Lost Childhoods

On the tarmac

On the tarmac

Maybe this was my ‘plane. Maybe not.

My head is still partly in NI. Talking to Aunt this evening, telling her who I had seen, what I had done, I mentioned that I have obtained a copy of my mother’s birth certificate, and was surprised to see that it was my grandmother who had registered the birth, almost a month after that auspicious event, and just two days before Christmas.

I have said before that Mother and her siblings had a hard childhood. Aunt had a particularly tough time. Both she and Mother were taken to live with a couple who treated them very badly.

Mother ran away.


The first time she took Aunt, and they each carried their meagre possessions. As Aunt said tonight, that made their progress through hedges and across fields difficult.

They didn’t get very far before they were caught and taken back. Mother was beaten to within an inch of her life with a stick cut from the hedge. Her vest stuck to her back with blood. Aunt could do nothing but howl. Then Mother was sent to bed in a loft, told the police would come for her in the morning because of her wickedness, and Aunt was forbidden to speak to her.

The sisters were seven and four at the time.

Their mother had died following the birth of her tenth child, my Aunt Nessa. Aunt has not a single memory of her mother. She was so young. I repeated a story I have often heard from Mother, that their aunt came to the house a few days after her sister’s death. The sisters were alike. Aunt seeing her, said,”Look, Mummy’s back.”

Aunt doesn’t remember this. She didn’t know this story until I told it to her an hour or so ago. She does remember their oldest sister who was ten taking her into a field, making her sit down, and telling her their mother had gone to live in heaven. My mother had run down to the end of the field with Bill and was shedding tears into a sheep’s woolly back.

The second time Mother ran away she didn’t take Aunt. She ran from school which Aunt was too young to attend. This time the search party that found her huddled in some old wallsteads, fearing sher would be eaten by wolves, included the police.

Her father asked if the couple she was living with had treated her badly. Yes, she said. She was allowed to go home. Not that things were much better there, but she had her siblings. They were together in hardship.

But Aunt was left where she was until she was eighteen and got away to Belfast.

As she said tonight, it’s hardly surprising she went into childcare, and had a particular interest in working with ‘difficult’ children who had been neglected or abused. Providing a safe, nurturing environment for them helped heal some of her hurts.

In recent weeks Camila Batmanghelidjh who founded Kids Company has come in for increasing amounts of criticism. It seems some unwise decisions were taken at the helm, and she is to stand down. I heard her speak once, and it made a big impression. I have supported the charity ever since. I hope the rumours and accusations turn out to be false, and do not overshadow the importance of her work, and her achievement in bringing the plight of vulnerable children and young people to our attention.

12 thoughts on “Lost Childhoods

  1. What sad stories from your family’s past history you have unearthed…from her unfortunate experience I am sure she was very good at helping others who found themselves in difficult positions.

    • I grew up hearing these stories from my mother. Now I am hearing them from my aunt, and learning more about her experiences. At Cousin’s, we share and relate them. They are not a happy part of our family’s history, but the resilience of those children astounds me, and makes me proud of them.

  2. All such stories, and I know you know your mother and aunt were not exceptions to prove a rule, just many my heart hurt. It puts in context the comparative damage from one’s own upbringing and whatever one’s own parents (at least we had them) inflicted on us.

    But before I go all “my ancestors had it horrible so I should be happy with what I got”, your tale just underscores how horribly easy it is to hurt a child in ways that last a lifetime.

    Bless all who turn to those children and offer hope.

    • I hate all those books you find at airports detailing horrible, abusive childhoods. If action matched sales, there would be no miserable childhoods. Camila Batmanghelidjh, for all her faults, has walked the walk, not just talked the talk.

  3. Oh, Isobel, it broke my heart to hear the story of your Mother and Aunt. How adults can treat vulnerable little children so badly is beyond comprehension. The sad thing is, it’s still going on in one form or another. We also support Kids Company and hope that that situation will be resolved quickly. It sounds suspiciously like a witch hunt to us.

    • i can’t see that cuts in socail services, child and housing benefits are going to lead to a drop in the numbers of children growing up in abusive or deprived environments.

      • I couldn’t agree more. the rolling back of the measures put in place to protect children and vulnerable people from abuse in the name of austerity measures are creating long term disasters.

        Such very devastating childhood experiences for both your mother and your aunt. It seems odd that the police didn’t check up on the wellbeing of your aunt, having discovered your mother was being abused – but I think people have always been very confused in their responses to cruelty to children.
        And I agree about Camila Batmanghelidjh. I think she’s one of the most admirable women I’ve come across and I am very distressed that Kid’s Company may have to close down.

        • It’s all ghastly isn’t it. It has closed tonight. I wonder if we shall ever know the truth. The media seems to be queuing up to put the knife into Camila. I am guessing she has rubbed quite a few people up the wrong way, and has broken quite a few rules. Unfortunate.
          And how about the Heath allegations? I hope they’re not true.

  4. Oh Isobel those poor, precious little girls. I guess it was around the 1920’s? Nasty times for many, many children and even now it continues in the sick parts of our society. What strong, triumphant women they became. Thank you for sharing this.

    • They were particularly unfortunate. Luckily, aunt had a friend at primary school whose family life gave her a glimpse of waht a loving home could be.

    • They all had a tough time, but importantly they had each other. That made a big difference. even for Aunt, because although she wasn’t with them they would visit her and remind her she was one of them.

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