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Leonard (Bagley) Fraser: In His Own Words

October 29, 2012

It’s a tragedy when families are forced apart. Leonard Bagley had a mother in England. Yet he and his 4 siblings were transported to Canada and sent to live in 5 different homes.  No matter how you twist it, a plan like this doesn’t make sense. Through their own determination the Bagley children managed to re-connect as adults. So often when family bonds are broken, it’s forever.

The following transcript was made from the taped interview with British Home Child, Leonard (Bagley) Fraser, born January 27, 1899 in Birmingham, Warwickshire, England. Leonard died September 27, 1988 in Michigan, U.S. At the time of the taping, Leonard was the last remaining child of Richard Charles & Leah Bagley. This interview was taped at the Bagley Family Reunion held in Sheffield, New Brunswick, Canada in the summer of 1984.

— R.M.B.

Leonard: I’ll start at the beginning –  81 years ago last June my brothers, my sister & myself landed in St. John, New Brunswick. We were originally from Birmingham, England. My father died sometime before that, I don’t recall how long. It wasn’t too long. And, of course, my mother, was left with no immediate means of support.

Our (British) government, at that time, was big-hearted enough to put us in a home and eventually ship us over to Canada to get rid of us. So, we went to a home called Middlemore Home. I don’t recall a lot at that time. I was 4 ½ years old.  I don’t recall how long we were in that home.

I remember when father died. We were setting at a table eating breakfast, I sat in the high chair beside him. He went to lift his knife or his fork up to his mouth, and he fell forward on his face and died. They called it apoplexy at the time. Now a days, it would be called a stroke.

Grace (Leonard’s wife): You came over on a ship. Now what was the name of your ship?
The Siberian. It was 1903 . . . 14 days coming over . . .

After we landed, I guess most of us on the boat were spoken for. We were sent here more or less as indentured servants, anyway. . . but . . . ah. . . everybody was placed, but me. Course, I was of no use to anybody. I was only 4 ½ years old. I was the tag end and sent with a companion.

And now, as I go on I’ll say Mother and Father, to mean my adopted mother and father.

There was a Mrs. Richards who had come as a companion (on the ship), what we would call Social Services now, I suppose. She was a friend of Mother’s. She met Mother on the street one day and she said, “Annie, I have one little boy I’d like for you to see.” So, we were down at the old (Liberty) Hotel and Mother came in and looked me over. Mrs. Richards said, “Would you like to have him?”

Mother said, “Oh, I don’t know. I’d have to ask Wes.”

