Having read some truly tragic cases of brutal maltreatment of British Home Children in Canada, some resulting in death, I felt compelled to write this poem. Winter Harvest will be included in a forthcoming book of poetry on the BHCs and the issues of how ancestors affect our lives, entitled Ancestral Fire.
What hatred grows so hard
its voice can only speak
through a hail of stones?
What crop were we sowing
when we scattered infant spirits
in fields of stone and frost?
Who heard the cry
of Arthur Clarkson,
trembling in bed with frozen,
for being too weak to face
the darkness of morning?
Who used a pitchfork
on Arnold Walsh, half-
starved the boy on gruel?
Who split his skull
and crammed his body
into a coffin filthy with cowshit?
Whose fists hit George Green
in the face, dragged him
from his sickbed
to sleep with the pigs?
Who rolled the boy’s body
into an unmarked grave?
And whose arms opened
to take in these stranger children
with eyes like haunted moons?
In how many mother’s bosoms
did our caress of frost finally melt?
Who teaches us how to love
if not a child with nothing to lose?
I can hear their spirits moving
over the land they tilled
and sowed, spectral feet smoothing
the ancestral path
I was born to inherit.
©2012 / 2014 Sean Arthur Joyce
Arthur Clarkson was kept in an unheated loft, his feet freezing in his bed at night. He was sent to work in his bare feet during wintertime. When his feet swelled with frostbite they became infected with running sores and he was too ill to work. Farmer David Flaherty dragged Clarkson out of bed at 4:30 am and horsewhipped the boy. Flaherty was charged at Tillbury (near Chatham, Ontario) with assault causing bodily harm. It’s not known whether Flaherty served any sentence.
READ Arthur’s story here: http://canadianbritishhomechildren.weebly.com/arthur-clarkson–lily-wood.html
Arnold Walsh was sent in July 1905 to work for James Kelly of Masson, Quebec. Kelly had a substantial property and despite his wealth, Arnold was forced to live and sleep in the barn. He froze to death by February 1906 and was buried in a box too small for his crumpled body. The autopsy showed he had been prodded with a pitchfork, was under-nourished, poorly clothed, bruised, had severely frostbitten hands and feet, and a fractured skull. He lay on a bed of manure in his coffin. James Kelly was found guilty of manslaughter on January 19, 1907 and sentenced to seven years in the penitentiary at St. Vincent de Paul. His remains were buried in an unmarked grave at Notre Dame Des Neiges Cemetery, Masson, Papineau County, Quebec.
READ Arnold’s story here: http://canadianbritishhomechildren.weebly.com/arnold-walsh.html
George Everett Green was sent by Barnardo’s to work for Helen Findlay in Owen Sound, where he endured beatings, verbal abuse, malnutrition and a home that was kept in a filthy condition. He was made to sleep on a pair of planks covered in straw with a ten-inch hole in the centre, which was supposed to be his toilet. The coroner’s examination of Green’s body was shocking, with “innumerable bruises from the face to the feet. The skin was of a dirty, yellow-brownish colour, and several spots could be seen on the upper part of the chest. The colour of the skin showed insufficient nourishment. Fair-sized ulcers were on the feet, which were swollen, the toes being mortified,” to quote only part of his observations. (As reported in the Daily Mail and Empire November 21, 1895) According to Lori Oschefsky, “in 40 years of medical practice, including working the slums of Glasgow, Dr. Cameron had never encountered such squalid conditions.”
READ George’s story here: http://canadianbritishhomechildren.weebly.com/george-everett-green.html
With thanks for the above information to Lori Oschefsky, British Home Children in Canada.