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Good British Stock: Child and Youth Migration to Australia

The Children's Overseas Reception Board Scheme

During 1940, at one of the darkest moments of World War II in Europe, some 3 000 British children were evacuated to the dominions, 577 of them to Australia. With hindsight, the sending of over 3 000 children to the dominions to escape the bombing, even at a time when invasion seemed imminent, appears a strange gesture, but it appears to have been the dire circumstances of war that swayed the Children's Overseas Reception Board. The 3 000 children were a minute percentage of the young people in Britain at the time, and it had been hoped to send abroad many more thousands of children.

In mid-1940, with French resistance to the German attack collapsing and the invasion of Britain likely, plans to evacuate children from British cities were accelerated. Hundreds of thousands were moved to rural areas. However, some wished to emigrate children to greater safety overseas. On 17 June, in the wake of the Dunkirk rescue of 320 000 British troops from France, Geoffrey Shakespeare, Secretary of the Dominions Office, brought a plan to the War Cabinet to move thousands of children to Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Apart from the obvious arguments, Shakespeare stressed that many rich families could and had sent their children to safety overseas. His plan was to offer such an option to poorer households, and he urged that good sense advised that the fewer people there were to feed in Britain the better at such a time.

The Cabinet discussed the issue but their debate was interrupted when an aide brought a message to the Prime Minister that the French Government had decided to surrender. The discussion on the Children's Overseas Reception Board scheme ended and discussion moved to more urgent matters. The Cabinet Secretary noted 'approved' in the minutes of the Cabinet meeting and Shakespeare went back to his office to get the evacuation moving.

Over the next four weeks the 3 000 children were despatched, most of them to Canada but two ships carrying children, the Volendam and the City of Benares, were torpedoed, the latter with the loss of 77 children. The scheme was aborted forthwith as too risky, but 577 children eventually arrived in Australia.

It was understood that the children would remain overseas for the duration of the war, hence the children in Australia stayed five to six years. Most were back in the UK by February 1946, though 14% of those in Australia elected to remain and many more came back as migrants after their initial return to Britain.

The Overseas Children Scheme (Australian terminology) or the Children's Overseas Reception Board Scheme (British terminology) is often rated favourably by comparison with postwar child migration. There has never been the same controversy over its workings or results.

The voluminous files give a thorough coverage of the Overseas Children Scheme and should be of interest both to historians and genealogists, and to former CORB children and their relatives. Because of the special circumstances of their arrival, these children were assisted more carefully than was common with child migrants. This is reflected in the records.

Series: A2908
Quantity: 27.18 metres
Recorded by: 1930–52: Australian High Commission, London (CA 241)
Childrens Overseas Reception Board Nominal Rolls, 1940 A2908, M54 ANNEX
Series: A659
Quantity: 101.25 metres
Recorded by: 1939–45: Department of the Interior [II] (CA 31)
Overseas Children Scheme – Evacuation of physically defective children overseas, 1940 [6 pages]
This contains a memorandum from Department of Interior officer Mr A R Peters dated 13 November 1940, on a request from the Central Council for the Care of Cripples (London) via the Victorian Society for Crippled Children on the possibilities of Australia taking some of the children for the duration of the war. Peters could see 'difficulties likely to arise' and advised the Minister to express regrets that it was impossible to assist. The request arrived after the CORB scheme had been 'temporarily' abandoned, in the sense that no future parties of children were being despatched because of the submarine menace.
A659, 1940/1/7831
Overseas Children Scheme – Record of custodians and children (Western Australia), 1940–43 [c.120 pages]

The first item is an acknowledgement from the Department of the Interior of the receipt of detailed reports from the Overseas Children's Reception Committee. These are entitled 'Progress Report on the welfare of children who arrived in this State on the ships BatoryNestorand Diomed'. Each home taking a child was visited personally by the Chairman and Secretary; there are detailed reports on the children throughout 1941. These would be very useful for CORB children interested in exploring this phase of their lives. The second detailed report is dated, 16 September 1941:

War conditions make it such that the children were not as advanced as Australian children of their own age [but]… responding well… the children greatly appreciate the fortnightly broadcasts from their parents… we still have several difficult cases… but we have matters well in hand.

By 1943 it was becoming difficult to find new homes for CORB children, who, for one reason or another, required a change of residence.

A659, 1943/1/4132
Overseas Children Scheme – Financial assistance from the Australian Universities Commission, 1943–44 [17 pages]

Some of the children were approaching school leaving age and a small number wished to attend university. Mr E J Pittard wrote to the Registrar, University of Melbourne, 3 August 1943:

… regarding the application for British Evacuee children for financial assistance to attend the University of Melbourne… the custodians cannot be expected to provide university training for children in their care.

