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​War Brides - Sea of Love

Sea of Love  
Our Canada Magazine - November 20I0,

By the end of the Second World War, thousands of British and European women had sailed to Canada as the wives or "war brides" of Canadian servicemen. Here are just a few of their memorable tales.

Sam and I

Since the landing of the Allied forces in Normandy weeks earlier, we had been waiting to be liberated On September 12, a few neighbours and I were assembled in the street
ready to go back to the cellar where we'd been sleeping when we heard footsteps clattering along the pavement. Our hearts began to pound as two soldiers In khaki uniforms approached. Were they Brits? No. Ken and Sam were Canadian artillery troops. Sam asked me a lot of questions.

Where had I learned English? Where did I live? What kind of work did I do? I have friends in England, I answered; I live in No. 7 on this street and l'm a teacher.

My neighbour mentioned that he was having trouble receiving news from his sister in Ontario, so Sam offered to contact her through his folks back home. Sam would pick up a letter from my neighbour to send the following morning.

Over the next few datys, Sam and I went to the city centre and walked the streets along  the canals. On September 16, Sam asked me to be his girl for keeps, believe it or not! I accepted. He was a handsome, quiet man. The next day, Sam announced his battery was moving out.

We began a courtship by mail. On one or his visits from the front, he bought me a ring and we decided Sam to get married as soon as the war ended. Warnings from family and friends about soldiers followed, but I was sold.

In the meantime, I returned to work, but not as a teacher. I found a good job with British Civil Affairs and later British Civil Censorship.

MAY 6, I945
JUNE 30, 1945
Our wedding! at city hall in Bruges, the weddmg was followed by a small gathering at home. Mother had prepared a small dinner, and there was still a shortage of food. Sam left for Canada and I had to work.

MAY I946
The day had flnully arrived for me to go to Canada. I travelled from Oostende to Folkestone, England, where I boarded the ship, Aquitania. After six days at sea, with many other war brides on board, we arrived in Halifax, a truly unforgettable sight.
Cecile and Sam honeymoon in Brussels.
​Sam and Cecile at City Hall in Bruges on the big day;
Cecile and Sam enjoy a good luck drink at the wedding;
​​But there were no husbands to meet us. We were asked to register and then brought to the train station. I had never travelled in a train with sleeping facilities before. Looking through the window there was nothing but water, rocks and forest. Arriving at Toronto’s Central Station, names were called and I was sent into a long hallway, and there was Sam in civies - a moment I'll remember forever.

Toronto was a city out of a dreamland; tall buildings. streetcars and lots of people. We drove to Hamilton, where we were going to live. Sam's sister threw a smull party in  her home in honour of our reunion. Sam had rented the upstairs apartmem of a nice little house. There on the table stood a  coffee pot, a toaster and a frying pan ready for breakfast! The next day, it was on to the  grocery store. I was stunned to see all the goods there.

One day. we went to visit Sam's parents in Manitoba. That was a real eye-opener for me. Theirs was a lone farmhouse in the middle of nowhere close to the Saskatchewan Border, with no electricity, no running water, an outhouse and lots of land and cattle. We returned home to Hamilton, but later moved to Winnipeg. Moving to friendly Manitoba began the most important period of my life in Canada. I was accepted as a teacher and encouraged to continue my education at the University of Manitoba, where eventually I was offered a teaching position. l stayed at the university until I retorired in 1981. Sam enjoyed working in Winnipeg, too. We made a lot of friends there.

Upon retirement, we moved to Ottawa to join join our son and his family. We soon got to know many wondcrlul people in the apartment building where we lived. Sadly, Sam took ill and passed away in 2002. He was laid to rest in Beechwood, the military cemetery in Ottawa. where I will join him when my time comes.

Cecile Ungrin-Gevaert Ottawa

A Long Journey Home

I joined the women's Auxiliary Air Force during the Second World War in England, happy to leave an unexciting office job. After an intensive training session, I was posted to a Fighter Command base on the south coast. I was their first female elec:trician.
I first met my future husband, John, a Canadian soldier, in I943 at a services dance in  nearby Folkestone. Our meetings always ended suddenly as the "shell warning" sounded and the enemy guns on the French coast opened fire across the English Channel. D-Day brought further separation.

Our arrival back in Canada coincided with a train strike right across the country. It took four different flights in small planes to reach an airfield in Iroquois Falls near Timmins, Ont.. It was summer and my in-laws had a cottage nearby. John, along with some family  members, other cottagers and even a few dogs turned out to welcome us home. It was wonderful to finally be safely back in Canada.

ln 1952, we were blessed with a daughter. Forty three years of marriage to a good and faithful husband came to an end with John's death in 1992. I now live with my daughter in the Muskoka area. The years have gone by, but the memories will always remain.

