Fanling Babies' Home Booklet

Sat, 01/21/2023 - 20:13

This booklet was produced by Mildred Dibden circa 1949 to provide information to supporters of the work at The Fanling Babies' Home.   There are also stories of the children from Miss Dibden's diary. 

The following Advisory Committee names are mentioned:  

Dr Harry  Lechmere Clift and his wife Winifred  were experienced CMS then BCMS missionaries originally from Nanning, Guangxi province, China.  In the 1930s Dr Clift set up practice in Nathan  Road, Hong Kong,  and also started the Emmanuel Mission Church and Bookroom there.  It was he and his wife who had encouraged Mildred Dibden to start up on her own in Hong Kong in 1936, when she found no backing forthcoming from any UK missionary society for taking in abandoned babies.  The Evangelical Fraternity supported Miss Dibden from when she started up with her first baby in a small 2-bed rented flat in Tsim Sha Tsui up to the time she moved to Fanling in 1940.  The aim was to take in babies (not children) and an age limit of two was set because there were other charities catering for children at the time.  

The  Bragas were a prominent HK family of Portuguese origin who were close friends of Mildred Dibden and Lucy Clay and keen supporters of the Home.  Hugh Braga was an engineer who rose to become General Works Manager, Hong Kong Engineering and Construction Co.  He gave Mildred Dibden valuable support from when he first got to know her though the Emmanuel Church in about 1933 in her early years in HK, then when she started the Fanling Home, and particularly after the war when the roof of the Home was found to be eaten through by white ants.  When the Home Advisory Committee was formed in 1946, Mildred invited Hugh Braga to be chairman. 

Hon Sec Mrs H Braga refers to Nora Braga (nee Bromley), who was a BCMS missionary prior to her marriage.  She had spent two years at Dalton House in Bristol 1930-31, training with the BCMS before coming out to Hong Kong to serve first of all in the BCMS Children’s Home at Broadwood Road and then in Haiphong in French Indo-China.  After her marriage to Hugh Braga in 1935 they lived at ‘Hillview’, 18 Braga Circuit, and their home became a centre of hospitality for Nora’s BCMS colleagues and other China missionaries.

Hon Treasurer Mr W GoonThere is a Willie Goon who gets several mentions in Beth Nance’s life story as he was a friend of the Nances.  He must have been a Chinese national as he wasn’t interned during the war.  Before the war he worked with them in the Clifts’ Emmanuel Mission.                                             During the occupation he and other uninterned nationals kept the Mission Church and book room going. After the liberation he visited friends (Clifts and Nances and others) in Stanley Camp looking very thin and emaciated but having a wonderful smile on his face.

Rev Erwin W Raetz (an American) was General Superintendent of China's Children Fund in China, and as CCF supported 54 Fanling girls at this time (1949), he was CCF's representative on the Committee. Repatriated to the USA in 1942 he was back in China after the war.

Mildred Dibden herself was a former BCMS missionary.  Now in her 40s, she had over 100 children in the Home since the losses during the war.  She herself had come through the tough war years having survived malaria, dysentery, sprue and famine.

The founding date of November 11th  became the Home Birthday and was celebrated over 2 days every year, as for many of the infants there was no known birth date.

For China's Children Fund history see post below.

My thanks to Stuart Braga for information on the Bragas. 


Date picture taken
1949 (year is approximate)



1.    The Home was opened on November 11th, 1936.

2.    It was sponsored for the first 3 years by the Hong Kong Evangelical Fraternity. (Dr. and Mrs. Lechmere Clift).

3.    Only abandoned, or absolutely homeless children are admitted.

4.    No child over 2 years of age is eligible.

5.    The Home is run on voluntary donations, a yearly Government grant and the subscriptions from children's supporters. To support a child in the Home costs $35.00 a month.

6.    At the beginning of 1940, after many vicissitudes, the Home was established at the present house in Fanling. It was then thought time to break off connections with the Hong Kong Evangelical Fraternity, and to stand alone.

7.    Also in 1940 China’s Children Fund (America) undertook to support 21 children in the Home.

8.    At the outbreak of war in Hong Kong there were 98 infants in the Home. These had been sent in from the Hospitals, Police Stations and by private individuals, or had been left on our doorstep.

9.    During the war the work was carried on, but all the small babies died.

10. At the beginning of 1946 China’s Children Fund undertook the support of 54 children in the Home. (This number increased to 58 in 1948).

11. In May 1946, an Advisory Committee was formed in Hong Kong.

  • President - - - - Dr. Lechmere Clift.
  • Chairman - - - - Mr. Hugh Braga.
  • Hon. Treasurer - - Mr. W. Goon.
  • Members - - - -
    • Rev. E. W. Raetz, China’s Children Fund.
    • Dr. S. C. Wong.
    • Mr. G. Padgett.
  • Hon. Sec. of the Committee - - Mrs. H. Braga.
Fanling Brochure
Fanling Booklet, by Aldi

Front cover of the booklet.  It runs to some 18 pages.  The paper is very fragile.  I would guess the date to be between 1948 (as mention is made of Lucy Clay who joined the work then) and 1950 when Mildred Dibden left.  1949 would seem to be a fair guess.