 Anyway, Mother and Dad came in a little while later in the afternoon and the old man (Wes) said, “No, I don’t think I want to. So, they started for home, which was about 20 miles up the Nashwauk. They had come in that morning with a load of coal or cord wood.  Anyway, they started for home and Dad got half way across the Fredericton Bridge and he said, “I wonder what will become of that little boy.”
Mother said, “Doubt I know.” They turned right around on the bridge and drove back. And they told Mrs. Richards that they would take me on one condition, that I become their adopted son. So, it ended up I was adopted and given their name. And, had it been differently . . . (his voice drifted off)
We didn’t have much. We were poor farmers and didn’t have much money. Most of our doing was trade. We’d have to take a half a cow or hog or something in to get some flour or sugar or coffee or something. As I said before I went to school, a one-room country school. I think when I first started out, there were 10-12 other children. I know when I finished, I was one of six that were left.
Grace: And your brothers?
All 5 Bagley children came on the same ship. Charles 13, Walter 11, Annie Dorothy 9, William 7 and Leonard 4.
Charles was ill so he was sent up river somewhere. Walter was over here in Oromocto. Dorothy went over to French Lake. And Will came down here to Sheffield (at Parrish Court #1). I didn’t see much of them until I grew up. Because communication and transportation wasn’t like it is now. I did keep in touch with Charles. He was the oldest so he kept a  hold of me.
Charles brought me down once to see Will and I stayed over night. I got on the train at 10:30 in the morning. Had to come into Fredericton. Stayed there overnight to catch the boat, the Victoria or whatever was running at that time. Came down here and then to Charles’ place to stay overnight. It was a three-day journey which you do now in 60 minutes almost. I digress…where’d I leave off?Grace: About your brother Charles
Anyway, Charles was farmed out somewhere up river, above Fredericton, and he hurt his leg. It got infected. And they thought they were going to have to amputate it. So, they brought him into the hospital. At that time there was a Mrs. McCarroll who was head nurse and she took some kind of fancy to Charles. Since the people he’d lived with didn’t care about getting him back. Mrs. McCarroll said, “Why don’t you let him stay here with me?” That’s how he came to live with Mrs. McCarroll right near the hospital. He grew up there. Went to technical school. He worked in the (words that follow are intelligible) for a little while. Then he went in the service and was a medic. He was stationed in Halifax at the time of the explosion. (A ship out in the harbor blew up. Schools were let out. Businesses closed.)Charlie married Bess Shaw. They had children: Dick, Lee, then the two…three girls…Muriel and Millicent and Betty. Harry was the youngest. Harry is the baby. They’re all here today. (Refers to Family Reunion.
(conversation turns to his brother Walter Ambrose Bagley)
Walter landed over here in Oromocto and wound up with someone with a livery stable. And I guess he didn’t have a very good life. First thing I heard was that he ran away. He went to Maine and fell in with somebody over there with a livery stable and worked with horses. Always around horses. I don’t know how long he stayed there or where he went from there. The next thing I knew, he was in the state of Washington in the Calvary, the American Calvary. No wait a minute. I take that back. He worked as an extra for a while in Hollywood doing pictures. I don’t know how long that was. He was in Birth of a Nation (1915).
So, Walter went overseas with the Calvary, the U.S. Calvary. Just a month to the day, that they left New York he was back. The first day out he was showered with (words that follow are intelligible). The rest of them were all killed. And he was disabled, in a wheelchair, blind, too.
Grace: When did Walter marry? When he was in the States?
Yeah. He married Ila Van Orton. They had one son. Miles. Walter had a marvelous memory. He loved to play cards. I remember one night we were playing poker. Five or six of us. He was blind at the time. And we were playing stud poker. All he wanted to know was who had sat where. Someone would tell him what was in his hand. Each player would say what they were playing. Anyway, they dealt the cards out. Grace got the ace of diamonds. (Words that follow are intelligible) That one night in particular it came to a show down. We were all arguing. He said, “What the hell are all you people arguing about? I got the best hand of all of you!” And he was right! (laughter)
When it comes to my sister Dorothy (Annie Dorothy), I don’t remember much about her. I never saw her after we were broken up, until Walt’s funeral. (1903-1946) I take that back. About 1936, I guess it was along about there, Walt, Charlie and I go down there (to Dorothy’s) to stay a couple of days. Then, I didn’t see her again until after Walt’s funeral.
Dorothy married a fellow, name of Sydney Edwards, and they lived in Toronto. He was a carpenter by trade and considerably older than she was. And that’s all I know about her. And she passed away about 23-24 years. (1959-1960)
And then we come to Will. Will was born in, oh let me see…1896.
