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on 12 June 2014
As it was my choice for our monthly reading circle and in light of the fact that Tom MacKenzie lives and works locally I decided to chose this book. It was written in the first person, unemotional and with a matter-of-fact style that powerfully conveys the detachment and lack of belonging throughout Tom's childhood.He does not, throughout the book or in my conversations with him since informing him that I was choosing his book, apportion any blame or bitterness. In fact he gives a positive slant on how this upbringing and the love provided by the elderly foster parents later have shaped his life and made him the man he is today. I loved the book and the opportunity of talking to tom about it and all of of the eight reading circle members enjoyed it too, one stating "it's the best book we have read". He tells me that he has since been contacted by one of the last foundlings daughter whose Mother died giving birth to her. Please read this book and recommend it to your friends - Tom deserves a wonderful retirement.
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on 17 July 2014
A wonderful ‘un-put-down-able’ book and very well-written.

An emotional roller coaster but most certainly not a ‘misery memoir’ and it ends on a high note in the last chapter. Tom is an excellent wordsmith and the book is highly readable and very well-structured, so for example sections on his mother Jean are written in the first person - hence, Tom’s mother is telling her own story rather than Tom relating her story anecdotally himself. This is a story that needed to be told and to anyone who hasn’t lived through those times or who had a settled upbringing it will be a real revelation of the enormous societal changes that have taken place in the latter half of the last century. Tom shines a light on a world that anyone born in the last forty years or so won’t recognise. Even back in the 1940s it had become evident to the more enlightened ‘movers and shakers’ that the way that illegitimate children and their mothers was being treated was utterly disgraceful, which is why establishments such as the ‘Hospital’ in which Tom spent much of his childhood were already being phased out - hence, the title of the book, ‘The Last Foundling’. Try to imagine a childhood with no Christmas or birthday presents or cards, no letters, no books – indeed, no possessions of any kind to call your own, including the clothes you stand up in, then being turfed out at 15 to make your way in an adult world for which you were ill-prepared.

The book chimes well with my own experiences in that I too was born in 1939 and like Tom, was illegitimate. My mother was aged 36 and thought that she was in a relationship with a view to marriage, but in reality was the ‘bit on the side’ for a married man who washed his hands of her when she became pregnant. She was disowned by her family and I was born in an unmarried mothers’ home in Nottingham, where mothers were allowed to stay for three months then shown the door and left to make their own way in the world, with or without their new offspring, considered to be the architects of their own misfortune with no welfare state to cushion the harsh realties of life.But unlike Tom, I wasn’t put up for adoption - my mother kept me and we moved from one set of lodgings to another, settling with a kindly spinster 'Annie' when I was aged four. A year later Annie said to me one morning “your mum’s gone to Jesus in the night and she’s not coming back so you’d better call me mum from now on”, so I did. What a lovely lady she was - I later discovered that my mother had TB – a highly infectious disease for which there was then no cure, which put her in an early grave aged 41. Yet Annie - my new ‘mum’ - still allowed my birth mum and me to stay under her roof at considerable risk to her own health. Annie died ten years later and I was brought up through my teens by another family member. (Never did discover who my father was).

I’ve since checked with Social Services, The Childrens’ Society and other agencies and I’m not known to them - not adopted, not fostered - just ‘taken in’ and not on their radar. But unlike Tom, it did give me a settled childhood and saved me from the fate that Tom endured – that of going into a Children’s home such as the one near to where I was brought up. The boys all wore the same clothes so at school were instantly recognisable and stigmatised. They stuck together, didn’t mix and after school, went back to their ‘home’ - not allowed out to play like other kids, and almost like prisoners allowed out for day release.

How society has changed – the stigma associated with illegitimate children or single parenthood has largely gone, but how ironic that had Tom, I and others in the same situation been conceived in 2009 – not 1939, with one-in five-pregnancies now ending in termination as a form of ‘birth control by default’ I doubt that many of us would have seen the light of day. It's a cruel irony that the most dangerous place for a child today is in its mother’s womb - one in five won’t see the light of day and an unborn child has no human rights almost to the day it’s due to be born. This seems to be something that society can take in its stride. How sad.

