Quest in Roots:
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A CANADIAN WAR BRIDE
I became a Canadian war bride July 2, 1945 when Imarried my Canadian soldier, Alvin Hart, in Christ Church, Worthing, Sussex, England. To this day, over 40 years later, we are still called "War Brides." According to the War Department records there were 47,783 war brides plus 21,950 children who came to Canada. 44,886 of these wives and 21,358 children came from Great Britain and the rest from Holland, Belgium, France, Italy, Denmark, Germany and Australia. One came from each Norway, Greece, Algiers, Russia and India. One hundred ninety came from Newfoundland and the Carribean area.
The task of transporting so many dependents of Canadian servicemen must have been an enormous project. The defence department set up a Canadian wives'' bureau in London which dealt with our transportation and had an information department to help answer any of our problems.
Everyone wanted to be united with their husbands promptly, yet when the moment came, so many wondered what was ahead of them in this unknown land. I am sure some panicked but the majority carried on, saying farewell at the stations to their parents and friends whom they knew they might never see again.
Alvin arrived home during January 1946.From then until the beginning of June, I waited for that day when a telegram would arrive, warning me to stand by for 24 hours notice to prepare for my journey to Canada. I still have that little slip of paper! I spent most of my last days saying farewell and visiting friends. I went to the Convent to say good-bye to my teachers who had taken such an interest in my future.
When the big day arrived I travelled with my mother and grandmother to London, where we said our good-byes. A lot of tears were shed that day! We arrived in Southhampton on a Sunday morning and boarded the Aquitania. We sailed about six in the evening. As we eased away from the dock, a band was playing, "Wish Me Luck as You Wave Me Goodbye", and "Auld Lang Sang".
It was a strange feeling as we saw our homeland fading away. Most of the girls had tears in their eyes.
Some said they had the urge to jump overboard and swim back home. I''m sure many of us felt like that but none of us did.
After landing at Halifax we were escorted onto waiting trains. My longest train ride which had taken three hours, was with Alvin to visit his relatives in England. I had been to London about 60 miles from Worthing, a one hour ride. The army officer in charge of us, told us when we would arrive inWinnipeg on July 2. Allthat time travelling and we were only going half way across Canada! We all had to make up our minds that the train was our home for a fewdays. I''llnever forget that long, hot journey in that dusty train! During our travels the porter told us we were passing by the Great Lakes. Great excitement to see something we had learned about in school! It seemed like hours later we asked which lake this was now, only to be told it was the same one. We all laughed, but the point was driven home again about Canada''s size.
We hadn''t seen our husbands for six months or more, and never in civies. Whenever the train stopped at a station, we couldn''t help but notice the dress of both the men and women. How different they dressed from those back home, especially the men. Some of the men wore their shirts outside their pants, others dressed in suits and those awful broad brimmed hats! How we laughed at those hats.
They reminded us of the pictures of the Chicago gangsters! As some of the war brides were met at the different stations by their husbands and new families, we who were left on the train watched to see how they were greeted and wondered just how we would be welcomed! I arrived in Winnipeg July 2, 1946. It happened to be our first anniversary so it was a double celebration. I was met by Alvin, his brother Harold, Jean and Albert Holm and Aif Evans who had the car. Albert Holm and Alvin had been army buddies and Jean was his war bride. I had met them in England and they now lived at Arborg. We all spent the night in Winnipeg before leaving for our new home. Enroute home we stopped at Portage for lunch. When I saw "hot beef sandwich" on the menu, I knew what I wanted. When it arrived, what a surprise! I expected just a hot beef sandwich. The joke was on me! It was a real meal! Getting settled into my new life on the farm was just the same for me as for any other girl who has been raised in the city. At first Iwas so scared of the livestock, but I gradually overcame that fear. I learned to milk cows and do chores. I will always remember the day we lost a Holstein heifer we had been given as a wedding gift. I phoned the neighbors and asked if they''d seen this Holstein heifer; "it''s black and white", I said. "As if all Holsteins weren''t black and white," I was told. My education had begun! The hardest battle I had to fight was homesickness.
There is nothing anyone can do to help you. It is something you have to fight yourself and learn to live with it. No doctor can prescribe for it.
You must fight to get rid of it but you can only supress it. I really missed the noise of the traffic and that lovely sound of the ocean. From my bedroom window, back home, I could see the English Channel.
When I wrote to my mother and grandmother I used to try to keep my letters cheerful and happy but later they said they knew it had been tough, missing my family and friends.
Learning to get along without electricity and running water, things one took for granted back home, was difficult. Other hardships were that old wood cook stove, that frightening gas iron, and those coal oil lamps with chimneys to clean every morning - ugh, how I hated them! The first couple of months were spent getting to know new friends and neighbors, trying to put the right name on the right person! It seemed everywhere I went, it was "How do you do?" or "Pleased to meet you." The only person to whom I was able to say "Hi it''s sure good to see you again," was Bill Jones. Alvin had looked him up on one of his leaves, and brought him to our home. Bill visited us quite often in Worthing before returning home.
Getting used to a whole new style of living was so difficult. We considered Worthing a small town with about 35,000 population. I missed the faster pace of life; the big stores, dances, movie houses, etc. The Cannaught Theatre which was home to the local repertoire company and considered good, put on a new play each week. There was also the Pier Pavilion which had variety concerts, party entertainment and musical concerts. In summer we were used to the Band Stand which had a new band playing each week. The variety went from dance music to military bands, highland with Scottish dancers and even colorful gypsy bands. Who can forget the Christmas pantomines, or Brighton hockey games where the Canadian servicemen quite often played.
In 1939 the Kitsolina Boys Band from British Columbia on their tour of Europe came to Worthing.
Between our neighbor and my grandmother they had 14 boys as guests. I was only 13 at the time but was very impressed with these Canadian teenagers.
They promised to write but we never heard from them. A boat was sunk shortly after they left and we wondered if they had been aboard that boat.
Times were hard in Canada as everywhere.
We went out very little. We used to go to Mentmore to curl in the winter van; what an experience for me! We visited neighbors and I really looked forward to Saturday night in Neepawa.
My life was made brighter when my mother and grandmother arrived from England in 1948, as planned, to make their home with us.
In 1983 a War Brides'' Association was formed in Brandon, bringing many of us all together. What a reunion! After 37 years I met some people I had not seen since coming over on the boat. In 1984 I met the war bride who had the bunk below me on the ship. We didn''t even recognize each other! This War Brides'' Association has become an annual three day event and oh, how we wish we could have had it 40 years ago when we first came here as Canadian War Brides! In 1975 when we went back to visit in England, I knew then I would never want to go back there to live again. It is not because of material reasons, but time, places and people change. My life is here in Canada with a loving husband and our family. My memories of England are pleasant and happy even if some were spent during war time with shortages and blackouts, but because there was a war, Alvin was in England and I met him and became his war bride!
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