by Christopher Bradford
I want to write my story for two reasons. Firstly, that the circumstances of my adoption may be of interest to anyone associated with adoptions and secondly that my children will read it and perhaps gain a better understanding of me and what took place in their lives. It is not intended as an excuse for any wrong doing as a father or husband on my part, however as an explanation of my lack of understanding of what family is and how to be a father and husband.
I was born on the 9th of February 1925 into a family of six. My father was George Edward Hawkins and my mother’s name was Clara Jane Hawkins. I do not know anything about them except that they had four children before I was born, George, Cicely, John and Richard. I ended up in Brighton General Hospital where I was treated by Dr Florence Mary Edmunds, who had never married and was one of the first female Doctors in England.
Dr Edmunds adopted me when I was around three years old. I was to call Dr Edmunds Aunt not mother. My name was legally changed from Hawkins to Bradford (after a distant relative of Aunt). And she very rarely spoke of my paternal family, only that I was apparently neglected and unwanted when I was young and in and out of hospital. An incident I remember at around the time of my adoption was seeing my sister, Cicely, standing on the pavement in front of Aunt’s door. She was quickly told to go home and that was the end of any contact I had with my family.
I wouldn’t say I had a very happy childhood. For some unknown reason I was handed over to a couple who lived in the country. I lived in fear every day I was with them, the man of the house had a wooden leg and the sound he made when he walked up the steps to the attic room I occupied was terrifying! I was later removed from there by two of Aunt’s nieces and returned to continue living at Aunt’s house, 5 Brunswick Square, Hove.
My relationship with Aunt was not a mother and son relationship. She was an independent and autocratic woman who I admired. I suppose her character was highly influenced by her struggle as a woman in a male dominated profession and that may have overflowed into her personal life. She was unknowingly intimidating and had this presence about her that I often found scary. I was always terrified of making her unhappy, so I was always trying my hardest to be a good boy.
Once she gave me a labrador dog which I was thrilled about. I loved animals and having this dog meant the world to me. After a month or so she decided that I was not looking after it to her expectations and took the dog away from me. It was no longer my dog and she raised the dog like she raised me. I was not allowed to play with the dog and it had its place in one corner of the room and I had my place in the other corner.
At the age of eight I had my first introduction to boarding school life at a prep school in Seaford Sussex. Here I was introduced to competitive sport, which I loved and I participated in all sports they had on offer. Academic study came a poor second. Some of my happier memories were during school holidays. I was looked after by Nurse Lane, who was also Aunt’s secretary. Aunt also had a chauffeur to drive her to visits to her patients and when Nurse Lane could not look after me I would go with them.
It was also during the holidays that Aunt tried to give me contact with other children. We would perform plays for her and often have her crying in laughter. Aunt also had a cottage at Poynton, near Lewis, where she drove us in her Armstrong Siddeley for the weekend sometimes.
At 13½ I left Seaford and continued my education at Sherborne School located in Dorset. Here I continued my involvement in all sports on offer which was one of the few positives of my time there. Sherborne was rife with sexual activity among the children which was seen by everyone as the norm, regardless if it was wanted or not and the teachers turned a blind eye. My period of adolescence was somewhat uncontrolled at this point and I experienced the cane on my bare backside on numerous occasions (90 strokes in total). I suffered at the hands of the senior house prefects for many minor misdemeanors. Punishment came during study time, before bed and in the shower room. The shower room was a long room with basins and showers at one end. I would be bent over a basin, with pants down and the prefect would run the length of the shower room before administering the cane with two to six strokes.
It was during this time that I was introduced to a male who lived nearby in Brunswick Square and worked for the BBC. This was because Aunt thought I needed a male role model in my life, a father figure, but he had other intentions. Our relationship was good to start with, he introduced me to classical music which I continue to enjoy. He would take me on trips to London, where we attended an orchestral concert, followed by dinner at his club. He started taking me back to his flats in both London and Brighton where he would abuse me. Back then not much was known about paedophilia and as children growing up in boarding schools we were made to believe that abuse of any kind was the norm. It wasn’t until I left school that I saw it for what it really was, child abuse. I am relieved for the children of today that people are talking about it now and that Royal Commissions are being carried out.
After leaving school with a fairly ordinary school certificate and no specific instructions, he took me to Cambridge University, to Brasenose College where, as a 17 year old, I sat for dinner on an elevated platform with the DONs of the college, and undergraduates seated down below. I had hoped to gain my qualifications as a teacher and after an uncomfortable night at dinner and having slept in a cold and dingy room at Cambridge University I was called to the college office. Here I was told I could not remain at the university as I only had a pass in Latin and not a credit. This whole episode was the fault of Sherborne School who sent in incorrect records and affected me badly. I was disenchanted with study even more and determined to stand on my own feet in life. After this I wrote a letter telling him that I wanted to severe ties with him and I never saw him again.
I went back to Seaford prep school to teach Latin, of all subjects, without qualification. On reaching 18 years of age I had to join the war effort. I decided to join the Navy and did so. However, a few days later I received a letter from the 60th Rifles saying ‘Where are you?’ Apparently during the war the services visited schools to recruit and unbeknown to me they recruited me and the school never told me. This all could have been a blessing as I believe I was more likely to survive in the Navy than in the 60th Rifles!
