Tony Chambers

Former child migrant Tony Chambers told us what he thought of the exhibition On their own: Britain's child migrants:

Find out more about Tony's own story, in his own words:


In the exhibition

Truly I think it’s a wonderful thing that the Maritime Museum is doing for us former child migrants. It enables people to see what really happened to some of us child migrants, especially when they start to read into some of the other stories. Because it’s so sad some of the other stories that some of the children had to go through.

It's very important because the mental understanding of how to deal with disadvantaged or ‘broken home’ children today is so different from the past. People today, particularly young families, don't know, don't really understand the difference of the time when Britain was a part of the Empire and New Zealand, Australia were considered to be the ‘Greater’ Britain. 

So now with the Maritime Museum here in Liverpool portraying us the public will get a chance to see what some of us children went through in being separated, in being sent overseas and not knowing really where we were going. Now they can see it and they can apply it into their lives, to their own families, and say "Look what they used to do in those days, but they don’t do that any more now".

Tony's story

My name is Anthony Chambers, but I’m called Tony, everybody calls me Tony. I’m actually a former child migrant. I was sent to New Zealand in December 1951 and I arrived in New Zealand in January 1952.

I was born in a little town in England called Hemel Hempstead. I lived in the family, with my birth mother. But I didn’t know my father, there was no father in the house. After the war things were pretty tough, there were a lot of circumstances and my mother was finding it very difficult to look after me. 

My mother did go apparently to the local welfare people in my town to see if I could perhaps be fostered somewhere in England or Britain, not necessarily for a permanent situation. Somehow or other she seemed to have misunderstood. My mother knew apparently that I would be sent to a country called New Zealand, which in those days remember seemed even further away, but she seemed to have thought that I was only going to be sent away for a period of time. 

In actual fact I got adopted in New Zealand, with a very kind New Zealand family. So in a way I was kind of lost to her. I was very happy but I was confused because I always remembered that I had a mother.

Growing up in New Zealand I had a good life, I was very happy, but I was also confused. I did not really understand why. "Did my mother not want me?" I used to think. So I did my schooling, I did my engineering apprentice trade and saved my money as a young man and said to my New Zealand adoptive family, when I was 22, “I want to go back to England to see where I come from”. It was something I had to do.

So I did do that, I came back to see if I could find my mother. As it turned out my mother was still a single lady with no other children. By meeting my birth mother I also met some of my aunties and uncles that I remembered as a small boy, because I was 9 ½ when I was sent to New Zealand.

So my story is, in the sense of being separated, like these children [indicates photos of child migrants in the exhibition] but years later I learnt that many of them had a very bad life in these countries. I didn’t know that, growing up in New Zealand. I didn’t know the wider scale.

It’s like a coming home, isn’t it, I feel a part of this, a part of the jigsaw puzzle. My story is a piece of that jigsaw puzzle.