MY MOTHER, MY COUNTRY

In 1955, the Administrator of  Father Hudson's Homes at Coleshill, received a letter from the birth mother of a child migrant sent to Australia in 1950 - an expedient and cheap policy of Government and Churches to empty the orphanages for hundreds of years.

 The woman's child Kathleen junior was now 14 years of age, and wouldn't know her mother existed.As recent Commonwealth reports have revealed, children were told their parents were dead, or dumped them and they were little bastards who nobody wanted.

Mrs Frackowiak nee Clarke was requesting her  illegitimate child's address...

Father Hudson's Homes, Coleshill, Birmingham, UK
Aerial view from 1930's.
Nan would have been married and pregnant this time - and there was no sin or shame to this one, but she would have felt nervous going to see Father Flint. 

For the first time in her 35 years Kathleen must have felt secure - being married.
It was bold of her to travel up to the complex of Catholic social welfare institutions. Must have been intimidating, though I suspect she had a sense of liberation after the harrowing confrontation with her husband, which she hadn't been able to do until now, his baby in her belly.

I empathise with how a sense of safety combined with the flush of  pregnancy hormones now forced the secret she had held so tight inside of her to rise.  Overwhelmed by emotion, a torrent of fear, shame, loss, grief, need and desire finally exposed her secret daughter, who had been in an orphanage, who had been shipped away to an orphanage in Australia, far away, on the other side of the world.


Like a tropical storm, Nan could have been moody, unable to quell the churning, choppy waters within her anymore - there was something she hadn't told him! Oh, my God, the blessed Virgin, and Jesus Christ our Saviour, why have women had to suffer so much for their biology, their sex? 
Oppressed by Patriarchy, brainwashed to turn on themselves with hate. 
Always, always, they cause the children to suffer! 


But she wouldn't have thought like that then! Not fortunate to have the opportunities of  70's feminist consciousness raising of my generation, Nan was a working-class Catholic girl who wanted to rise above her station in life, only the past life kept coming back to bite her!


I unleashed a storm of anger on behalf of my Mother and Grandmothers when I was a patient in a Queensland Mental Hospital in 1996 recovering from psychosis when I was around the same age when mum's existence was shared with her husband.


I wasn't brought up a Catholic - Mum wouldn't have that after being a victim of their brutality, but  I requested the hospital's Catholic priest to see me. 


In my containment I could safely confront the demons in my soul and command so-called God's representative on Earth and blame Him for all our  women's troubles! There was no comfort in religion for us.



For Saints and Sinners
Baptismal Font of the Church of the Immaculate Conception
     The Oratory Church,  Birmingham. Mum christened  Kathleen Patricia 1941.

On the other side of the world there was a daughter who thought she was an orphan. Kathleen senior had thought the same; she had a Mother who died in the Glasgow Asylum when she was three years old, and it was assumed her father Thomas Clarke had died not long after, because he never made contact with them, but I have discovered this wasn't true. 


All the while my Grandmother Kathleen had her child being fostered and in the orphanage she didn't make contact with her. 
All the while my Great Grandfather had given his son and two daughters to Glasgow's Catholic social service because of illness and poverty, he never kept in touch. 


He had not given them away at their weddings. He had detached himself from his children when his wife died in 1923. Thomas married again in 1932  with the blessing of the Roman Catholic Church in Greenock. He worked on the shipyard and settled down until his death in 1950.


War's over: September , 1949 An Oratory  Church wedding,
followed by a meal with friends.
KATHLEEN(29yrs) DOESN'T RISK BEING REJECTED BY DISCLOSING
THE 2 BABIES SHE HAD CARRIED AND BROUGHT INTO THE WORLD, BREAST-FED
AND BAPTISED IN THE BIRMINGHAM DIOCESE.
THREE MONTHS AFTER HER WEDDING CONSENT IS GIVEN TO SEND HER DAUGHTER TO AUSTRALIA.

What you don't know doesn't hurt you. 