While in the Navy I was sent to Whale Island off Portsmouth to the gunnery school where I was qualified as an LR3 AB (able seaman). I served on a corvette and a destroyer as an LR3 AB. I also served on Atlantic Convoys during the last three years of the war. I was thought to be of possible officer material at one point. I was given an oral maths test, which I failed miserably and was told I was the worst mathematician they had ever met. End of officer aspirations!
After leaving the Navy in 1946, I got a job still unqualified at a prep school in Harrogate (live in) and was dating a young woman with a protective mother. I decided I didn’t have much of a future there, so then came my big decision. All on my own, I told no one, I arranged everything to immigrate to Australia. Aunt was not pleased, but one of her brothers paid the £10 fee, which I spent entertaining a shipboard romance! Aunt came to my departure and handed me an envelope. This I opened later and found she had dis-inherited me. I continued to write to her and she replied. Later on, she even paid for an inside toilet and a red mini minor car.
On arrival in Melbourne in May 1950 penniless and left to fend for myself, I was lucky to find a kind landlady in St Kilda who allowed me to stay without pay until I got a job. I ended up finding work at Myer in the hardware section. Two or three jobs later I finally overcame my anxiety to study, as I wanted to return to teaching. Being ineligible for university, I did a course at Mercer House and received a Certificate of Education. I taught at a number of private schools in Melbourne teaching mostly primary and lower secondary school classes.
A sudden marriage was next on the agenda. I met my first wife when I was working at Hyatt Children’s Home. Rosemary and I married in 1950. After a number of miscarriages we adopted two children, Carolyn and David. Later Rosemary was able to have children and we followed with John, Sally, Mark and Peter (twins). Sadly we lost Sally to a drowning incident in an above ground pool. This was very hard on both of us and had a harmful effect on our marriage. I was not a good husband or father. Throughout my married life there were times and instances when I disconnected from my family and behaved as a single person, for this I apologise and am truly sorry. I had never had any exposure to real family life and when I had one of my own I didn’t know what to do. I was granted a trip overseas, by the school, during which I cheated on my wife and Rosemary divorced me after I returned in late 1960s or early 1970s.
While I was away in England, I attended the funeral of my Aunt and was completely ignored by her family members. They believed that I should have stayed in England to look after her. She did visit me in Australia once and she didn’t stay very long. She went by herself to the Great Barrier Reef and did a few other little trips without inviting me to join her.
Sometime after my divorce I received a letter from a lady I met when I was in England to farewell Aunt. Anne wrote to me to inform me that she had finalised everything over there and was on her way to Australia! We later married in the 1970s at the bequest of her mother and father. She later died of cancer in 1985.
During my career as a teacher I became a member of the College of Education and I also became a Senior Master. I enjoyed all the many experiences I had as a teacher and I retired at 60 years of age.
I would like to say that the last part of my life has been happily spent with a lovely lady. We are now together living at Arcare Craigieburn. I have had a lot of time to think about my life and was encouraged as therapy to write this life story. In writing this I have seen things more clearly than ever before. One thing is for certain, I should have sought help and guidance before bringing up a family. I have also been encouraged to, in some way, go back to teaching. I have found a lot of joy in my work with the YMCA Early Learning Centre, which is just next door and they make me feel alive again. I read to the children once a week when I am well enough and I dress up and use funny voices. I love reading to the kids as they make me feel good. The children have even nominated me for YMCA Father of The Year award for my work as a grandfather figure for them. This nomination means a lot to me as I feel like the start of moving forward in my life. My next project is to write a children’s book about me and my life, which I shall dedicate to both my family and the YMCA children.
In conclusion, may I point out the most important factor that affected the lives of my children, which I had no control over, here I was without any family life of my own, bringing up a family of six children. Like my Aunt, I was autocratic and certainly influenced by the fact that I spent a lot of time in boarding schools instead of in a normal family environment. I never did find the love that I was seeking as a child and didn’t recognise it when I did have it, let alone know how to express love to others. There appears to be no doubt that my unique adoption and childhood abuse had a big effect on my life and the lives of my family.
A lot of what I have written I have never told a sole as I didn’t know how to talk about it and I closed myself off. I hope that my children read this and that it helps them to understand their lives with me a little better. In spite of everything that has happened in our lives together, I’m proud of you all and what you have achieved in your lives so far. I love my children, my grandchildren and great grandchildren. I hope it’s not too late to say ‘I love you’, it is something I should have said many times before.
This has no connection with what I set out to do in the first place, but I should acknowledge the comfort I have received in being able, a few years ago, to contact two of my relations from the Hawkins family in England, Barbara and Susan (from my brothers George and Richard respectively) and their families. We correspond from time to time and I have been over to England and stayed a week with each. I also have the fortune to have a niece, Val, living here in Melbourne and we see a bit of each other as she lives close by. This has given me the connection to my birth family that I lost so many years ago.
I would like to acknowledge the wonderful help I have received from Kayla in compiling this story and the time spent getting it into print.