The AUC reply was sympathetic but noncommittal; enquiries were made around the states to obtain an idea of numbers which were one to three children per state. In the light of these enquiries, the Australian Universities Commission agreed to drop 'the obligations of such children to continue studies until graduation and to perform national service after graduation'. It was presumed that suitable children would receive scholarships.

A659, 1943/1/4703
Overseas Children Scheme. Record of children and custodians (NSW) Part 1, 1941–44 [c.300 pages]

There are lists of children who arrived in NSW from the Batory and the Diomed, together with the names and addresses of their guardians. These are followed by further lists showing the schools each child was to attend with special remarks, and dated December 1940. There are further updated lists for January 1941, and 19 February 1941. On 19 February 1941, the Director, Child Welfare Department sent to the Secretary at the Ministry of the Interior:

… copy of extracts from reports forwarded to Mr W J Garnett, the CORB representative. This schedule completes the first quarter's inspection… and enclosed are a list of transfers, medical reports and changes of addresses pertaining to overseas children.

For the times, the lists are comprehensive and the comments pertinent. These would be very interesting material to a former CORB child, or to relatives searching for personal records.

A659, 1944/1/355
Overseas Children Scheme – Question of employment of girls in army in India, 1944 [13 pages]

Army Liaison contacted the Child Welfare Department, Sydney, 9 February 1944, regarding:

… openings… available for the employment of English-born women and girls with the Army in India and Ceylon [Sri Lanka]… preliminary enquiry… the jobs would be of a clerical nature.

The Child Welfare Department replied that it was a matter for the parents and the CORB officers in the UK. The CORB representative in Australia, Mr C Bavin, was contacted. Bavin thought the proposal 'unwise' (8 March 1944) and the Minister for the Interior advised through Mr J Horgan, 14 March 1944, that 'he would not be prepared to release overseas girls from the [Overseas Children] scheme'.

A659, 1944/1/846
Overseas Children Scheme – Record of children and custodians (Queensland) Part 1, 1940 – 1944 A659, 1944/1/1134
Overseas Children Scheme – Nominations forwarded to London from Queensland, 1940 [97 pages]
On 28 August 1940, the Director, Child Welfare, Queensland advised the Secretary of the Interior of 'a list of names and addresses of children it was planned to send to Queensland and the names of their proposed sponsors'. These lists are in the file. Only a fraction of the children arrived because the scheme was aborted.
A659, 1940/1/6453
Overseas Children Scheme – Question of maintenance of children, 1940–42 [72 pages]

Many of the children sent had relatives in Australia and the British parents expected or presumed that they would take the children. The Australian Government was prepared to give a maximum payment of 10 shillings per week per child, but youngsters were placed where it was hoped the host would maintain the children unaided. T H Garrett at the Department of the Interior wrote in a memorandum, 16 September 1940:

It will be seen that out of a total of 479 children, 317 have been virtually consigned to relatives and friends who have not voluntarily offered to take them.

The Children's Overseas Reception Board agreed that:

… there is no need for the Australian authorities to send children to nominated homes if unable to provide for children and would prefer children to be placed in other homes prepared to take them without payment which is what the Canadian authorities are doing.

Meanwhile, the Australian Government did not expect any British payment during the children's sojourn, as Senator Foll, Minister for the Interior said (16 January 1941):

… it was desired that true Australian hospitality should be extended to these little guests from the Old Country.

A659, 1940/1/7577
Overseas Children Scheme – Report on arrangements in Queensland for reception and placement of children from MV Batory, 1940 [9 pages]

There is a copy of the Brisbane Courier, 18 October 1940, which includes details of the welcome of 35 CORB children to Queensland: 'Brisbane welcomes them with Pineapple'.

There is a copy of the program of the children's concert given on MV Batory on 12 October 1940 and a menu from the ship's First Class galley, 8 October 1940. Mr J H Honeysett who travelled with the children from Fremantle, wrote a detailed report for the Minister for the Interior, 22 October 1940, in which he said:

The staff on the train journey from Sydney to Brisbane gave unstinted devotion to the welfare of the children… the children were entertained at stations along the way, Coffs Harbour, Casino and Kyogle… The reception to the children by the people of Queensland was magnificent.

A659, 1940/1/7621
Overseas Children Scheme. Evacuation Scheme for school children, 1939–40 [15 pages]

This is essentially one document: 'Notes on the British Government Evacuation Scheme for School Children' (in the UK) from September 1939 to May 1940 by Camilla Epps. It is an interesting social document on working class conditions in England at the time. The evacuation proceeded but was riddled with problems: eg

Dirty and verminous children were being placed in clean billets. Many more of the children were found to be verminous than anybody had dreamed of… difficult or unpleasant children were not wanted… Many village people found it hard to realise what war might entail. Many foster parents repented of their offers. Homesickness among the children. Foster parents found themselves confronted by a type of child they had never encountered or even heard of.

