Holding her newborn in her arms is a profound moment for any mother. But thousands of women pregnant outside of marriage in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s were coerced into having their children adopted. Emma Yeomans speaks to Veronica Smith about a mother’s nightmare

A HOLIDAY camp romance at Butlins left Veronica Smith single, pregnant and forced out of her strict Catholic family because of the “shame”. The then 24-year-old nurse was advised by a doctor to “drink gin” to abort her baby, then forced into a hostel for unmarried mothers.

Made to scrub the floors until her baby was born and taken away. Then she was told to go home and forget her baby daughter.

Revealing her heartbreak, she said: “I had to go home a week after giving birth and act as if I had been having a lovely time abroad.

“I was told to keep it secret, so I did.

“You don’t carry a baby for 9 months and then forget.”

Twenty-five years later Veronica tracked down her long lost daughter. Veronica, now 74, of Rookery Way, Seaford, now campaigns for an apology to women affected by the process of forced adoption.

Between 1964 and 1965 Veronica, a trained nurse, was part of a team of eight nurses caring for visitors at the Butlins Holiday Camp in Bognor.

While working at the camp Veronica had a relationship with a red coat, Sam, and became pregnant unexpectedly.

Rather than an abortion, all a GP suggested was gin, a hot bath and a douche. Veronica wrote to her sister for help, but she didn’t receive support from her.

She said: “My mother wouldn’t have me home because of the shame. It was horrible.”

During her pregnancy, she pretended that she was working abroad to her father, who was a strict Catholic, rather than tell him about her situation.

She said: “My father died without ever even knowing about his first grandchild. I was close with my father, but I still never told him.

“I was told to keep it secret, so I did. It would be shameful to the family for one of their daughters to have got pregnant without being married. I was educated as a Catholic, and obedience was always the key word. You don’t question your elders.”

Although there were benefits and support available to young women, Veronica was never given information about it.

“No help was offered,” she said.

“And I was 24. It doesn’t seem possible in this day and age that a trained nurse and healthy, capable woman in her 20s couldn’t look after a child, but it was considered so wrong.

“I should have fought harder to keep her.”

Instead she was booked into The Crusade of Rescue, a Catholic hostel in South London run by an organisation today known as the Catholic Children’s Society. The charity continued to operate as an adoption agency until recently.

It was an austere institute, Veronica said.

“Inside the hostel it was very punitive. There were four of us to a room, and we did all the house work and cooking, scrubbing the floors.

“I can’t remember too much, I don’t know if I’ve blocked it out. But my experience inside there was typical for many women I’ve spoken to.”

After having her daughter, she returned to her home and worked in an aircraft factory. She said: “We were all told to go home and forget about it.

“I did lock it away for many years, not telling a soul and never talking about it until I had a break down and the memories started coming back.”

Veronica doesn’t think she could ever have forgotten her daughter like she was told to. She added: “You don’t carry a baby for nine months and then forget.”

As her memories of the pregnancy and adoption came back to her, Veronica decided to start looking for her daughter, Catherine.

She said: “When I had this break down I started talking about her, and made some enquiries, and I managed to get the birth information that I needed to start looking at public records.”

She was told by the Catholic Children’s Society that her parents had emigrated to Canada, and she kept searching.

Then, in 1989, she found her daughter, who by then was 24.

Initially her daughter was not keen to meet her and she had to wait ten years before she could get to know Catherine.

She said: “When I first made contact in the 1990s, she didn’t want to be in contact, but having a daughter of her own made her think about it again.”

Now Veronica is not only in regular contact with her daughter, who lives in Buckinghamshire, but her granddaughter too, born in 2002.

She said: “In the last three years I have built up a relationship with her. It fills a big hole in your heart. Part of you is out there somewhere and finding her completes that.”

She has also been in contact with Sam, Catherine’s father, she said: “It was when I was searching for my daughter I tracked him down.

“He’s in contact with his daughter now, too.”


The Australian premier announced a support fund to an audience of 800 women who had all been affected by the issue of forced adoption WHILE looking for the daughter she was forced to give up for adoption Veronica Smith began to meet other women who had been forced into adoption.

After working with NORCAP to find adoption records, she then spoke to the Natural Parents Network, which supports parents who have had their children adopted.

In 2010, she and a group of other women formed the Movement for an Adoption Apology (MAA), a campaign group calling for the government to issue a formal apology for forced adoptions that took place several decades ago.

Although the attitudes towards single mothers has changed enormously and today there is support available for women, there is still very little acknowledgement of the stigma and shame that used to surround unmarried women, and the lasting pain it caused.

The group were inspired by events in Australia, where the state of Western Australia was the first to formally apologise to women like Veronica.

Other states followed until in 2013, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a support fund and offered a profound and painful apology in front of some 800 women who had been affected by forced adoption.

In her speech, she said: “We deplore the shameful practices that denied you, the mothers, your fundamental rights and responsibilities to love and care for your children.

“You were not legally or socially acknowledged as mothers and you yourselves were deprived of care. You were forced to endure the coercion and brutality of practices that were unethical, dishonest and, in many cases, illegal.”

Veronica and her colleagues would like to hear a similar apology from the British government, and have been campaigning tirelessly since 2010.

She said: “It would be an acknowledgment of the pain and suffering that we have all had to endure. Just because we weren’t married we were coaxed and cajoled into losing our children.

“We’re all getting older and we just want somebody to say sorry. It would be fantastic. We want someone to say what she [Julia Gillard] said. She recognised what it did to people, including the wider family.”

Last September an Early Day Motion was put forward by Manchester MP John Leech, calling for the British government to recognise the suffering forced adoption has caused. It attracted 33 signatures, but was not debated in Parliament.

They also have a petition with around 1,500 signatures, but Veronica says she is concerned that the government do not have the resources available to really respond to the group’s campaign.

She said: “I think they have every sympathy for us but it would cost money to have an enquiry like the one in Australia.

“We have tried for the last four years to get through to the government, and at one point we wrote a letter to every single Member of Parliament.

“I can’t tell you how many letters have been written but the only response you get is just to tell you they’re sorry about what happened back then.”

Their campaign gained momentum after the film Philomena, starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, was released in November 2013. The film follows the true story of Philomena Lee, a single mother forced to give up her child in a convent in Ireland.

Veronica said the film was a boost to their campaign but she is concerned that it won’t last. She said: “It certainly did a lot of good for us, but these things can fizzle out.”

She hopes that raising awareness of the injustice and pain of forced adoption will help other women who feel guilty and ashamed of what happened to them.

“I know a woman who went on to marry the father of her child, but has only just been able to talk about the adoption;” she said.

“I speak on behalf of all the other women who can’t even verbalise their experiences.”

To support the Movement for an Adoption Apology, visit their website at www.movementforanadoption apology.org.