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The World War II began in the late summer of 1940 and ended in 1945 in what has since been referred to as the historic Battle of Britain. The war was characterized by bombings over England and Scotland, thousands of human deaths and injuries and massive destruction of cities and towns across Britain.
Melyndra 1999 narrates a story as given by May Brockway in which the latter survived the Claydebank bombing where in 1941 more than 2000 people were killed and uncountable number of buildings smashed in Scotland (Brokeway 1).
Claydebank was a large burgh with a river port nine kilometres northwest of Glasgow but is now not only known as a destination for the Singer Sewing Machine factory but also one of the renown places for ship building. The luxury liners for Queens Mary and Elizabeth were built here in the 1930s. Claydebank was hence a major target by German bombers in early 1941.
As one Ann Johnston further narrates, the war began like a boom with everything changing, lights switched off everywhere and bombings too close that almost all house windows were blown out. German spies were everywhere (Johnston 1). As a part time ambulance driver at port Greenock, she witnessed deliveries of serious casualties with broken or no limbs, arms, some confused and angry as they were brought to hospital at the port. As a war bride, she met her husband at the hospital as one of the injured patients.
William Adelman recalls that when the war broke out the shooting and the bombing were so powerful, with the Germans on top of the mountain where no one could get them off. He remembers the moments they wrapped their dead colleagues and personal friends in blankets and staked them like corn (Adelman 5). Most of the cities in Italy except Rome were bombed out and destroyed.
According to statistics from the Department of National Defence of Canada (34), majority of war brides married to Canadian soldiers were of British origin with an estimated 44,886 British wives having been married with 21,358 children born out of these marriages by end of December 1946. About 1,886 war brides were from Holland while an estimated 649 were Belgian. A big proportion of the wives about 80% and children at 85.5% were married and born by the army servicemen compared to those from the navy men at 2% and 1.4% respectively.
Who are War brides?
War brides were young women who got married to the Canadian soldiers during the World War II. They hailed from almost every country in Europe but most of them were British reason being that Canadians were the first ones to come to the defence of Britain after the war was declared.
The story of the war brides is an interesting one bearing in mind that these women left behind everything that they were used to, their country, their families, education, good infrastructure, and their culture to start a new life with the servicemen they loved (Borner and Borner 92).
Canadian Servicemen and the War Brides
The Canadians lived in the United Kingdom for quite a long time and this gave them ample time to meet local women whom they fell in love with and later got married. The British women met their men in different situations and in different places. They could meet them when they were walking down the streets, in dance places, pubs, blind date introductions, meeting through relatives or just accidental meetings and so on (Jarrat 18).
Beety Thompson says that she met her husband when they were going for a dance. He asked her what time the dance was to be opened and that caught her attention because the huge clock tower could easily be seen and that made her amused (Thompson 2).
The first marriage happened in 1940 and 48,000 other marriages followed thereafter in a span of six years. After these war brides arrived in Canada, certain organizations like women bodies and the Red Cross organised them in clubs based on the districts they settled in.
The clubs offered them language classes in French and English, culture and cookery but the main aim was to provide them with a common place to socialize and know each other. Friendships grew and as time lapsed, children were born in numbers and created further networks until there was less of a need for organized clubs by the war brides.
They intermingled with the Canadian women and those from other origins. But the need for reuniting and reestablishment of earlier links was profound again in the 1970s as children of the war brides grew up and left homes as their dads and mums got older, resulting into what we now know as the war Brides Clubs and Provincial War Brides Associations (Jarrat, 1).
British feelings towards the Canadians
As Britain is the mother country of Canada, the Canadians were welcome in Britain and as many of them had been born in Britain and later migrated to Canada, coming back to Britain were like going back home. During the First World War, the Canadians had shown their commitment towards Britain and it was more or less likely that during the Second World War they would do the same.
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However, the Canadians who had arrived in Britain earlier on had given the Britons enough reasons to dislike them. With the presence of many pubs, the Canadians developed poor drinking habits which caused havoc in the villages and this was not so appealing to Britons.
This kind of behaviour made it difficult for the Canadians to be welcomed by the parents of the brides. However, as the war progressed, the tension reduced and the Canadians, through their training became more disciplined and were able to adopt the Britons way of life. They became more united and the only way they could show their improved relationship was through marriage.
Wedding ceremonies were very difficult because of the war. As expected then, consent had to be sought from the parents by both the bride and the groom particularly if they were under the age of twenty one. The paper work and arrangements had to be done thereafter only if the permission was granted.
The Canadian soldiers had to seek permission from their seniors before they could decide on the wedding date though these rules changed later on. The bride-to-be also had to be recommended by her employer indicating her traits and behaviour and later they had to acquire a license to be allowed to carry on with their wedding though the license would expire if they did not get married within the stipulated time and hence they had to acquire a new one.
