back to collect, to reclaim, their children - to bring them home."

"They went to bring them back home to their families - to be told, and given explanations like, your son or daughter's been placed with a very loving family in England. They're very happy. We're not going to disturb them now. You did your best for them. Goodbye," she says.

As a child, Mary Molloy had also been told her mother was dead. But Humphreys and her team couldn't find a death certificate for her mother, May Fitzgerald. They continued searching, and last December, Humphreys flew to Sydney to give Molloy some startlig news. Her mother was alive.

Molloy was ecstatic. "It's incredible. I mean, everything's based on a lie, right from the beginning. It's just one lousy lie," says Molloy, breaking down as she says it.

Her mother had been lied to by the priests. As a single mother, . Fitzgerald had placed her daughter in a Catholic children's home. A year later, she told the home she wanted Mary back, but was informed that her daughter was being adopted. Fitzgerald fired off a telegram telling the priests to stop the adoption, but was told it was too late.

A few weeks ago, Mary Molloy packed for an improbable journey back in time. For nearly a half century, ever since she had been put on a boat to Australia, she had thought of herself as a war orphan. Now it was time for Molloy to be a child again, and for 80-year-old May Fitzgerald to be a mother again.

Accompanied by her daughter Beverly and family friends, Molloy left Sydney for a 22-hour trip to Dublin to meet her mom.

Can you call it lucky to meet your mother when you're 55 years old? In terms of these child migrants, the answer is yes. In terms of the 10,000, Molloy was one of the lucky few.

Humphreys says that many thousands of these "orphans" have not yet found their parents. And as both parents and children age, time is running out.

Help from the Australian government hasn't been forthcoming. The nation that so desperately wanted white stock has never offered the mildest mea culpa for its treatment of the children.

When Philip Ruddock, the Australian minister of immigration, isasked why the Australian government hasn't apologized, "I don't know what we would be necessarily apologizing for," he says.

"What we sought to do in Australia was to provide an environment in which young people who were brought here and chosen by a government abroad were given opportunities for a new life. And many have had that opportunity," he says.

Ruddock says that he isn't sure that the horrible stories he's heard are really true.

As for Great Britain, the country that deported its kids in the first place, there has been a vast silence ever since the children sailed off.

Humphreys says she finds that people are not interested. "They didn't help, and they didn't want to know," she says. "You see, these children left our shores, and it was almost as if they left our consciousness. They'd gone.""

Who in the British government knew the children were being shipped to Australia? David Hinchliffe, a member of Parliament and the leader of a British government inquiry into the scheme, believes that many high-level officials - including the prime minister, the archbishops, possibly even the queen - probably knew about the scheme.

So if the prime minister knew, and Parliament knew, and if the queen knew, one would've expected something resembling an official apology to the thousands of abandoned children. But in fact, no one in Downing Street, or in thHouse of Commons or for that matter at Buckingham Palace has apologized.

The best the British could come up with after 50 years was to acknowledge in 2000 that the scheme was misguided. It also set up a travel fund for the children to return home for family reunions.

But as of yet, no money has been made available. That's why 60 Minutes II paid Mary Molloy's airfare so she could be united with her mother in Ireland.

Their meeting was deeply emotional. As they met, Fitzgerald was overwhelmed: "Oh God. Oh God. I never forget you. Never. I always knew some day you'd come back. I don't want ever to let you go now….You're just the same as I thought you'd be. I'd know you if I met you in the street. I'd know you were mine."

Around the age of 50 many lose our parents and become orphans. In Molloy's case, that natural order was reversed. And she will stay in her mother's arms happily for a while, until she contemplates what could have been, the enormity of what was taken away.

The Lost Children: Part I || The Lost Children: Update




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