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Brothers from Cornwall reunited 43 years after child migrant scandal

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 16, 2013

  • From left: brothers Kevin, Rex and Bruce Wilton who have been reunited for the first time 43 years after being separated by the child migrant programme

  • Above: Rex and Kevin in a school photo in Exeter, 1970. Left: Kevin, Bruce and Rex in 1964 – six years before the death of their father saw them taken into care and given the option of being shipped out for a new life on a farm in Australia

  • Marina Violet Wade, mother of the trio

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The last two children to be deported from Britain to Australia in the 'child migrant' scandal have been reunited with the brother who stayed at home – after 43 years apart.

Rex and Kevin Wilton were among thousands of children sent to Australia in the 1960s when social services deemed them too expensive to look after.

Youngsters were promised a better life but most endured harsh conditions in work houses and farms and suffered physical and mental abuse.

Rex, Bruce, and Kevin were taken into care in Cornwall when their father died in 1970 and their mother was left unable to cope. Bruce, 14, stayed in the UK, but Rex, 11, and Kevin, nine, were sent to work on an Australian farm.

The three lost contact but now, four decades later, with the help of the Child Migrants Trust, the siblings have been reunited in the UK for the first time since their separation.

Father-of-three Bruce, 58, said: "It was very emotional.

"It was great for my kids and family to meet them. It's still sinking in that we're finally together."

Rex, 54 said: "It's as though we've been brought back 40 years. It's quite overwhelming. We went back to our home town – it was like walking back in time. It was very special."

Kevin added: "I have such fond memories of us as boys and the jokes and laughter are still exactly the same.

"I never thought we would get the chance to be together again. There's no way we're going to lose contact – I've missed them both so much."

More than 130,000 British youngsters were shipped out across the Commonwealth in the 1950s and 60s – and 3,500 were dispatched to Australia.

Kevin and Rex were on the last deportee plane to leave the UK – despite the child migrant programme being scrapped three years before.

The three brothers, originally from Mevagissey, Cornwall, initially kept in touch by letter, but soon lost contact.

Rex eventually returned to the UK in his 20s and was reunited with Bruce, but Kevin stayed in Australia.

This year Rex and Bruce used a charity to find out what had happened to their long-lost brother. Following months of searching, they had their first glimpse of him in 43 years over a tearful Skype call and were finally reunited in the flesh last Sunday.

Kevin, 53, a retired miner and father-of three said: "We'd heard about Australia in school and we really thought it was going to be an amazing new life. We were too young to realise what was really going to happen. There was both physical and mental abuse at the home. They treated you just like a number."

The Australian government apologised for the migrant scheme in 2009, followed by then PM Gordon Brown and Cornwall Council in 2011.

Rex added: "The whole experience ruined my life. We were treated like slaves. It should never have happened."

Kevin is heading back to Australia later this month but plans to spend as much time with his brothers as possible.

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