He came down here to a farm owned by a family named Barker. He lived here with them. The way I understand it he had a pretty rough road. He wasn’t abused. But, he was expected to do a man’s work there on the farm. Anyhow, when the war broke out. . . the First World War broke out the 4th of August 1913. He joined the medical corps as a stretcher bearer. He went all through the war . . . was shot up a couple of times. Wound up being gassed and in hospital several times. (The gas in the trenches burned his lungs. While recuperating in French hospital he was taught bead weaving as therapy. We have a blue glass seed-bead necklace with a gold seed-bead fleur de lis that Will made while in hospital.)By the time Will and the boys came home from France they really should have gotten a full disability pension. Charlestold him at the time, “Don’t take off the uniform ‘til you get a pension.”They (Will and wife Florence)  fought (for the pension) for years. And when they finally got it it was $16.00 a month. And that’s what they lived on, that and chickens and fishing salmon.Will  married Florence Moore from Sheffield. They had Dick, Ken, Jean, Irene, Donna and several years later, Darryl came along. He was the omega.This is the original house they used to live in. (The sight of the Family Reunion, then owned by Kenneth Bagley, had been the home of Florence’s parents William & Martha Moore.) Will lived just down the road here.
Going back to the beginning – I forgot to mention I had another sister. She was born after we came over here. (Leah was pregnant when her five children were sent to Canada from the Middlemore Home.) Her name was Jessica.  And I don’t recall just how long after we came here, she died. She was probably one or two years old. I don’t know when or how she died.My mother (Leah) remarried. A man named Stokes. As I’ve said before, our communication with her wasn’t very good; it was probably a couple of years before I heard anything, maybe longer. But, anyhow, as I said, she got married again for economic reasons. And they had one son. My half-brother Tom. Tommy Stokes.And I should go back to the very beginning . . .
As I get the history of things – my father, our father (Richard Charles) was from a well-to-do family. And my mother was a singer and dancer on the stage. A “hoofer” we call ‘em now days. Anyway, in those days in England, any woman connected to the stage wasn’t thought of too well. So, his family just threw him out and wouldn’t have anything to do with him or them. I don’t know what my Dad’s education was but he always loved horses. As I understand, his family had horses in stables there. (Birmingham, England area, it is presumed) He found a job as a coachman.(When we lived in England) my oldest brother, Charles, his job was – early every morning – was to make sure to polish the high boots (that father wore). High polish those boots so they were ready in the morning.(Talks about himself again) Well, they called me Leonard Bagley. L-e-o-n-a-r-d. That’s where they (adoptive parents Wesley and Annie Fraser) got the Leo. They didn’t like Leonard but they turned it into Leo. That’s on my adoption papers.So, I got pulled out of the docks and I grew up. I didn’t have a very good childhood. It was – I was always different from the other kids in my neighborhood. And some of the old folks, too had vile prejudice (against the Home Children). I was kicked around quite a bit, had some black eyes, too. I think that’s one of the reasons, a lot of the reason, I never liked to be away from home. I never liked to wander around too much, especially when I was younger.But, I grew up and went to Normal School. (Normal school was higher education, usually in preparation for becoming a teacher.) By some reason or other, I had a real good knowledge in my head. But, I never taught school. The simple reason – if you were a school teacher you had to have an A1 education yet you could starve to death on the pay. When I got done (school) I wanted to get out and do something with my hands.
So, I worked on the roads leading west. I slept on the ground. And I came to America and a school teacher caught my eye. We got married the next year. (Her name was Viola Crumpet)
Grace asks:  How many did you have?
Eight – Gladys, Viola, Joyce, Richard… who died young, Bob…Robert, Walter, who died and then there was Kaye, Don and Lawrence.
Millicent Bagley asks: The Frasers good to you, were they?Leonard: So far as I’m concerned (getting adopted) was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. Your dad (He’s speaking to Millicent. Leonard’s eldest brother Richard Charles is Millicent’s father.) had a hard life.Millicent Bagley: He never talked about it. Dad never said a word about anything. We never heard any of this (that the Bagley children were home children) ‘til we were grown up and married. We knew he came over young and but didn’t know the story of it. Just the date he was born and his mother’s name.Grace: You have how many grandchildren?Leonard: 19 and 23 great grandchildren.Beth: Was anyone ever in touch with this Tommy Stokes? (this is the son born to Leonard’s mother after she remarried in England.)

Leonard: Not to my knowledge. I think that maybe Dick and maybe Charles had been when they were in the service.

Leonard: (speaking of the boat he sailed on) I do remember they had 2 women. I don’t know if you’d call them nurses or not. One was a red-head. She was the most miserable (person) alive. I despised her. And then they had an old black-haired gal. I can remember her picking me up, tossing me, in fact, and her arms whirling me around. I thought she was wonderful! (He finishes this statement with a tearful voice.) But, my memory stinks –

Wait a minute! By gosh, I do remember one more thing! On our way over somebody sighted a whale! There was a lot of excitement to get the kids up on the deck to see that whale. I remember him coming right along side where I was.

It was 1903….81 years ago. And, that’s the story of my life.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 30, 2012 5:16 am

    So many hardships, yet they plugged along. They are the true survivors.
    So thankful for these stories, and I say this with tears in my eyes.

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