Well done or writing such a wonderful book Tom and thanks for sharing your life with us. I hope that in empathising with you I haven't hi-jacked your story. The only question that remains is ‘when is it going to be made into a film?’ It surely deserves to be!

David.
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on 13 June 2014
Heard a radio interview on the Beeb and was curious. It turned at this guy can write really well. This compelling story held me right up to the last page. I even had a little weep along the way. Not like me at all. It is an amazing story and I highly recommend it.
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on 16 May 2014
Reading of this sort makes you aware of the prejudice that existed in the decades from the forties onwards. These places for children born out of wedlock where institutionalised and lacked the love children get from parents and family.
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on 12 June 2014
Yet another example of the hypocritical statements still made by the educationally challenged about returning to 'Victorian Standards'. These days, Tom would be kept by his mother without the ridiculous religion based stigma of being born outside wedlock with the ongoing attitude that he was somewhat 'unclean' and not acceptable in the community where, when the arithmatic is done, it used to be found that a very high percentage of children were actually conceived outside wedlock, but due to hypocricy once again, things were put right by a shot gun wedding. My ex wife, became pregnant when she was 21, couldn't tell her parents until her son was six months old, even though her mother was pregnant when she got married. When we married in 1967, we lied about our son's terrible unclean past, which would seem ridiculous today, I am glad to say. She kept him prior to meeting me against all odds, and all credit to her. This book illustrates once again, just how society has moved on for the better. I did, however, find it to be a bit long, and carried on to the end to find out what happened, which, as opposed to many re-unions like this seems to have worked out very well. More of a woman's book. Finally, I am amazed at Tom's memory for names, dates, places and addresses even before he was five?
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on 20 July 2014
Enjoyed this book very much - first heard Tom Mackenzie being interviewed on Radio 2 which inspired me to read it and am so glad that I did. Life in institution so hard but what a lovely outcome. Beautiful :)
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on 25 October 2015
I read this out of interest as a family member is at Thomas Coram school in Berkhamsted, the setting of the Foundling Hospital. It's a fascinating insight into life at the school as well as documenting the difficult separation of mother and child. I never got the feeling that I wasn't reading a personal memoir and I had been warned that the book was a tear jerker, which it certainly is!
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on 6 July 2014
Could not stop reading this heart warming story. Tom was born to an unmarried mother just before the second world war. She had no family support and had to place him in care. The author describes in great detail his early life and the difficulties he had adapting to normal life after leaving care.
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on 4 June 2014
An important book from a historical perspective but also a wonderfully heartwarming story that I could not put down. It brought tears to my eyes many times, sometimes because of the hardship inflicted on such vulnerable children and at other times because of the joy Tom eventually found in getting to know and being adopted by his birth family. It is also a wonderful example of the ability of a 'damaged' child to be able to rise above his upbringing and make a success of life.

I bought this book because I was a baby, born into a loving family in Berkamsted, during the time that Tom was suffering in the Foundling Hospital and I subsequently went to Ashlyns School (which the hospital became).

Several of the hospital staff remained when it became a school and were able to instill a sense of menace and fear into pupils even though no longer allowed to swish the cane, so I can only imagine the fear level when the use of such a sadistic weapon was permitted.

The building that was our school was magnificent and, reading the book, there were certain parallels that could be drawn to some of the rituals that carried through from one institution to the next!!

I was lucky enough, a few years ago, to attend a talk in the school chapel, given by one of the foundlings, - it may even have been Tom, and then we were taken on a tour of the school so we could understand it from the perspective of a foundling. It certainly changed my views on the building and added a great dimension to my experience of Tom's book.

This is certainly a wonderful read.
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on 21 April 2014
I loved this book as I live in Saffron Walden and knew Alpher Place I also visited the school in Berkhamsted I knew a lot of the foundling children as my grandmother bought a lot of these children up and even adopted them in fact two of them are like sisters to me
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