Author: Adam Aspinall
At 11 years old, Rex Wade left the children’s home in Cornwall where he lived and travelled to Australia with his younger brother on the promise of a better life.
It was 1970 and the two boys are believed to be the last to be transported under the Child Migrants Programme, which began in the 1930s and was thought to have ended by 1967.
Rex was sent to a care home in Tasmania and, instead of the glorious happy life he expected, he was subjected to daily beatings and put to work as a farm labourer where he suffered physical and mental torment.
He says: “The whole experience ruined my life. We were treated like slaves. It was wrong and should never have happened.”
He is now suing the British Government and demanding a face-to-face meeting with PM Theresa May to talk about the abuse he suffered.
Rex and his brother Kevin, who is a year younger, were in local authority care in Cornwall because their mother could not cope once their father died.
They lived with foster parents, but then the couple had their own child.
Rex says: “When the child was born the husband no longer wanted anything to do with us and we were back to square one and put in a children’s home.
“Just after that someone from the council came to see us and gave us three choices – a pig farm, a boarding school or go to Australia.
“I was only 11 and the childish excitement just built up. My brother and I said yes straight away. At that age how do you know what you are agreeing to?
“In the space of three months we were out of the country.”
Rex, 59, who still has his migration papers, says he received brutal treatment at the hands of the couple who ran the care home in Tasmania. He ran away, got into trouble and had problems with drinking.
He was imprisoned and when he was freed from an offenders’ institution at the age of 26, he sold all his possessions to buy a ticket back to Britain.
Rex struggled with his drink problem and is haunted by the violence which plagued his life. Now sober, and with violence behind him, he finds his time in Tasmania impossible to forget.
The Tasmanian government gave him £19,000 compensation in 2005.
Now he is suing the UK Government, along with more than 100 other migrant programme children.
In 2010, Labour PM Gordon Brown issued an apology, telling the Commons: “To all those former child migrants and their families – we are truly sorry. They were let down.”
In March, The Independent Inquiry Into Child Sex Abuse said 2,000 survivors would receive compensation within 12 months.
But the Government is yet to set up a scheme.
More than 130,000 children were migrated to Australia and Zimbabwe to be adopted or brought up in children’s homes. Approximately 2,000 are still alive.
Rex, who lives with wife Annie in St Columb Major, Cornwall, said: “I have never had a direct apology from the Government.
“There was one made to the country, but I want to sit down with Prime Minister Theresa May face to face so she can hear what we all went through.
“I am not saying she is personally to blame, but she is at the top of the government that betrayed us. The Government should face up to the people whose lives they damaged.”
A confidential report written by British officials in 1956 told how officials went to Australia to look at places where children were being sent. They visited 26 homes, two-thirds of those approved by the British Government.
One place was described as isolated, with “deplorable conditions”, and the boys “appeared unhappy”. Another was primitive, with managers “rigid and narrow in outlook”.
Rex still wants to know why he was shipped to Australia after the practice was supposed to have been banned.
He said: “I have never had an explanation of why it continued to happen until 1970.
“I never really thought about this until my wife said, ‘Out of all the thousands of children, why were you the last ones sent?’
“I had never thought of it that way. There were thousands of children sent before me, and I was the last one. I have never had a definitive answer why.
“The policy was council-led but it was a joint thing between the Home Office and what was then Cornwall County Council.” A Cornwall Council spokesman said the migration was a “sad and highly emotive chapter”.
He added: “Modern-day practices, which are set out in legislation and overseen by the courts, would not use this as an option for children in the care of local authorities.”
Rex’s older brother Bruce, then 14, stayed in England. In 2013, the brothers, who have a half-sister Karon Wheller, were reunited.
Rex says: “I am now regularly in touch with my younger brother in Australia and my older one was down here yesterday. It has been a great comfort to all of us having each other’s support. I still struggle but do what I can to cope. I am reluctant to go out much and I like keeping quiet. We have just moved out to a nice house in the country.
“Having my younger brother back in my life has been fantastic. He did come over a few years ago and we had such a lovely time, it was like we had never been apart.’’
Lawyer Alan Collins, representing Child Migrants Programme victims, said: “The Government needs to step up to the plate and bring into force its redress scheme.
“Compensation can never put matters right, that’s impossible and it would be insulting to suggest otherwise.
“But it is action, it is a recognition that meets the words spoken by the politicians.”