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Experiences Shared


All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Terry’s father served overseas during the Second World War. His mother was unable to look after her children and Terry and his brother were sent to different Roman Catholic children’s homes.

He survived a regime of organised and sadistic abuse in the home, and narrowly avoided being sent abroad as a child migrant. His brother was sent overseas, with tragic consequences.

Terry stayed in the nursery section of his home until he was about five or six years old, when he was moved to the main children’s home.

Mr Smithson was one of two men who worked with the nuns in the home. Terry describes him as ‘a terrifying figure’ who would enter the boys’ dormitories at night and sexually abuse them in their beds. He would also play sadistic tricks on the boys. Terry recalls that he would be so frightened he often wet his bed and Mr Smithson would ‘cosh’ him and force him into an ice bath.

Groups of men would regularly arrive at the home, and on these occasions, the nuns would ‘pick’ boys to go into the toilets with these visitors, who would sexually abuse them. The men threatened the boys not to tell anyone, or they would come back and kill them.

The men continued to visit throughout Terry’s 10-year spell in the home and Terry says: ‘Mr Smithson was the organiser without doubt, and the nuns knew it’.

When he was about 12 years old Terry and a group of boys decided to run away and tell someone what was happening to them. They managed to get a long way before they were picked up by the police. They explained to the policemen what was going on, but Terry says: ‘They didn’t even take any notes.’

The runaways were returned straight back to Mr Smithson and the nuns. Terry describes their fear at this: ‘We knew what was going to happen to us’.

Each year, several boys were selected from the home to be sent abroad as child migrants. When Terry was selected a letter arrived just in time from his sister to prevent him being taken. She had contacted ‘every care home in the country’ in an attempt to find Terry and his younger brother on behalf of their mother. Sadly, she was too late for his brother who had already been transported overseas.

Terry says the renewed contact with his family ‘took some getting used to’. He remembers asking the mother superior what a ‘sister’ was, but he adds that it made him very happy. His sister began knitting him jumpers and sending him money and pictures of his family, but Mr Smithson ‘took the lot, it didn’t matter what it was’.

On another occasion that Terry describes as ‘the best day’, one of his brothers visited him and took him out. He returned to the home with money and ‘lots of gifts’ that Mr Smithson immediately stole.

When Terry was old enough to leave the children’s home he returned to his family. His mother had never been told where her sons had been sent and he says he never blamed her for what he had been through. He ‘swore on her deathbed’ that he would go overseas to find his brother.

Terry carried out his promise and says he was grateful to finally meet his brother, but sadly, he found him ‘a hell of a mess ... to hide it all he had to drink and drink’. His brother told Terry about his experiences of abuse at the home he was sent to overseas, and how he and some other ex-residents had unsuccessfully tried to prosecute their abusers. His brother was ‘one of the last left’ because so many had killed themselves.

Soon after Terry returned home his brother died from complications connected to his alcoholism. Terry finds it very hard to talk about him without being overcome with emotion.

Terry married and had children, but he says: ‘it wasn’t a proper marriage’ and it did not last. His second wife is aware of the type of children’s home that he was in and Terry says she understands, at least partly, the effects of the experience on his adult life. He has tried to tell his adult children about some of the things he endured but cannot quite bring himself to.

Recently, police local to the children’s home that Terry went to have contacted him regarding reports of non-recent abuse there. He has agreed to talk to them about his experiences.

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