The Last Foundling – A little boy left behind, The mother who wanted him back – Tom H. Mackenzie – Review by Frances Winston
Published by Pan and MacMillan
This book could easily be one of Barbara Taylor Bradford’s sweeping epics. Beginning in the late thirties it spans over seven decades and features a child separated from the mother who was forced to give him up but never stopped loving him and was eventually reunited with him and they all lived happily ever after. What makes this tale remarkable is that it is completely true.
Author Tom H. Mackenzie was one of the last children to enter the Foundling Hospital – a charitable home set up to take in illegitimate children. His mother Jean gave him up as his father had gone to South Africa and had no knowledge of his existence. With a religious family and a huge stigma attached to giving birth out of wedlock she felt that they could take care of him until her circumstances changed and she could come for him. Admitted as a baby he was soon fostered and had an idyllic first few years but when his foster father died he found himself returned to the hospital for the next 12 years of his life. While the institution was far from Dickensian and the children were well cared for it was extremely regimental with a distinct lack of love and affection shown to them and the older boys tended to pull rank.
He was unaware of the existence of his mother until an attempt was made to adopt him which she blocked as she still intended to get him back someday. It was at this point that he knew he was loved by her and when he finished his National Service he decided to track her down. She revealed that she had never stopped thinking of him and her reasons for giving him up and mother and son were reunited and enjoyed a close relationship until her death. In another twist when she was widowed his biological father got a divorce and the childhood sweethearts lived out their lives as a couple with their first born by their side.
This is the kind of story that couldn’t be made up yet may never have made it to the page had the publishing house not stumbled upon Tom’s blog which would have been a real shame. It is a beautiful heart wrenching tale made all the more poignant by the fact that it is true. Tom harbours no bitterness over his start in life and is a happy well adjusted man who is actually grateful to the Foundling Hospital for taking care of him when he needed it. When the happy ending finally comes you are delighted for him and his strength and resilience are a lesson to us all. He is a classic victim of circumstance who hasn’t let it break his spirit and doesn’t want people to feel sorry for him. Beautifully written with simple but colourful prose this is a fascinating insight into a now forgotten world and the kind of book that causes you to reflect on your own circumstances.