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Birmingham Councillor Reg Corns has revealed how he narrowly avoided being shipped off to a far flung part of the British Empire when he was placed in a city children’s home at the age of 9. The “near miss” inspired his campaign on behalf of the thousands of Canadian Home Children sent from the UK without their family’s knowledge – and he’s now demanding a government apology on their behalf.

Corns was taken in 1948 to the Middlemore Home in Weoley Hill, Selly Oak, which specialised in forced emigration to both Australia and Canada.

Residents were fast-tracked for work on farms abroad, as part of a secret government programme which began in 1869 to populate the Colonies with white British stock.

He would almost certainly gone the same way, but for a change in the law which just pre-dated his arrival in Middlemore – although in some cases the practice continued until 1967.

“I missed it by just 14 days”, he said.

“I’d been in an out of childrens’ home from a very early age and ended up in Middlemore, which was a specialist emigration centre.

“Many other children had been sent from there – and I’m sure that’s the fate that was waiting for me – except for the new legislation.”

So Corns stayed, and made a successful life for himself in his home city, but he’s now become a tireless campaigner for those who weren’t so fortunate, demanding redress for the desecendants of thousands of children sent away because their relatives were simply too ignorant to realise what was going on - or too poor stop it.

Only last year, Gordon Brown promised an apology to the Home Children, but none has yet been forthcoming – and although Aussie premier Kevin Rudd has said “sorry” to those who suffered in his own country, there’s been no response from his counterpart in Canada.

In any event, what relatives and descendants really want is financial help to allow them to trace family members.

John Willoughby, founder of the Canadian Centre for Home Children, explained: “The law was actually changed in 1869 to allow children to be taken without consent, and Canada was the biggest receiver of children.

“Ten times as many went to Canada as to Australia to work on farms, and supposedly they were due to go back to England when they were of age, but there was never any intention of bringing them back.

“The agencies were looking for kids who would work and behave and in some cases, they were referred to as the ‘flower of the flock’.”

In Willoughby’s words, “about 25% were literally kidnapped”, and on arrival in Canada, many of these youngsters were subjected to cruelty and abuse.

Although a £1million government fund was established to assist Home Children in 1999, only 10% of the cash found its way to Canadian victims, even though they accounted for ten times more of these “human exports” than Australia.

Willoughby estimates that 4 million Canadians – around 14% of the population – is related to one of the Home Children, but most have been cut off from their heritage by a mixture of official subterfuge and secrecy.

“The scandal of this is that they lost their people” he says.


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