Since the day her little girl was born at Dudley Road Hospital, then christened at the regally baroque Oratory Church on Hagley Road, it was always impossible to keep her baby.
Kathleen had been living in various lodgings around Ladywood in her early twenties on 3 pound a week at the Munitions factory.


She managed to pay 12 shillings and six pence for little Kathleen's foster care so she would have a proper family and be out of danger of the Nazi's nightly bombing blitz of Birmingham which destroyed shops, buildings and people.


Every day could have been her last. Every day she got on the tram with her gas mask to go to work at the Munitions factory and a house or business had been hit...Brick walls all strewn around the ground.


I can only imagine her husband's response to the existence of a child and the secret life. Of the shock, the hurt, the anger, even the jealousy of an unknown lover. Many women were never able to tell the men they loved about their illegitimate children, but unlike a lot of men that era Bruno was a role-model of dedicated Christian compassion.


As Nan's 15 year grief unleashed itself and that she deserved to be punished for all Eternity, her husband was afraid his wife's emotional state might cause harm to their child growing in her womb.
Perhaps he comforted her with the fact that they loved each other and were in the eyes of God and the Church committed to each other. They had so much to look forward to, a new house, a new baby. It would have cushioned the impact.


Attitudes to out-of-wedlock mothers and children were harsh in the 1940's, especially with no contraception, no sex education and no financial support. Of course, like today, we know that the rich could buy a safe abortion, but the poor and desperate died.


Nan had been brought up a Catholic. With no family to turn to,  a Nun or a Priest were her only refuge. Having the baby taken away was punishment from God for her wickedness - not a fault of patriarchal society.


Poor Nan, who now I see as a young lonely, frightened woman working for the war-effort - a single, pregnant 20 year old Metal Works Machinist at 952 Kingstanding Rd. Handsworth.
A street where Nan lodged: Shakespeare Rd. Ladywood (www.oldladywood.com)
She moved around different Ladywood lodgings with her gas-mask during those long freezing, scary war years: age 20yrs in 1940: The Hostel at 276 Monument Rd 
1942: 92 Freeth Rd. 1943: 266 King Edward's Rd  1944: 46 Shakespeare Rd. 1949: 110 Monument Rd.


Mum's mum may have explained to Bruno how conscientious she was paying for Mrs. Walters to care for her little girl in the Staffordshire rural village of Hednesford for three years but then she fell off the tram...


 Monday 10th (1943) - 266 King Edward Rd, Ladywood


Dear Father Flint, 

I was writing to you about Kathleen my little girl in the home. I was wondering if you could advise me what to do. I keep thinking the best thing I could do would be to get her adopted for her sake, and was wondering if you could help. 
Since I had my accident last year I keep having to have days off, as I have never felt the same since, and sometimes the money problem worries me. She is getting on now and I would like her to know a mother's love. So I was hoping you could help me to get her adopted. Yours sincerely      K Clark


Father Hudson's Homes for Homeless and Friendless Catholic Children.  Form of Application  9.12.1943 
for Clarke K. born 1941
Is the Child legitimate?                          No
Is the child of good character?              Yes
Has the child made its first confession:  No
Has the child made its first communion?   No
Has the child been confirmed?  No
Mother: Clarke, Kathleen, 34 Shakespeare Rd, Ladywood 
Roman Catholic     Wages: 3pound a week
 Mum is 3yrs old when she enters the Nursery at Coleshill in 1944 followed by
 Nazareth House, Lickey Rd. Rednal run by Poor Sisters of Nazareth. 
She is nine when sent to Australia.
1956. When Mrs. Frackowiak went to see Father William Flint, the Administrator of the Coleshill complex she requested the possibility of her daughter coming back from Australia. The  priest's first response was that it would not be in the girl's best interests. 


