England

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.

 

 

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