The groom and the bride-to-be had to make arrangement with the priest whose main role was to counsel them and show them how they could live together peacefully by being open to one another. This procedure was meant to slow down the rushed marriages and it could only work for those people who were firm enough to go through it (Jarrat 24).
Shipping Of the War Brides
After the war was over, Canada wanted to get back their service men as fast as they could and so a better part of their resources were put aside for this. The department of national defence worked hand in hand with the Canadian Red Cross and the immigration branch and was responsible for the movement of the war brides and their children to Canada.
To ensure success, they first set up a Canadian wives bureau which was responsible for availing information, ensuring the well being of the dependants, putting up stations where the brides met to listen to the discussions on life in Canada and picking them and ensuring their safety to their ships.
Before they boarded the ships, they had to fill out forms, avail documents, and attend to medical arrangements. They were all gathered in London and would sail on the next ship that would be available to Canada. After boarding the ship, safety measures were taken to protect the children from sicknesses though this was a major threat to them.
The ships were overcrowded and as expected, there was minimal privacy. They had to wait until they arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax so that those who were sick would be attended to (Bumsted 204). Eswyn Lyster says that her son got sick when they were still on board which worried her a lot.
There was nothing that could be done and all they had to do was to wait. Luckily, when they arrived at Halifax, his son was taken care of by the Canadian sisters as she fell asleep on the waiting train. She could not wait to arrive at their destination to meet up with her husband (Lyster 6).
Arrival in Canada
The war brides were not prepared well enough for the life they were bound to face in Canada but they had to hold on to their marriages since going back to their parents was not an option because they could not afford to pay for their expenses and those of their children. Even more, going back home would reflect that they had not succeeded in their marriages. The Red Cross had prepared rest places for them and they had also set up small shops where they could buy anything they wanted.
The local council for women also put in their efforts to ensure that the war brides would be at peace and put forward their contributions to Canada. Nevertheless, they did not receive a warm enough welcome from the relatives and communities of their husbands because they were regarded as foreigners (Keshen and Blake186).
Fahrni (73) captures the story of a woman and her two children who lived with the married sister- in-law because her husband worked over the night. She wanted to know how she could go back home since they were living in one room and she had been told to look for another place to live which was so hard to find. Some of the war brides had been born in cities and settling down on farms was a bit unusual for them.
Absence of electricity, good education, health facilities, and poor infrastructure made life unfavourable. What kept them going were the love, care, and support they received from their husbands although some of their husbands passed on after they arrived in Canada and life proved very unbearable for them. However, some received a good reception in Canada.
As Betty Thompson narrates, her husband had prepared her on what to expect and how life was like in Canada. The relatives of the husband had maintained contact with her through writing when she was in Britain and on her arrival to Britain, she felt like she had known them for a long time (Thompson 6). Other war brides adapted easily and have celebrated many years of their marriages and contributed immensely to development in Canada.
Life in Canada
After all the challenges they went through, many of them evidently had happy marriages accompanied by happy memories shared with their loved ones. Majority of these women managed to live a comfortable lifestyle both emotionally and materially and offered their children and grandchildren the best they could. Their families have grown bigger and they were able to purchase larger farms to accommodate them.
Betty speaks of the blessings she enjoys of a good family and would never regret coming to Canada to be with her husband who sorry to say passed on in 1975 (Thompson 8). Many of them made valuable contribution to their communities, acting as volunteers in schools and companies, political affairs, religious convictions, and culture among others.
Socialization was made possible by wives taking up tasks outside their homes, which made it easier for them to know the community better and create more friends. Through this, they were able to supplement their incomes for a comfortable life. Though many war brides are old now, there exist war bride associations that provide platform for contacts and connections amongst them and acts as a channel of communication to share in their memories. Canada still observes the anniversary of the War brides arrival (Jarrat 32).
Adelman, William. “The Memory Project: Veteran Stories”. Web.
Börner, Tessa and Börner Martin. English Girl, German Boy: World War II from Both Sides. Canada: Hilary Borner, 2005. Print.
Brokeway, Mary. “War Bride Stories”. 1943. Web.
Bumsted J.M. Canada’s Diverse Peoples: A Reference Sourcebook. California: ABC-CLIO, 2003. Print.
Department of National Defence, History of Directorate of Repatriation, National Archives of Canada, February, 1947. p. 34.
Fahrni, Magdalena. Household Politics: Montreal Families and Post-war Reconstruction. London: University of Toronto Press, 2005. Print.
Jarrat, Melynda. War brides: The Stories of the Women Who Left everything Behind to Follow the Men They Loved. Canada: Dundurn Press Ltd, 2009. Print.
Johnstone, Ann. “War Bride Stories.” 1944. Web.
Keshen jeff and Blake Raymond Benjamin. Social Fabric Or Patchwork Quilt: The Development Of Social Policy In Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006. Print.
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