Remembrance Day: Diary of a War Bride–Sailing to Canada

Rolli Gunderson shares the diary entries of a war bride who came to Canada in the 1940s.

It was November 1946 and the war was over. Marjorie, an English war bride from Grimsby in the north of England, was packed and looking forward to boarding the Empire Brent, a War Bride ship that would soon depart from London. Marj and her Canadian husband Tom had married in England and were now parents of an 18-month-old son, Reggie. As the little family arrived at the docks where their ship was moored they encountered hundreds of people, mostly red-eyed weeping young wives and their young children, all saying their goodbyes to families and new husbands. All serviceman, the husbands had not yet been discharged from service so would remain in England until discharged.  The women and children would make the trip alone.

Amid the happy chaos little Reggie wasn’t worried at all. After all, the youngster had spent many nights with his mother in air raid shelters during the war so the boy had learned to take it all in his stride. Filled with excitement and anticipation, the 300 wives and their 400 children (most crying babies) boarded the ship, found their staterooms, had dinner and waited for departure which was scheduled after midnight. The adventure had begun….or had it?

At 5 a.m. the following morning those who weren’t already up were awakened by a terrific bump which nearly shot Marj off her bed. Lo and behold, their ship had collided with a cattle boat in the river Mersey. The morning paper, Liverpool Echo, reported “Hysterical brides lined up on ship rails while drowning cows flounder in the water”.  Everyone was terribly upset by the accident but even worse, because their ship sustained damage, they would have to return to London and wait for the next available ship. After a wait of a few days, the replacement ship was ready to go and on Dec. 4 Marj and her son, along with the other wives and babies, boarded the ship again.

This time everything went off without a hitch. Marj watched the lights of Liverpool winking in the distance as the ship disappeared into the evening sky. As the beautiful sunset mingled with tall columns of smoke rising from the industrial factories, she wondered what the future held for her and little Reggie.

For the following nine days the war bride ship made its way across the Atlantic without encountering another ship. The passengers, for the first few days of travel, were enjoying the adventure but that ended when a raging storm caused sea sickness among the terrified passengers. Although Marj and Reggie were not affected, it was still a trying time as many mother and their crying babies were sick for days.  As long as Reggie received his big red apple every day, he seemed to be fine.

A dance was planned to take place the evening before arrival in Canada, although Marj did not attend. Instead she enjoyed reading on deck, thinking it “really grand to sit there at night with the wind howling around the mast”, while her son slept soundly in the safety of their stateroom.

Reggie made friends with everyone, both adults and children alike. He enjoyed playing with the other children each day. They also enjoyed their ration of chocolate bars which they purchased every few days at the ship’s commissary.  They especially enjoyed the wonderful meals served each day and the extras that were provided.

On the morning of Dec. 13, 1946, the ship approached Halifax harbour – Marj’s first glimpse of Canada – and what did she see but rain! The next sight was the rows of smart-looking little bungalows dotted everywhere, lovely pine trees, flags flying in the wind and the most thrilling of all….people on the dock waving and shouting ‘Welcome to Canada’ to the disembarking travellers.

Marj and her son soon found themselves on a train that took them across Canada to their new life in Alberta. Later they moved to British Columbia.


Marj, a petite and kind but shy English lady was destined to spend most her life in Burnaby where she and Tom had three more children. Young son Reggie (aka Reg Davis), the little boy who survived bomb shelters, Atlantic storms and the collision between the ship and the cattle boat (he slept through it all), breezed his way across the ocean and across Canada by train, to eventually settle here in Lake Cowichan where he has now lived for over 30 years.



Just Posted

Jared Popma recently streamed a live concert from the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre. (Ashley Daniel Foot photo)
21-year-old jazz artist talks favourite tunes and joys of music theory

Jared Popma recently streamed a concert from the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre

Vetch cover crop beginning to flower. (Mary Lowther photo)
Mary Lowther column: Vetch and crimson clover to the rescue of soil fertility

I add dry organic fertilizer as plants use up what is in the soil.

Sarah Simpson
Sarah Simpson column: A shift in perspective can sometimes change everything

Have you even been forced to wake up at 5:30 on a Saturday

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

North Cowichan’s committee of the whole have rejected staff’s recommendation to limit the use of fireworks to Halloween. (File photo)
North Cowichan rejects limiting fireworks to Halloween

Municipality decides staff recommendation would be unpopular

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

A 58-year-old B.C. woman says she was attacked by a deer while out walking her dog last week. (Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Deer attack in southeastern B.C. leaves woman cut, battered and bruised

Liz Royer says she was out for a run last week when the deer appeared out of a bush and charged

Most Read