I was a little disappointed when Robin and I drove down St. John’s Road in Sevenoaks looking for St. Augustine’s Home for Boys. It had been knocked down long ago and replaced by an apartment building. I was surprised to find the former location in the middle of a very ordinary street. I had envisioned a large institution surrounded by open spaces. I thought of all the children that stayed there and suffered bread/water punishment, nightly canings, and the Rule of Silence that forbade them to speak. I imagined them trudging silently off to school with their eyes downcast.
It must have been painful for them to look out the windows of this ‘Home’ and see ordinary families doing ordinary family things that they themselves used to do. It was enough for me just to find the street, but Robin insisted we go to the local library to see what information they might have. I met a wonderful woman at the Sevenoaks Library who kindly found a pamphlet with this picture of the Home. She said the week previously, an 80-year-old Canadian had also asked for a photocopy, as he was in the Home in the 1920’s and sent to Canada. She said that some ‘terrible things had happened in that Home.’
I promised to send her a copy of my book, and told her to expect a lot more Canadians to come around asking about St. Augustine’s Home for Boys.
Cousin Jim kindly offered to drive me to Staffordshire. It would have been much more difficult to take a train, bus, bed and breakfast, etc. I was impressed with the 3 ½ hour drive through villages that involved much navigating and constant vigil for speed cameras, speed sign changes, roundabouts, etc.
I thought we were going to find a Bed & Breakfast but before I knew it, there we were outside our cousin’s house. I thought Jim was last there 4 years ago, but I misunderstood his accent and later learned that he was last there 14 years ago. That explained why we overshot a few turnoffs.
We met our cousins Ann and Susan and I tried to delicately determine if my Aunt Gladys was still alive and in good health, and if so, did she want to meet me. I asked, “And your Mom . . .?” Ann replied, “She’s on her way over.” A few minutes later, in walked my very spry Aunt Gladys (85). We sat on the couch and I was very emotional when I explained she had an older brother she never knew about. It took her only a minute to digest the news, and she had many questions to ask about her brother. I gave her a picture of my Father.
She had no recollections of my Grandmother, but when I showed her a picture of her father, she remembered something and talked of how he always tapped his stick on the stairs. I explained that this was probably a military “swagger stick.” We carefully avoided the subject of her being “in care” as like so many, she rarely spoke of her past. She is an intelligent and delightful woman. She said I reminded her of her brother Bill. I said, “After finally meeting the Snow Family, it’s obvious to me that we all have inherited intelligence along with good looks.” She laughed heartily, and said, “Don’t forget humility!” I told her she also had one other nephew and three nieces in Canada and another nephew in the USA. She replied, “Well, isn’t that just lovely!” I had only limited correspondence with my cousins, so the British Home Children story was told many times. They did not have a copy of my book, so I promised to send them one. We had a wonderful visit, and I left with a beautiful Staffordshire clock as a parting gift.
When I visited Aunt Gladys the next morning, I was shocked to see her sitting in her chair with my Father’s picture in a silver frame alongside her.
I had only given her the picture late the night before. I can’t describe how I felt just to see that, other than to say I was too choked to speak for a moment, and tears welled in my eyes.
Gladys said, “I feel he is smiling at me and somehow is talking to me.” I answered that he sometimes does that to me too.
She had pulled out some photos for me to look at and gave me one of her in younger days when she was put “in service.”
The few hours we had together made my search of many years all the more worthwhile.