A659, 1941/1/597
Overseas Children Scheme – Transfer of war orphans, 1941–44 [c.200 pages]

The first item is correspondence from Mr E D Darby, the President of the British Orphans Adoption Society to the Editor, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 February 1941 advocating the despatch of British war orphans to Australia for adoption. This suggestion arose in the context of the planning of the CORB scheme which was considered at a conference held in London on 18 June 1940, bringing together representatives of the British Government and the dominions. There is a ten-page summary of the Conference of Commonwealth and State Government representatives, Canberra, 27 June 1940 to discuss the question from the Australian end:

Letters are pouring in from people anxious to take a child… offers to take altogether 5000 children… the (separate) question of the transfer of orphans for adoption is now under consideration… people are being carried away with enthusiasm for the project… responsibility involved… the Commonwealth would finance the scheme at the Australian end.

Meanwhile, the BOAS pressed its scheme and there is material on this, including a copy of the Society's constitution and rules. Mr J H Honeysett reported on this scheme on 8 April 1940:

The Society should be informed that it is desirable that the scheme should be submitted to the UK authorities for consideration.

Mr J A Carrodus advised the Official Secretary, UK High Commission that there 'is a strong public feeling in Australia that many homes here would be prepared to adopt orphan children'. Adoption was never part of the CORB scheme. Eventually it was decided that the question of the adoption of war orphans would be considered later.

A659, 1941/1/1261
Overseas Children Scheme – Schedule of Queensland applications, 1940 [56 pages]

The Secretary, Department of Immigration wrote to the State Children's Department, Brisbane on 1 July 1940:

In accordance with the decision reached at the recent conference held in Canberra regarding the question of providing homes for overseas children… I forward… applications by residents in your state.

There are names and addresses; and their requests regarding age and sex for a CORB child whom they were willing to foster for the war's duration.

A659, 1941/1/2207
Overseas Children Scheme – Nominations forwarded to London from WA, 1940 A659, 1940/1/6456
Overseas Children scheme – Group of school children to Victoria, 1940 A659, 1940/1/6335
Overseas Children Scheme – Nominations forwarded to London from Tasmania, 1940 A659, 1940/1/6451
Overseas Children Scheme – Victorian police, 1940 A659, 1940/1/5431
Overseas Children Scheme – SS Nestor, 1940 – 1940 A659, 1940/1/6584
Overseas Children Scheme – Queensland reimbursement claims, 1941 A659, 1941/1/75
Overseas Children Scheme – Evacuation scheme for school children, 1940 A659, 1941/1/597
Overseas Children Scheme – Maintenance of escorts while in Australia, 1941 A659, 1941/1/2707
Overseas Children Scheme – Reimbursement claims, NSW, 1941 A659, 1941/1/2223
Overseas Children Scheme – MV Batory, 1940–41 A659, 1940/1/6582
Overseas Children Scheme – Nominations forwarded to London from NSW, 1940 A659, 1940/1/6455
Overseas Children Scheme – Nominations forwarded to London from Victoria, 1940 A659, 1940/1/6452
Overseas Children Scheme – Nominations forwarded to London from South Australia, 1940 A659, 1940/1/6454
Overseas Children Scheme – Temporary accommodation, pending placement, 1940 A659, 1940/1/6595
Overseas Children Scheme – Allocation to States on population basis, 1940 A659, 1940/1/6587
Overseas Children Scheme – Appointment of matrons and conductors, 1940–43 A659, 1940/1/6586
Overseas Children Scheme – Financial arrangements and provision of funds, 1940–41 A659, 1940/1/6583
Overseas Children Scheme – Discharge of D A L Manning from scheme, 1941 A659, 1941/1/1554
Overseas Children Scheme – Immunisation against Diphtheria, WA, 1940 A659, 1940/1/8793
Overseas Children Scheme – Inquiry re report of Chicken Pox amongst children, 1940 A659, 1940/1/8678
Overseas Children Scheme – Expenses paid in connection with examination of children by Dr Park, WA, 1940 A659, 1940/1/8157
Overseas Children Scheme – Fund for evacuee children, 1940 A659, 1940/1/7963
Overseas Children Scheme – Evacuation of physically defective children overseas, 1940 A659, 1940/1/7831
Overseas Children Scheme – Financial Arrangements and Provision of Funds, 1940–41 [21 pages]

Senator H S Foll, Minister for the Interior wrote to Prime Minister Menzies, 4 July 1940:

Cabinet approved an offer to the UK Government to take over and care for 5 000 children… UK Government to pay passages; foster parents to be paid 5/- per week, which amount would be collected from the parents in Great Britain. However, the Australian people did not want payment! Australians would defray all costs after the arrival of the children… State Governments were supporting the scheme whole-heartedly.

