Dorian Reece was shipped to Australia at the age of eight and grew up believing he was either unwanted or orphaned, enduring a miserable childhood in a boys’ home, beaten and abused by men who were meant to care for him.
Yet when he finally met his long lost family after 75 years he found out that his father had begged the authorities to let him bring up his son and to put him in touch with Dorian’s mother, who had been forced to give her son up after having him out of wedlock.
That heartbreaking revelation was too much for Dorian and he could not stop the tears from falling.
Dorian was one of thousands of British children who, from 1946 until 1970, were sent thousands of thousands away to former colonies, while all ties were severed with their families.
Around 7,000 children, mostly aged between seven and 10, were taken from orphanages here and sent to Australia, where they were adopted or brought up in institutions, many experiencing neglect and abuse.
The scheme, called the child migrant programme, was seen as a way to increase Australia’s white population.
Dorian grew up believing that his real parents had either died or abandoned him, but he built a family and happy life for himself in Sydney, despite horrific memories of the loneliness and cruelty he experienced growing up.
He eventually reconnected with his mother, but he desperately wanted to find out about the father.
That search came to an end when he finally met his British niece – the closest living connection to his dad – in emotional scenes to feature tomorrow night on ITV’s Long Lost Family.
Dorian recalls how he was living in an orphanage near Birmingham, run by Father Hudson’s Homes, when he and his friends learned they were to have a “new life” in Australia.
He says: “I don’t think they explained why we were being sent away from England. We may have heard of a kangaroo but we had no real knowledge of Australia.
“We had the idea that we didn’t have any parents and they were sending us to a better country.”
But after his initial excitement arriving at the Castledare boys’ home in Wilson, Western Australia – which proclaimed itself “Huckleberry Finn’s heaven, a great camp with lots of boys to play with” – it turned out to be no place for vulnerable children.
A 1948 inspection report found the bedroom floors stained with “urine which had dropped through the continually saturated mattresses.”
And at a 2017 inquiry in London, former residents of Castledare told of “sadistic” beatings and sexual abuse by men in the Christian Brothers religious order who ran the orphanage.
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Aged 11, Dorian was moved to Clontarf Boys’ Town in Perth, also run by the Christian Brothers.
He has “horrible memories” of life there.
Dorian says: “Beatings, the beatings were the thing. The one that always comes to mind was a fellow by the name of Mowen.
“He would be walking down the L-shaped veranda with a concrete floor and he had a limp, you’d hear him coming, you’d hear clip, clop, bang.
“The bang was the cane that was hitting the side of his black habit.
“You’ve got 30 boys in the classroom and you can feel the atmosphere, some of the boys are literally urinating with fear.”
Boys deemed to have broken rules would be sent to Mowen’s room.
Dorian says: “You’d go in there, he’d give you some punishment, then he’d try to console you, sit you on his lap. I’ll leave the rest at that.
“Who do you turn to? I’m not the only one that this situation happened to. Some are better, some are a damn sight worse. Lives destroyed by what they came through.”
Dorian had no idea that he had a family birth in the UK, but after marrying his wife Kay curiosity led him to London, where they tracked down his mother, who had a stall on Whitechapel market.
While Dorian waited in a nearby cafe, Kay made the initial approach.
He says: “Kay said, ‘Do you remember Dorian?’ The poor lady went totally ashen. She was shocked.
“She assisted her across to the cafe, and when we all calmed down it was magnificent, the elation of seeing her for the first time.
“At last, at least, I’ve got my mother.”
They kept in touch, and it was through her that Dorian found out that his father’s name was George Thomas. He had been born in 1892 and died in 1981.
George had fought in the First World War, and been gassed at the Somme. A chemical engineer, he had then lived all around the world, and had even been awarded an OBE.
He had separated from his wife in 1938, nine years before Dorian was born.
After his mother died, Dorian made a Freedom of Information request to the British care home where he had been, and made the incredible discovery that his father had not only been paying for his upkeep, but had wanted to be part of his and his mother’s lives.
His father had even written to the care home saying he wanted to care for his son and reconnect with Dorian’s mother. The care home told him “the kindest thing you can do for her is to think of her no more”.
Dorian says: “They didn’t have the right to intervene in such a manner, but they did, and the consequences were that the likes me went to places that weren’t good to grow up in.”
Although Dorian’s two siblings, who were adults when he was born, had died, they found his niece Anne, and her son Pete, living in Lancashire.
Anne traveled to London with Pete to meet her long-lost uncle. Dorian wept as they met.
He says: “I thought I’d be able to compose myself, but… I was a bit apprehensive but when I got that hug, I felt so much more at ease.
“You want to know where you’ve come from and who your family are. Finding my father’s family, it’s filled a really big gap. It does feel good.”
- Long Lost Family Special: Shipped to Australia, tomorrow night, ITV, 9pm.