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Ronald Chamberlain, WW2 P.O.W.

November 11, 2015
Ronald Chamberlain, age 5

Ronald Chamberlain, age 5

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. In spite of his home circumstances, Ronald’s teacher noted that he was a “good boy.”

When Maud was deemed an unsuitable parent, her sister, Martha, stepped up and offered to raise Ronald and Reginald as her own but they were removed from her and taken to Barnardo’s Home for Children. Martha left a warm and lasting impression on her nephews. Both boys kept in touch with her throughout their lives.

Reginald Chamberlain, age 10

Reginald Chamberlain, age 10

Ronald Chamberlain arrived in Canada on the Moonclare, April 4, 1925. As often happened with British Home Children, the brothers were separated, but in this case, Ronald’s brother Reginald, was sent to another country, Australia. (Approximately 30,000 children immigrated from the U.K. to Australia. Child immigration to Canada ended in 1939 but continued to Australia into the 1960s.)

Ronal Chamberlain (Sr)

Ronald Chamberlain, Canadian soldier

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’s 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 and Beatrice Chamberlain

Ron and Beatrice Chamberlain

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.

Aunt Martha with husband, Albert Brown

Aunt Martha with husband, Albert Brown

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

Ronald Chamberlain

Ronald Chamberlain

operations. His daughter, Doreen Young, wrote, “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.  (Doreen Young, daughter of Ronald Chamberlain, provided the information and photos used in this story.)

****

book coverPromises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children by Rose McCormick Brandon, is a collection of 31 stories. Together, the stories give the reader a good understanding of the history, times and the people involved in the child immigration program that spanned the seventy years between 1869 and 1939. The book is available here.

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