I just watched the powerful movie, Oranges and Sunshine, based on the book Empty Cradles by Margaret Humphreys. (Later editions were titled Oranges and Sunshine: Empty Cradles.) Now I want to read the book.
The movie chronicles Humphreys’ journey investigating the plight of English children sent to Australia and elsewhere. Some of them were orphans, but many were taken from poor families by the government.
Instead of helping the children and families in their native country, the government deported the children aboard because it would cost less money than keeping them in Britain. Families were told their children would have a better life with other families who could provide more.
Children were told they would be living in a land of constant sunshine where they could pick oranges off trees at breakfast. In reality, many ended up in orphanages or other institutions in harsh, sometimes abusive conditions. By the time Humphreys learns of this, the children are adults with no knowledge of their real families.
The movie states that an estimated 135,000 children were sent away on large ships in the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, but other estimates range up to 150,000. Humphreys’ mission was to try and reunite as many children as possible with their families.
The movie focuses on only a few of the children’s stories and how Humphreys could or could not find their biological families in time. The book has many more stories.
The deportation scheme was finally exposed in the press in 1987. It took 23 years for Britain and Australia to apologize to the families and children.
If any of you have seen the movie or read the book, please share your reactions in the comments.