A note on the back of the booklet says - 'This little book is printed to give information to new friends of the Babies' Home, and the stories it contains have been gathered over a period of several years and some have been printed previously.'

As well as information about the Home, the booklet gives some stories from her diary, which give a glimpse into life as she experienced it then. This is one of them: 

A strange little girl came to us during the last months of the war. The great world had not been kind to her. She stood, holding a filthy hat with a scrap of clothing, her Chinese suit bedraggled with rain and mud. Her long black lashes, her black hair and sunburnt skin gave her a strangely dark appearance, she stood there, utterly and acutely miserable, and fixed her large dark eyes on my face! Throughout the whole conversation regarding her - her glance did not waver. Silent, resigned and hopeless she stood waiting for what would happen next.   It was strange how beautiful she was. Her features were perfect, and as yet untouched by the Beriberi which made her little swollen feet so painful.

"Nothing could be worse than the past," she seemed to say, "Hunger - dirt - wet - pain, this wretchedness is life! What these queer grown-up people talk about doesn't matter - only to lie down, lie down, now, NOW!"  Her eyes wavered, I stepped quickly forward and placed her gently on the ground.

"Yes," the man who had brought her was saying, "she has been there on the grass for several days. We do not know where she came from, but we have given her water to drink, and sometimes a little rice.  We have so little rice ourselves !"

There followed weeks when night and day we struggled for her life. She lay there in the cot - too weak to move or speak, her lovely face now marred by the swollen, grey glassiness of Beriberi in its final stages.

And then there came a day when someone said, "The swelling is going down - her colour is better!"

And then - almost past belief - "I think she will recover !"

Very slowly she crept back to health and life - but not normal life.  Poor little girl. It is as if she never forgets! As if, surrounded as she is with the fun and laughter of happy little children - she yet lives alone in that awful past, where fear, hunger and exposure deadened all feelings and emotions. She waits silently, never speaking except in necessity, never playing. She takes her share of rations -neither pleased nor sorry at an extra treat of sweets or biscuits. Unresponsive to love or fun, she does what she is told, no more.

Poor little girl!  Can we by prayer and love, unfailingly given, win her to the natural joy of childhood?

Strange, cold, unlovable - in spite of these lovely eyes - can we, by the Power and the Grace of God, make a normal child of her? She is not dull at school, but rather shows intelligence when she does take any part in the Reading or Writing lessons. Is it true, as many say, that she is sullen and obstinate? Is it true that she, a wee girl of about 7 years, is cruel and spiteful?

I don't know! But yesterday, as I stood by the door, she took my hand in hers! - Oh rejoice! Rejoice over this - the first sign of a natural, normal, living little heart! If we can teach her to love we can help her to become a happy, loveable child, whose heart is with - instead of against - everyone.

Clearly the '2-year-old' rule was not set in stone for this 7-year-old and very needy little girl.

1949 Fanling Babies' Home
1949 Mildred with child, by Aldi



China’s Children Fund was founded in 1938 in the USA by Presbyterian minister J. Calvitt Clarke to aid Chinese children displaced by the second Sino-Japanese War. As the mission expanded to other countries, the name was changed in 1951 to Christian Children's Fund.

From The Fanling Booklet it’s clear that China’s Children Fund was involved from the beginning of the Home in 1940, supporting 21 children.

After the War it was found that the Fanling Home roof was eaten through by white ants and in a dangerous state.  The landlord however had died of cholera at the end of the war, and his widow wanted to sell the house and divide the inheritance and was asking HK$95,000 for it, which was quite beyond the Home's resources.

Rev Verent Mills, Regional Director of China’s Children Fund stepped in and offered to buy the house and pay for the repairs and permit Mildred Dibden to stay there rent free.  CCF bought the house for $28,000, renovated it at a cost of $45,000 of which a government grant covered $15,000, and also undertook to support half the children going forward.  A committee on which CCF was represented was also part of the deal.  The work was finished by autumn 1947.

After Mildred Dibden left in 1950China’s Children Fund took over the running of the Home with missionary nurse Lucy Clay in charge.  They began a policy of offering out the children for adoption to Christian homes in Hong Kong, USA, UK, Canada and New Zealand.  An info brochure of 1963 says 41 babies were admitted to the Home that year and 41 were adopted.

For post 1950 history of the Home please see the Fanling Babies’ website.

Modern times:  In June 2002, Christian Children's Fund and 11 other international child sponsorship organizations founded a worldwide network called the ChildFund Alliance.

Today ChildFund is a child-focused international development organization that provides assistance to children facing poverty and other challenges in 24 countries, including the United States.  ChildFund's headquarters are located in Richmond, Virginia, USA.   Individual sponsors contribute funds on a monthly basis. Sponsor funds are combined to benefit entire communities.

SourcesThe Yip Family of Amah Rock by Jill Doggett; Wikipedia.


