Ronald Chamberlain 1915 – 1996
At age five, Ronald Chamberlain was admitted to the Barnardo Home along with his older brother, Reginald. Both boys were illegitimate. Ronald’s father, Jack Bradshaw, was expected to marry Ron’s mother, Maud, when he returned from the war. Sadly, Jack lost his life in battle.
Maud Chamberlain, and her two sons, lived with her father at 13 Victoria Place, Biggleswade. The boys’ grandfather was unable to work and Maud took odd field jobs when they were available. The family lived in extreme poverty. Maud was considered unfit to raise the children. In spite of his home circumstances, Ronald’s teacher noted that he was a “good boy.”
Maud’s sister, Martha wanted to keep Ronald and Reginald and raise them as her own but they were removed from her and taken to Barnardo’s. Martha left a warm and lasting impression on her nephews. Both boys kept in touch with her throughout their lives.
Ronald Chamberlain arrived in Canada on the Moonclare, April 4, 1925. His brother, Reginald, five years older, was sent to Australia.
On arrival in Canada, Ronald worked as an indentured servant on several farms. One of these farms was in Georgetown with a family that didn’t treat him well. One of his memories with this family is that they would take him to town with them every week but they didn’t include him in the family’s visits to the ice cream parlour. He waited outside while they went inside. On this farm, Ronald suffered from sores on his feet as a result of wearing rubber boots without socks. This family failed to provide Ronald with basic clothing needs.
Another family, the Pettmans, of Ingersoll, Ontario, gave Ronald his first true home in Canada. Ron’s children grew up calling them Aunt Elma and Uncle Fred. He remained in contact with this loving couple until their death.
For a time, Ron worked for a spinster, Mary Mitchell, and her father in Port Sydney. Ron did well in school when he lived on this farm and Miss Mitchell offered to send him to college but Barnardo’s refused to allow Ron to accept and moved him from this farm.
Ron maintained several friendships from his days in Port Sydney. One was with his teacher, Mrs. Watson, whom he visited until his seventies. Other friendships included the Mulvaney family and Barney Oldfield, a local boy who worked on the Mitchell farm when Ron was there. After he married and had children, Ron returned to that farm often for vacations.
In 1937, Ron met and married Beatrice Laura Demman in Kitchener, Ontario. They moved to Toronto where they lived and raised their family of six children, three boys and three girls. They eventually had seventeen grandchildren.
Ron joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and went to war in January 1940. He served as a Wireless Operator and as Air Gunnner on a Halifax bomber which was shot down April 22, 1944 while on a bombing raid over Germany. Ron parachuted out but landed on railroad tracks injuring his hips and back. He was taken to a prisoner of war camp where he remained until May 8, 1945. The injuries he sustained caused him constant pain in later life.
Because Ron’s life had been saved by a parachute, he became a member of the Caterpillar Club. His Aunt Martha, (Mrs. A. Brown) received a letter from the Caterpillar Club which contained Ron’s membership card.
Ron experienced heart problems and poor circulation and underwent at least three heart
operations. His daughter, Doreen Young, writes, “Although Dad suffered many hardships in life, he was a wonderfully loving, kind and caring husband and father. A gentle soul, he rarely had a bad word to say about anyone.”
Ron and Beatrice were happily married for fifty-one years. until Beatrice’s death.
Ron, who had lived in Canada since age ten and fought in World War Two discovered late in life that he didn’t have citizenship. Finally, in 1976, he received his Canadian citizenship.
During the war, Ronald and his brother Reginald from Australia happened to be in England at the same time. Both visited their Aunt Martha. The story is told that they missed seeing each other by five minutes. After leaving England, the brothers never saw each other again.
Ronald Chamberlain died on June 1, 1996. His brother Reginald died in Australia in 2006. (Thanks to Doreen Young, daughter of Ronald Chamberlain, for providing the information and photos used in this story.)
Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children, a collection of 31 stories, by Rose McCormick Brandon is available here.