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Experiences Shared


All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Dermot was shipped overseas with two of his brothers as child migrants in the early 1950s. He was six years old when he was sent to a completely alien environment, thousands of miles from home. They had been sent overseas after a complaint about the noise and boisterousness of the children at home and they were then assessed by an organisation responsible for child migration.

He tells a harrowing story of cruelty and abuse. He has used the anger he feels about his experiences to address the issue of redress for child migrants.

Dermot’s first memories are of arriving overseas. He had a medical condition and when he first arrived he was taken to a small local hospital where he was the only patient. At night he was left all alone, in the dark.

He was later taken to a residential home and school and placed in a house with his brothers and other child migrants. The children’s clothes were taken away and they were issued identical outfits. They were not given socks and shoes, being told that walking barefoot would make them tougher. Nor were they allowed to wear hats when they worked long hours in the sun and they suffered severe sunburn. Dermot has had numerous skin cancers in later life.

He describes the house parent, Miss Ryan, as ‘a monster’. She demanded the children call her ‘Mum’ but would frequently beat and terrorise them psychologically and emotionally. Many of the youngsters wet the bed through fear and Miss Ryan would drag them out, beat them and throw them in freezing cold showers.

The children never had anything of their own and they learned to fend for themselves, sometimes by stealing.

Life at Dermot’s school was little better. Canings and verbal abuse from some teachers were frequent and Dermot says: ‘It became a competition between the children and the teacher about whether or not he could make you cry when giving you the cane.’

For two years during Dermot’s time at school he was raped by an older boy. When Dermot told Miss Ryan, her response was to beat him for supposedly bringing her house and her name ‘into disrepute’.

It seemed to Dermot that nowhere was safe. He suffered violent and sexual abuse from other pupils and adults, one of whom worked on the farm where the home was located. And a priest who ran the children’s choir also tried to sexually assault him. Dermot describes how he used his wits to evade this abuser – by pretending to sing out of tune he succeeded in getting thrown out of the choir. But Dermot knew that the priest was a prolific abuser and had been abusing many other children.

In his final years at school Dermot was given jobs around the school and farm for which he was paid. Part of his wages was kept by the school and supposedly banked for him. But on the day he left, at the age of 16, he received no money, just some new clothing. He later found out that the organisation responsible for the school committed numerous frauds, including false claims for supplying leavers with funds and equipment.

After school Dermot found it difficult to find work. He only knew agricultural work, but he says that as a result of his experiences ‘there was no way I was going to work on a farm.’ Eventually he managed to find an apprentice post and gradually began rebuilding his life.

As Dermot matured, he says he recognised the deep anger and rage he carried within him. He rarely let it surface, but he describes how as a young adult he was sexually propositioned by a homeless man and gave the man a serious beating. After that he took up sport to try and control the anger.

His relates how his association with the school has caused prejudice towards him throughout his life, both as a child in the community and in his career. To counter this discrimination Dermot studied hard and became highly qualified in his field. But, he says, his background always influenced his work and ultimately contributed to his decision to leave his very successful career before his official retirement.

During his career, he says he didn’t think about the horrific experiences of his childhood. However, as his professional life began to ‘wind down’ he started experiencing nightmares and flashbacks. He became involved with a local organisation for previous child migrants and accessed counselling, which he found very helpful.

Following this, Dermot began to research the child migrant system. After the UK government officially apologised to all child migrants several years ago, Dermot was told that the organisation that ran the school tried to destroy their child migrant records. But he traced the records and managed to obtain them and ‘learnt the full extent of the lies, deceit and cruelty the organisation used’ in stealing his childhood and those of many, many more children.

Dermot would like to see a full judicial inquiry into the child migration scheme instigated by the British and overseas governments. He believes that former child migrants should contribute to setting the terms of reference for such an inquiry. He also believes that any committees considering child abuse/child migration issues should include victims and survivors.

He feels strongly that that charitable organisations responsible for institutions where abuse occurred should lose tax free status until they pay compensation. He adds that the statutes of limitations need to be consistent across jurisdictions.

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