REMEMBRANCE DAY: Fairbridge School students gave their all for the war effort

There are 78 students and 11 staff members listed on the memorial scroll in the old school chapel.

By T.W. Paterson

There are 78 students and 11 staff members listed on the memorial scroll in the old school chapel.

Cowichan Station’s Prince of Wales Fairbridge School is a fascinating story in itself, oft-told, and not the subject of today’s Remembrance Day retrospective.

But for those not really familiar with its honoured place in the Cowichan Valley’s heritage, this quick re-cap by Library and Archives Canada:

“Kingsley Ogilvie Fairbridge established the Society for the Furtherance of Child Emigration to the Colonies, which was later incorporated as the Child Emigration Society, then as the Fairbridge Society. Its aim was to train homeless boys and girls for colonial farm life. In 1913, the society started sending boys to a farm school in Australia.

“The Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School was opened in 1935 in Cowichan Station, located on Vancouver Island, near Duncan, British Columbia. It was named after one of their major supporters, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII).

“The society had the support of the provincial and federal governments. A regulation that prohibited the immigration of unaccompanied children under the age of 14 was waived. Students at the farm school lived in group cottages and were to receive a standard Canadian education up to the age of 15, then three years of vocational training.

“In 1938, Capt. James Cameron Dun-Waters donated ‘Fintry’, his orchard and dairy farm in the Okanagan Valley near Vernon, to the Fairbridge Society. Some of the older children from the Vancouver Island school worked at the Fintry Fairbridge Training Farm during the summers.

“Fairbridge also brought children from other agencies, including the younger Middlemore children. Also, Fairbridge children were first sent to the Middlemore Homes for training before emigration. Most were sent to Australia and smaller numbers to Canada.

“Emigration slowed during the Second World War and the Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School closed in 1949.”

That’s the short and sweet of it. But there’s so much more to the story of our local Fairbridge. Not all of it’s rosy, and unmentioned in the above summary is the outstanding contribution made by Fairbridge students who served Canada during the Second World War.

Their overwhelming response to King and Country: 95 per cent of the eligible boys and 36 per cent of the eligible girls! This doesn’t include the 11 staff members who also served.

In May 1947 the Cowichan Leader reported a speech in the House of Commons by Lieut.-Col. Cecill Merritt, VC, MP. During a debate on immigration he lauded the wartime enrolment of Fairbridge students.

“When one turns to the war record of the graduates,” said Merrit, “he finds it very good, indeed. At the termination of hostilities with Japan, 95 per cent of boys and 36 per cent of the girls eligible by age to volunteer to serve had done so. I do not suppose that record has been exceeded by any other institution or group in Canada.”

There are 78 students and 11 staff members listed on the accompanying memorial scroll in the old school chapel. Norman Alsop and Thomas Kemp were both killed in 1944 and James Lally was a prisoner of war.

To re-quote Lieut.-Col. Merritt, “I do not suppose that record has been exceeded by any other institution or group in Canada.” It’s something worthy of remembrance — and not just at this time of year.

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Fairbridge Farm school. (file photo)

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