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David Nunn – In His Own Words

December 11, 2014
David Nunn, WWI

David Nunn, WWI

Very few of Canada’s British Home Children wrote about their lives. Of those who did, few accounts have survived which makes this short auto-biography by David Nunn extremely precious. His great-granddaughter, Debbie Nunn Woytta, says, “My father says he (David) never talked about when he was a child and how he came to Canada.  He was a quiet man and never revealed his past. My father never knew about this letter and was amazed when he read it, especially to learn he had fourteen aunts and uncles.”

Thank you to Debbie Nunn Woytta for sharing David Nunn’s story and photo. Through stories like this, Canadians learn to appreciate the extreme difficulties home children faced, and yet, they contributed so much to our nation. David, like nearly all home boys of eligible age (and some that weren’t), enlisted in the Canadian army during WWI.

West Ham Union Workhouse (2000)

West Ham Union Workhouse (2000)

June 2, 1925. I, David Nunn, was born in 1895 in London, England, came to Canada in 1904. When taken away from Mother and Father, I was two years old and put in the West Ham Union Home, London, in the year 1898.

In 1900, my brother Bill kept me for about two years. And then I was in Dr. Barnardo’s Homes, London, England, in 1903.

From there, I came to Canada in 1904. The first place I came to was Toronto and then sent to . . . . . I was there from 1904 till 1906 and from there back to Toronto.

And from there, I was sent to a farm in Port Hope, east of Toronto for seven years. The farmer’s name was W.G.N. I was knocked from pillar to post many a day during the seven years I was there.

All the school I had was three winters in Canada and I started to work when I was nine years old. I got $100.25 for six years work. But, the seventh, I worked for $100 a year.

I had never heard of my mother and father and brothers till I was fourteen years old until I heard of my brother, Tom, who was around Stratford, from 1902 till I met him in 1911.

I never did know my proper age.

After I met my brother, Tom (he arrived in 1903), we worked for farmers around Stratford, Mitchell, Monton and all around the district till the war broke out in 1914 and I joined the army in 1915 on Sept. 30. Stationed in London, Canada and when the winter came on, I came to Galt and I left Galt for overseas on March 28, 1916. I went to England, France and Germany.

I came back to Canada in 1919, 28 of May. I came back to Galt and settled down.

I never got to see my mother and father after all. Mother died when I was twenty and Father died when I was twenty-two years. Some of my brothers I seen and some I didn’t. I never seen my sisters at all. There were fourteen of us altogether. All I knew was:

John Nunn, the oldest, died 1917.

William Nunn, second, died 1924.

Ben Nunn, third

Tom Nunn, fourth

Dave Nunn, fifth

All five brothers was in the Great War. There was nine boys and five sisters.

Note: The Workhouse was the worst possible place for a child. No wonder David’s older brother rescued him from the West Ham Workhouse. And when he could no longer look after him, he took David to Barnardo’s Home for Children, a much better option for a destitute child than the workhouse. David states that his brother, Tom, arrived in Canada in 1902. It was actually 1903. – Rose McCormick Brandon


If you liked this personal account, read this by William Conabree. To order Rose book coverMcCormick Brandon’s book, Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children, visit her website.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Diana permalink
    December 11, 2014 7:38 pm

    That’s an amazing personal account, Rose. I can easily read between the lines how difficult and harsh David’s life was, even though he recounts it very pragmatically.
    Thanks for sharing this story, and for all your work researching and writing all these stories of Canada’s unsung heroes. They were heroes not necessarily because they did what we think of as heroic feats, but because they survived with quiet persistence and pragmatism.


  2. December 11, 2014 10:31 pm

    Yes, David Nunn is another unsung hero, for sure. When he writes that he was “knocked from pillar to post,” there must be so much more that he didn’t write about.

  3. Mary Arnold permalink
    December 12, 2014 3:13 am

    oh Rose , another sad story, but you do a fabulous job writing it. Pillar to Post must have been a popular saying in those days, I remember my Mom using that phrase…..Mary Arnold.. proud daughter of Nellie Page, a Barnardo girl

    • December 12, 2014 2:26 pm

      Dear Mary – thanks for loving the stories of British Home Children. Each one is precious to me and I’m thrilled to share them with others who also see them as precious.

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