Aboard one of the many official War Bride ships to leave England for Canada in 1946 was a pretty young English woman named Frances. With her was her baby son Harold (later dubbed Little Harold). No more than a few months old, the baby and his mother were about to embark on the unknown, a new life Canada. Fran and her Canadian husband Harold Hall (Royal Canadian Navy) had met and married in England the year prior.
“During the Second World War and up until March, 1948, 43,454 War Brides and their 20,997 children arrived in Canada at Pier 21in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The experience of arriving by War Bride ship at Pier 21 and then boarding special War Bride trains bound for communities across Canada is one of the most compelling parts of any War Bride’s story.” For Frances, the long ride across Canada on a War Bride train to Vancouver, BC must certainly have been a big part of her own story.
Born in London in 1921, Fran was one of seven children born into in a close-knit English family. She was the first daughter to leave. Husband Harold was born in Vancouver, BC to a rough and ready American man (who was a champion wrestler and showman) and his shy proper English wife. It would be safe to assume that the upbringing of Fran and Harold would have been very different. There were many obstacles to overcome in wartime marriages and under the stress and hardship of war, it would be even harder. But they were young and faced the future together.
Harold and his brothers Harvey and Harry had moved to Lake Cowichan/Youbou in 1940 with their parents and little sister. The two older boys worked in the mill while the younger brother and sister, attended school in Lake Cowichan. At the outset of WW2, the three Hall brothers ‘joined up’ (enlisted) – Harold and Harry in the navy and older brother Harvey, the army. After completing medical training (to become SBA’s-sick berth attendants) Harry was assigned to a ship in the Atlantic while Harold was sent to the Pacific on the Corvette, Flower Class HMCS Vancouver (the 2nd of 3 of the same name). Built in Esquimalt, the Vancouver served with distinction on both coasts, including arduous and hazardous duty in the Battle of the Atlantic.
The corvettes (which included the Vancouver) were considered “tough little fighters” and very successful (German) U-boat hunters. They had many victories although 27 Corvettes were lost (or rendered useless). They were short and had a broad beam which allowed them to patrol in fierce weather while most other escort vessels could only concentrate on survival.
Harold’s ship travelled in convoy throughout the Pacific and Atlantic. Life on board for the lone medical personnel was hectic and chaotic (a definition of war?) with time passing quickly while continually engaged in trying to save the lives of the wounded. It has been said that medical staff were always so busy they had no time to be scared.
At the end of the war, Harold was discharged and sent home to Canada to await the arrival of his wife and son. It was a joyful day indeed, when wives, many with children, were reunited with their husbands. The Hall family settled in Vancouver at first then moved to Honeymoon Bay. Harold worked in the local mills and built a house at the Bay for his family which now included son number two.
For whatever reason, the marriage began to falter. Back to Vancouver they went as by this time Fran’s mother and adult siblings had arrived in Vancouver. The marriage broke up soon after. The married life of the once happy couple, the sailor and his war bride had ended as did many others like it. The loneliness, pain, sadness and memories of war could not be overcome.
In 2006 Harold and his war bride Frances died within a few months of each other. The baby boy called Little Harold died in 2010.
Written in memory of my dear Uncle Harold, by niece Harolyn, also known as Rolli. Research and photos Hazel Hall Beech