Gwyneth Shirley, Huntsville,Ont.

Lucky in Love

What a lucky day it was when I met my Canadian. It resulted in my coming to Canada and enjoying 62 years of a wonderful life, so far. Joe and I met aboard the HMS Westcliff in May 1943. He was a Canadian naval commando and I a British Wren. He took me ashore on a movie date and I was fascinated to hear all about Canada. We planned our wedding in Augusl 1944 and we married in December of that year. 

My first officer had received ten wedding dresses in various sizes for the use of Wrens not wishing to to be wed in uniform -- from a women's group in Texas. All I had to do was pay for the dry cleaning and send a photo to the club of me wearing the dress. Excitement was not the word for my feelings. I chose a gorgeous satin, seed pearl dress  with a six-foot train, the likes of which you never saw in wartime Britain!

The next exciting event was my notification that I would be sailing from Southampton on August 6, 1949, on The Queen Mary along with our nine-month-old son, James. On board, I remember thinking that the bread was cake. I arrived at Pier 21 In Halifax, wooden-soled shoes on my feet and strange money in my hands.

Park Avenue h Montreal was my destination. Meeting my new family was fabulous. They gave me lots of bridal showers,  helped me to learn French and taught me how to cross the road without getting run over! We settled in the Laurentians. My first winter was scary; the snow was so deep I didn't think I'd ever see green again. But I did and still do.

My mother, sister and brother eventually joined us. Joe and I had six children and raising them in the relaxed atmosphere of the Laurentians was a delight.

I travelled back to England in 196I, again on the Queen Mary. That's when l knew that my adopted country was for me and felt, once again, how lucky I was to have fallen in love with a Canadian. We moved to Calgary and in 1976, I joined the War Brides Club. It was lovely hearing all those different accents once again. I met Bev Tosh, a Calgary artist who was very interested in our group, as her mom was a war bride from New Zealand. She felt that out stories should be told, so she painted more than 50 of us, all on our wedding days, on rough wood canvases, which were then turned into a whole exhibition. The Canadian government helped out and the show has now been seen by thousands of people around the country. I'm very honoured to have my picture in this exhibition.

I love Canada and feel truly blessed. Joe passed away in March 1989, but my children are Canadians and have contributed to Canada's wonderful melange.

June Stewart-Burgoyne, Calgary

A total of 48,000 war brides and their 22,000 children entered Canada via Pier 21 in Halifax during and after the Second World War. An immigratlon hub since the 1920s, Pier 21 was put under Ihe control of Canada's military in September I939 and  became a major war-time link between Britain and Canada.

We were married in July I945 at a little stone church in the Kent countryside. John returned to Canada in January 1946 and I followed a year later with our baby son. We were passengers on the last troop ships crossing of the Aquitania. It was also transporting the final contingent of war brides to Canada. Conditions on board were more crowded than usual. I shared one section somewhere in the bowels of the ship with about 40 other women and children. We were separated from a busy and drafty gangway by a canvas sheet.

Sloshing in bilge water, we washed the baby nappies in seawater. The terry cloth squares dried like a bed of nails. No wonder the babies never stopped crying! When a winter storm hit, washrooms became a shambles, baby bottles smashed and frustrated infants lost their usual form of nourishment from their seasick nursing mothers. When the stonn abated, an epidemic of gastroenteritis broke out among the younger children. No treatment was possible, other than to keep them on a glucose solution. A thick fog swept across the Atlantic and swallowed up the ship. The Aquatania finally limped into Halifax harbour way behind schedule. Ambulances took the sick children to the navy hospital HMCS Stadacona. My three-month-old son was among the admitted.

The Salvation Army came to the resrue of the stranded mothers. They gave us food, shelter and hot cups of tea. I will never, ever forget their kindness. A week later, we were able to continue our long train journeys across Canada. My destination was the small town of Cochrane, in northern Ontario. The friendly train porters insisted that it was in Alberta, while others claimed that it was at the North Pole!

Unknown to me at the time, John had heen waiting in Nonh Bay, Ont. for more than a week with no sign of the war bride train's arrival. Finally, at some ungodiy hour, he poked his head through the Pullman curtalns of my sleeper car. His face was half buried  in a huge fur hat with earmuffs. Who is this strange Russian? was my first reaction. This thought was quickly followed by, My God, what have I done? He certainly looked very different from the Canadian soldier in uniform l remembered.

Homesickness sent me back to England in 1950. This time, the At!antic remained calm,  which was just as well, as I had three little boys in tow! My mother was not well and as she stood waving goodbye to us at the Liverpool dockside, I sensed that I would never see her again - and I never did.

John and Gwyneth