The Barnardo's boy sent from Preston to Canada has finally come home
PUBLISHED: 11:27 16 June 2011 | UPDATED: 19:34 20 February 2013
The family of Joseph Waterer have brought his ashes – some of them at least – home to Preston, bringing his amazing life full circle, as Paul Mackenzie reports
It was Joe Waterers last wish that his ashes be scattered in the river Ribble and three of his daughters have travelled thousands of miles with his widow to do as he wanted.
But Violet, Joes wife of 67 years until his death in 2007, said: Some of his ashes have gone in the Ribble but Im keeping most of him. Hes staying in Canada with me.
There was little unusual about Joe and Violets married life. They met in Toronto while Europe was at war. They married in 1940 and the following year, Joe joined the army and spent two years overseas. When he returned to his wife they opened a camera shop and brought up their four daughters.
But Violet didnt know about Joes past. We didnt talk about it, we really didnt, Violet said, wiping away a tear. I guess I didnt ask questions. Maybe I should have.
In those early months of their relationship Violet was concerned Joe may not want to know her if he found out her surname was Zimmerman - he might think she was German. Consequently she didnt ask too many questions, hoping he wouldnt either.
She neednt have worried. Joe was equally keen not to talk about his background. Indeed, the couples youngest daughter Gayle said: If we had never asked and pushed dad would never have said anything about it.
Joseph Cyril Waterer was the sixth of seven surviving children born to Joseph and Gertrude Waterer of Travers Street, Preston, in July 1913. His father, a market gardener died less than a year later of TB in the workhouse on Watling Street Road, leaving Gertrude with the children - and another on the way.
Some of Joes older siblings went to live with relatives in Preston but what happened to Joe in the years after his fathers death is unclear. What is known is that in 1927, aged 13, Joe was placed into the care of a Barnardos home and was subsequently shipped to Canada.
He was one of more than 100,000 so-called Home Children sent abroad to start new lives with new families in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada.
After landing in Montreal, the children were put on trains to locations all over Canada. Joe spent time in a clearing house in Toronto and, on his 14th birthday, was taken in by Willie Holmes and his wife Freda and put to work on their farm.
He spent four years as a labourer on the farm at Orangeville, with no pay and no contact with his family back in Preston. He left at 18 and worked by day in a woollen mill and by night delivering flowers.
On one delivery, to a hospital in Toronto, he held the door open for a pretty 17-year-old brunette who had been visiting her father who was ill. The two got talking, he gave her a lift in his van and they arranged to meet again.
I can still see him with his scarf and long coat, smiles Violet. We went out delivering flowers together every night that week. We married in 1940. We couldnt afford a honeymoon, our honeymoon was going to see the film Gone With the Wind
In 41 he joined the army - he was a radiologist in the medical corps and played saxophone in the band. He was overseas until 1946.
When he was de-mobbed, Joe and Violet opened a camera shop in Barrie, Ontario. In 1948 Joe was commissioned to photograph a couples golden wedding celebrations.
Dad didnt have a car so a farmer gave him a lift, said Gayle, who has
led the familys research into their dads story.
They got talking and the farmer said he knew another lad called Waterer who had been on a farm nearby and that hed put them in touch.
It turned out that dads younger brother had been sent out two years later and, of all the places in the world he could have ended up, he was on a farm just 15 miles from dad.
And neither of them knew.
Dennis Edward Waterer - known to friends and family in Canada as Bob, and who later changed his surname to Adams - lived two hours drive away and the brothers were re-united in 1948.
Bob had been abused by the farmer he was sent to work for and he once said if he saw him again hed kill him.
I dont know what happened there, Bob was even more private than dad, Gayle added.
Neither brother spoke about their experiences, but Joe did return to England - he was stationed at Haslemere in Surrey during the war and visited with his daughters Gayle and Dorothy in 1964.
On both occasions he met two of his sisters who were still living in Preston but he never saw his mother again.
She died in 1952 and I cant understand why he didnt meet her, Gayle said. She must have been devastated to send her children away and for her two boys to have been separated and she had written a poignant letter to her boys and Joes sister in Preston had that but she chose not to give it to him while his mother was alive. I think if she had they would have met again when he was in England during the war and I cant understand why that didnt happen.
Dad would say he remembered this school or that building and he would tell stories, but at that time I just didnt put it in context. I was in my 30s when I found out more of what he had been through. I felt that he somehow felt ashamed. It carried a stigma.
Joe died in September 2007, aged 94, after developing pneumonia. He was surrounded by his family and holding Violets hand. He was cremated with his mothers letter in his jacket pocket.
Gertrudes letter to her son
To My Dear Son
Just a few lines on your start out on lifes journey, wherever you go take pride, courage, and self reliance with you. Whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability.
Whoever you work for always treat with respect and obedience or you will never make a master yourself and above all be honest and truthful in all your dealings and may God help you to face and overcome all the troubles, trials and temptations that will beset you on Lifes Highway and may your prove a credit and respected man to whomsoevers guardianship you may be placed in.
Also they in their turn, do their duty towards you in every respect to help you stand alone on your own feet when old enough. Our paths are far apart, and we may never see much of each other, if ever, but this is your Mothers daily prayer for her absent boys, Cyril and Dennis Waterer.
From your Mother, Gertrude Waterer
Families Torn apart
The stories of some of the thousands of children evacuated overseas during World War Two are now being told at the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester.
Oceans Apart: Stories of Children Evacuated Overseas, which runs until September 25th, marks 70 years since the evacuation programme was at its peak - with almost 1.4 million evacuees living away from home within the UK and abroad in spring 1941.
The exhibition brings together personal accounts, letters and photographs, revealing the story of children who were sent to stay with family overseas. Among the stories told in the display is that of Donald Mitchell from Colne whose evacuation to Australia was arranged by the Childrens Overseas Reception Board.
The teenager left his home in August 1940 to sail to his new life. He didnt arrive in Sydney until November 1940. He was later moved to Melbourne where he spent the next four years.
Donald tried to adapt to his new life, joining a Scout troop and becoming involved in the local cadet force. But Australia was affected by the war as well and Donald struggled to find work as he got older. Eventually he decided to return to England and arrived back home in October 1944.
In a letter home he wrote: As you must have realised, Australia is now feeling the war badlymanpower, shortages, rationing - you know the whole story yourself - are making ordinary life much harder and very different to how it was in 1940.
Like many children who were evacuated, Donald struggled to adapt to life in a strange country especially as he was moved between different families during his stay there. Many children also found it hard to settle back into their old lives when they finally came home.
Jim Forrester, Director of Imperial War Museum North, said: It must have been a very daunting and frightening experience for these young children to be taken so far away from home and family, and then to settle back into home life once they returned to a much changed Britain years later.
We are honoured to tell their very personal and moving stories in this new display at the Museum.