The booklet, written circa 1949, gives answers to some of the most frequent questions from supporters of the work.  Pages 3 - 4 deal with the number one question, 'Why are babies not wanted?'  Miss Dibden writes:


I cannot give a list here of the superstitions in connection with new-born infants.  Many of them I do not know, and the comparative few I do know are too many to take up precious space here. The birth of a baby girl is a disappointment to her parents to start with - for in China a boy is always desired and prepared for. The announcement ’A girl!’ is mostly received in silence by the Clan, and the preparations for rejoicing are drastically cut. A boy could carry on the family name and would worship at the Ancestral Tablet, a girl marries and goes right out of the family; from the marriage day onwards she belongs to her husband's clan.

The girl baby is examined carefully at birth to see if  there is anything unusual about her which might indicate an evil spirit in possession.  If the lines on her hand run parallel - from side to side -  she will perhaps be the cause of her father's death! Any unusual circumstance at the time of birth of a girl child is construed as a bad sign. The sickness or death of some member of the family or of the pig or cow perhaps! Any failure or disaster is laid at the door of the innocent babe!  ‘She is possessed by an evil spirit‘ - ‘She will bring sorrow and trouble to the family‘ - so says the wise man of the village! And of one baby of whom I heard - "She will live to eat you out of house and home" - because, poor wee mite, she was born with a tiny tooth!

“Do they really believe these things?” I am asked.  Yes, among the uneducated, agricultural classes, there is real fear.  “The spirits are angry and have sent us a girl.”  Perhaps a few of the men folk know better, but there, they already have two girls, enough to do the work - why feed a third?  So they do not interfere with the women folk’s decision, but rather add fuel to the fire of superstition, and the wee new-born girl is abandoned in the early hours of the morning on some lonely roadside, or away on the hills.  In old China, special towers were provided outside the walls of the city.  On the rounded side of the tower there would be a square window and a shelf provided, the baby would be placed on the shelf, and the child of a previous visitor given a gentle push which would send it down the slide into the interior of the tower.  I am told that some of the towers are still in existence, but I can find no proof of this. 

A sick or weakly baby girl is rarely kept.  Premature birth, undersize, or with a blemish, and the baby girl is turned out at birth, though with a boy every effort is made to keep him alive.  A bonny girl child is likely to be kept under ordinary circumstances, but if sickness develops later, the mother is not allowed to waste time nursing her, the child must go! 

Possibly the mother’s heart yearns over her sick baby whom she has grown to love, but the family verdict is given and the child is abandoned under the shade of some tree, while the mother must go about her work in the fields and forget her baby.  The authorities in China look the other way when parents abandon their unwanted baby, though in Hong Kong, where registering of births and deaths is enforced, the abandoning is done surreptitiously.  It is impossible to trace the child’s parents or history.  The inevitable answer to all questions is, “Ngoh m chi” - I do not know!

The influence of the West, the love and care we give to our girls - equally to our boys - has already made for great changes in the life of a modern Chinese girl of an educated family.  The constant teaching and example of Christian Missionaries living among the people has done a great deal to change the outlook of the poorer classes.

Superstitious fear and custom is hard to stamp out, the country is so vast, Christian Missions far too few, that the progress is necessarily slow.  In Hong Kong, after 100 years under British rule, one is appalled by the ignorant cruelties committed under the influence of superstition and custom.

The selling of children.  “Notice.  Boy for sale.”  A Chinese man carrying a four-year-old boy on his arm, and displaying a small poster on which the above words were written, was trying to sell the child on a wharf here in Hong Kong.  The man did not know that the selling of children is not permitted here in the Colony.  He had come down from inland China.  It is not often that boys are sold, but when they are, they fetch a big price, as they become adopted sons, and can bear the name and worship the ancestors of his new father.  Girls are sold in China to be slave girls, or they are bought for a small sum to become a future daughter-in-law, obedient and submissive to the whole family.  She is often the slave, and only gains consideration when the time comes for her to bear a possible son to the clan.

Most fearful is the lot of those girl children sold by the aid of the 'Middle Man' to women of evil intentions, who rear the children to young womanhood and then sell again at a good price to the 'Flower Boats' and the so-called 'Houses of Pleasure' in one of the big cities. Extreme poverty is more often than not the cause of a child being thus sold.

Quite often the parents do not even know to whom they sell, but believe that she will become a "Mooi-tsai" (Slave girl). The selling of children to be slave girls is forbidden in Hong Kong, and those who own such a child must report to the Authorities, and the welfare of the child is watched over.

Extreme Poverty is the cause of many infants being abandoned. The mother is under-nourished, and the baby, a puny, starved mite is cast out at birth. If the mother has milk she may feed her baby for a few weeks, and then when the supply fails, she will abandon the child on some lonely hillside. Often, the mother is allowed by the family to keep the baby as long as she is not hindered in her work, and has sufficient milk for its needs. But when the time for weaning comes, and there is another mouth to feed, then they find it impossible to manage. We find the child perhaps on our doorstep in the early hours of the morning, and to all inquiries we receive the usual answer - "I do not know."