Bittersweet reunion for Chichester child migrant

Bob Drabble, centre, reunited with former classmates Brian Morley, left, and Roger Bennett picture: kate shemilt ks16000846-1
Bob Drabble, centre, reunited with former classmates Brian Morley, left, and Roger Bennett picture: kate shemilt ks16000846-1

Former Chichester schoolboy Bob Drabble was sent to the other side of the world at the age of 13, as a British child migrant.

He has called Australia home ever since but still remembers his old mates from Lancastrian Secondary School, now Chichester High School For Boys.

Bob Drabble's schoolmates at Lancastrian Secondary School in 1949

Bob Drabble's schoolmates at Lancastrian Secondary School in 1949

In 2000, Bob’s cousin, Frank Hill, tracked him down and they have kept in long distance contact ever since.

Bob was able to visit Chichester for a reunion in 2012, thanks to the Child Migrants Trust, and he returned to the city this week to meet up with former classmates Brian Morley and Roger Bennett.

Bob said: “After meeting Frank in 2000, I found out I had three other siblings in England, in addition to the three who were sent to Australia at the same time as me.

“Our family has been so disconnected through the events of the past. Sadly, the last of my newly-found siblings passed away last week.”

Bob is staying at the Chichester Park Hotel until Saturday to enable him to reconnect with some of the people and places he left behind.

“I met up with old school mates Brian Morley and Roger Bennett, along with cousin Frank and his wife Honnie. We traded childhood stories, reminiscing over old photos.

“I was born in Chichester and went to school here with these blokes; cousin Frank went to the same school as well.

“It would have been great to see a few others, like Barry Hunter and Brian Hounsome, but it’s hard to reconnect on a two-week trip, hard to organise.”

Over a couple a beers on Tuesday, the men shared a few yarns, like walking past the girls at the school next door, and others about the teachers.

It was bittersweet for Bob, as he has been able to reconnect with family only a handful of times over the last 67 years.

“This will be my last trip to England, so it’s hello and goodbye,” he said.

The trip was funded by the Child Migrants Trust, which was set up in 1987 to reunite British families affected by the scheme which saw children deported to a ‘new life’.

Bob’s health has suffered over the years, so on this trip, he was accompanied by a nurse.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to spend time with my close and extended family, the place I spent my early childhood, and to connect with my old school mates,” he said.

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