Child migrant’s life ‘living hell’ after being shipped from Scotland

Lady Smith is leading the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry
Lady Smith is leading the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry
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A man who was shipped to Canada in the 1940s under the child migrant programme has described the experience as a “living hell”.

Edinburgh-born Roddy MacKay, who waived his right to anonymity, left for Canada in 1941 from Liverpool.

Giving evidence to the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry he said a medical examination prior to his emigration described him as suitable to work as a labourer. He was aged six.

The 84-year-old spoke of routine beatings during his time at Fairbridge Farm School in British Columbia, as well as sexual abusers who preyed on children.

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Mr MacKay told the inquiry on Wednesday: “We went through these white gates, which one of my school mates described as the pearly gates of Hell.

“(My house mother) made my life a living hell.

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“She took the shirt off our back and took a belt (to us), lock us up in the basement. She was more than strict.

“I was praying with all my heart for God to do something. Whenever she lost her temper we didn’t know what we were going to get.

“I would be pleading ‘please stop, mom’. It was often enough to get burned into your mind forever.”

Fairbridge Farm was opened in 1935 as an orphanage, which Mr MacKay said was used to teach boys to work on farms and girls to work as domestics.

Children were shipped there under the UK Government’s child migration policy.

Other punishments described include being confined to small area, as well as persistent name-calling such as “guttersnipe”.

It was heard the house mother would eat nice food off of china, while the orphans had porridge with worms in it for breakfast.

The witness told how older children would bully the younger ones, while he himself was close to being sexually assaulted by a teenage boy.

He said it was lucky another child walked in to the room before anything more serious happened.

Mr MacKay also spoke of a convicted sexual abuser who had worked at the orphanage that was allowed to return after prison and went on to assault more children.

Trouble caused by older teenagers would be blamed on the younger ones, according to the witness.

This meant they would “take it in turns” to admit to acts they had not done and be beaten for it by the house mother.

But Mr MacKay said it was being separated from his family which has had the most last impact on him.

It was not until 1976 when his brother Rob visited him in California, USA that he learned he had two younger brothers.

He was unable to trace them until 1999.

Mr MacKay, who left the orphanage aged 17 and joined the army, said: “One of the things I get bitter, bitter feelings about is the fact that they had these records.

“I was in my late 60s before I was able to obtain records that could have assisted me in reconnecting with my brothers.

“People ask me ‘have you got any closure now you have met you family?’.

“I say no, I can’t say I have closure here - I’m looking at the years that we missed over some stupid records, that nobody told us existed.”

The inquiry, before Lady Smith, continues.