Prime Minister Menzies wrote on the file, 9 July 1940 to the effect that there was not a hard-and-fast limit on nominations, that the expenses would be apportioned between the state and Commonwealth Governments, and that NSW had requested and received £1,000 for additional expenses connected with the arrival of the children.

A659, 1940/1/6585
Overseas Children Scheme – Visit of J H Honeysett to Perth, 1940 [c.100 pages]
This concerns the Department of the Interior's plans to meet the MV Batory which was bringing a large party of children to Australia. Mr W J Garnett was in charge of the children on the ship. Mr J Honeysett travelled to Western Australia to meet the ship when it arrived at Fremantle and then accompanied the children to the eastern states.
A659, 1940/1/6590
Overseas Children Scheme – Reimbursement claims, WA, 1941 A659, 1941/1/2756
Overseas Children Scheme – Reimbursement claims, Vic, 1941 A659, 1941/1/2724
Overseas Children Scheme – Policy – Part 2, 1940–42 A659, 1946/1/4515
Overseas Children Scheme – Establishment of fund to meet special expenditures, 1942–46 A659, 1946/1/609
Overseas Children Scheme – Nominal rolls, 1940 A659, 1946/1/4518
Overseas Children Scheme – Press cuttings from UK newspapers, 1940 [36 pages]
This is precisely what is says – some 50 to 60 newspaper cuttings concerned with the Overseas Children Scheme. The genesis of the CORB is seen in the context of a Daily Express (London) report, 18 July 1940, 'Commons row on rich children sent abroad'; and the departure of the children was understandably emotional, 'Evacuees left Singing' (Evening News).
A659, 1940/1/7753
Overseas Children Scheme – Interstate transport, 1940 A659, 1940/1/7818
Overseas Children Scheme – London organisation, 1940 A659, 1940/1/7973
Overseas Children Scheme – Motion picture industries scheme, 1940 A659, 1940/1/8052
Overseas Children Scheme – Education problems in England, 1940 A659, 1940/1/8751
Overseas Children Scheme – Exemption from duty on parcels, 1940 A659, 1940/1/7548
Overseas Children Scheme – Policy and application to the Northern Territory, 1940 A659, 1940/1/7688
Overseas Children Scheme – SA – Reimbursement claims, 1941 A659, 1941/1/883
Overseas Children Scheme – Nominal roll – Escorts doctors and nurses, 1941 A659, 1941/1/584
Overseas Children Scheme – Cabling nominations to London, 1940 A659, 1941/1/565
National Security Regulations (Overseas Children) – Discharge of Smith, Anthony Bennett (CORB 318) from Overseas Children Scheme, 1942 A659, 1942/1/5325
Overseas Children Scheme – Periodical report re welfare, 1940–43 A659, 1942/1/5516
Overseas Children Scheme – Record of children and custodians (South Australia), 1940–45 A659, 1944/1/1815
Overseas Children Scheme – Record of children and custodians (Tasmania), 1940–44 A659, 1944/1/4659
Overseas Children Scheme – Clothing allowance, 1940–44 A659, 1944/1/4659
Overseas Children Scheme – Free cabling facilities, 1940–45 A659, 1945/1/5887
Overseas Children Scheme – Letter of appreciation by Her Majesty the Queen to custodians of the children, 1943 A659, 1946/1/4516
Series: B13
Quantity: 136 metres
Recorded by: Collector of Customs, Melbourne (CA 789)
Children evacuated from the United Kingdom under Overseas Childrens scheme via MV Batory, 1940 B13, 1940/51635
Series: A461
Quantity: 143.82 metres
Recorded by: 1934–50: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Migration – Overseas Children Scheme, 1940 [2 pages]
This contains a cable to the Australian High Commission, London to enquire if a particular girl is travelling on the SS Nestor to Australia as part of the Overseas Children Scheme.
A461, O349/1/7
Series: A436
Quantity: 5.04 metres
Recorded by: 1945: Department of the Interior (CA 31); 1945–50: Department of Immigration (CA 51)
Overseas Children Scheme – Policy Part 3, 1941–43 A436, 1946/5/2949
Overseas Children Scheme – British Orphans Adoption Society, 1940–45 A436, 1946/5/308
Overseas Children Scheme – Applications for Children by Residents of the Australian Capital Territory, 1940 A436, 1949/5/6881


Chapter 3
Guide to the Records