The matter ended being in the Mother's favour, but there was still some anxiety: 


Nov 1957  173 Hubert Rd. Selly Oak    


Dear Canon  Flood,
I received your letter this morning for which I thank you very much. Also for what has been done to get my daughter Kathleen home, for which we are so looking forward to.
But Canon Flood we couldn't pay 250pound for travel.
My husband was going to pay by sea which thought would come to 140pound, and we did hope we would get a little help. But if not to pay by sea.
I'm sure there is stewards on boat who could look after her 
till she arrived here. Where we would be to meet her.
She will soon be 17 in January, and I'm sure to a certain extent can look after herself.
You see Canon Flood my husband is Polish and a very good and kind man. It is he who is paying Kathleens fare home as he wants her home as much as I do.
We have been waiting for his mother coming from Poland.
But as the Polish Government has stopped passages unless we pay on this side.  He is going to pay her fare here. 
He hasn't seen her in 15 years and was a great disappointment when she thought she couldn't come.
So I couldn't stop her coming for only 3 months he may never have a chance to see his mother again.
But he had set aside the money for Kathleen by Sea. I have a daughter 15 months old so there is only his money coming in.
So I hope Canon Flood you will understand we have a nice home here waiting for her. Also love and kindness. So now I will wait to hear from you Canon Flood.As we were hoping to have Kathleen home for Christmas.
173 Hubert Rd now University lodgings.
I'm yours sincerely,
Mrs Kathleen Frackowiak








OFFICE OF THE HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR AUSTRALIA  
 13 Dec 1957 (condensed)
to The Catholic Child Welfare Council

Dear Canon Flood,

I wish to refer to my letter of 20th August 1957, regarding the request made by the mother of the above named child for her daughter's return to her care.

I have now been advised by the Department of Immigration in Canberra that there would be no objection to the girl's departure from Australia, provided that the mother is prepared to deposit with this Office the sum of 150 Great British Pound Sterling.
It is stated that this amount should be sufficient to cover an average fare for the girl plus a small gratuity to an escort if one should be necessary.
I am writing to Mrs. Frackowiak and will ask her to lodge this money with this Office. It would then be necessary for me to advise the Australian Authorities that the money had been lodged and shipping arrangements would subsequently be made for the girl.
Yours sincerely,
R.E.Armstrong
Chief Migration Officer

Ward of the State of New South Wales, Kathleen Clarke was ignorant of the fact she had a mother.
Her mother's introductory letters had been delivered to St. John's Orphanage in N.S.W. but the Mother Superior had put them aside, probably forgot about them.

Maybe it wasn't a vindictive act by the nun. My mum was of the age where girls were sent away to work as cheap domestic labour for large Catholic families on outlying farms and cattle properties.
The trouble is when you want to give the clergy and nuns the benefit of the doubt of their ethical duty so often they are revealed as the reverse in behaviour.
However it happened Mum was fifteen years old when she came upon a pile of letters addressed to her whilst cleaning Sister Rita's office.
She was sixteen years old when she was asked if she would like to return to Birmingham and live with the mother who had abandoned her. 


10 Aug 1957

Dear Canon Flood,

Further to Australia Houses's enquiry of the 13th Jun regarding Kathleen's mother of 173 Hubert Rd, Selly Oak. I can now report -
"Mr and Mrs Frackowiak own their house which is a three bedroomed one, and in very nice condition, very well cared for both as a house and a home. Comfortably and fully furnished. Mr. Frackowiak is in full and steady employment as a master plumber and is most willing for Kathleen to make a home with them and will pay her fare if necessary.
Mr and Mrs Frackowiak have one child, a baby girl of one year. Apparently they are a quiet home loving couple. Both practising Catholics. They feel that having got a nice comfortable home life if would be nice for Kathleen to share it."

Yours sincerely,
William Flint - Administrator


Kath Clarke, Back in Birmingham 1960
Employed at Cadbury's Bourneville, she had the benefit of free dental health care to fix up the mess the Nuns had done and a social worker who helped her get out of her Mother's house and find a room for her to lodge near work with a landlady who cooked her breakfast and treated her with warmth and respect.

Then she went to a party with the women from work and met Brian, a brickies labourer....from Selly Oak.





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