"We have been written out of history": memory work of former British child migrants to colonial Rhodesia
(University of Helsinki)
Paper short abstract:
This paper focuses on memory narratives of British child migrants resettled in colonial Rhodesia. Set against the absence of family memory and lack of public recognition of postwar child migration, the former migrants’ memory work brings to the fore an alternative version of white colonial past.
Paper long abstract:
This paper is about formation of migrant memory in a diasporic network of former child migrants. The migration scheme in question aimed at permanently resettling British children (aged 5-13) in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) during 1946-62. The migration scheme was framed in terms of child welfare; it sought to benefit the children by removing them from their homes and settling them at a Rhodesian boarding school/children's home. Secondly, the scheme aimed at contributing to the advancement of the Empire by increasing the number of white settler citizens in Africa. The children were expected to rise to privileged positions, thus maintaining the racially segregated colonial social hierarchy. This paper examines the ways in which the memory narratives and practices of the former migrants contest the rationalities and intentions of the migration scheme. The analysis focuses on two points. First, instead of a simultaneously mobile imperial identity and a nationally committed Rhodesian identity crafted in the scheme, the former migrants appear to ground their identification and belonging to the affective webs of relationships formed at the school, making the remembering community the locus and focus of mnemonic practices, mutual care and loyalty. Second, the migrants often lack family and kinship memory. Until recently, they have also lacked public recognition of British postwar child migration, as well as records of their personal history. Therefore, the paper argues that the migrants' intersubjective memory work is not so much set against a hegemonic public memory as it is positioned against silence and a feeling of historylessness.
Contested histories on the move: rethinking memory through mobility and agency