British War Bride Speaks Out
ONE OF TEAM
"Why did Canadians marry us? They tell us because life to us means more than dances, theatres and good times"
I AM a British war bride—one of the several hundred British girls married to men of the Canadian armed services overseas who have
already arrived in Canada and who have started on the road that perhaps 20,000 girls still back in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland have ahead of them.
That figure of 20,000 may prove a shock. Actually, there aren’t 20,000 British war brides yet and, as a matter of record, the figure at the present moment stands somewhere much closer to 16,000. But, discounting the future, it need be no very great strain on imagination to set the figure at nearer 20,000 when the war ends than at the 16,000 figure, which is the nearest estimate possible of the number of overseas war brides now.
Even that 16.000 figure is startling. It surprised UH back in England, too, last spring, when the Lady Mayoress of Brighton took steps to organize an association of girls in Sussex who had married Canadians. She dropped the idea when it quickly became apparent that the association would be too unwieldy. There were almost 7,000 brides of Canadians in that one county alone.
We come from all over the British Isles. For that reason I have described myself, although a Londoner, as a British war bride. The expression “English war bride” Is not one which brings out the best in a girl who hails from Edinburgh or the Clydeside. It irks them; particularly when they hear themselves described as “one of those English war brides,” accompanied by just a suggestion of a look that we, in England, call “down the nose.”
I like Canada, although it is only three months since I left England. It has lived up to every one of my hopes—and, I must admit, to a lot of my fears. It’s big; it’s magnificent; it’s young; it’s fresh and it’s virile. There is opportunity unbounded for the person who is not afraid of hard work.
But I think most of us have found ourselves somewhat in the position of the bride in a romantic elopement who has never met her parents-in-law. While we are greeted, enthusiastically, as a daughter gained, rather than a son lost, there is a little atmosphere we can sense of being just a little bit guilty until we can prove ourselves innocent. I do not want to convey, by that, that the attitude of the parents of the boys we have married has been suspicious and aloof. In a few cases, perhaps, it is true but most of us have found our reception into the Canadian home kindly, cordial and everything we could have asked for. If
anything, the reception into the family circle has been too kind and, perhaps, due to our British reserve, we have been a little inclined to resent that kindly interest which has been taken in our welfare.
When I speak of aloofness, it is on the part of Canadians as a whole. I, and, I think, most of the rest of us were prepared for that. We knew that Canadian girls would not welcome the thought of “Limeys,” as we are sometimes called, taking the cream of Canada’s young men out of circulation. Shortly before we left England my husband warned me of one of the things we might encounter.
“After the last war,” he said, “there was a certain amount of gossip about British war brides. Some of the Canadian boys married poor types of girls. Some fine British girls married no-good Canadians. As a result some of the marriages turned out disastrously and caused gossip. People talked a’„v,i t the marriages which failed. They appeared to forjefc the many British brides who came to Canada and proved splendid wives and mothers.”
That is the situation that any British girl married to a Canadian can understand. We bumped into it, in reverse, over there. English papers when a serviceman got into trouble with the police could find three times the space, even with strict paper rationing, to report the case if the man was a Canadian, an Australian or a
New Zealander that they could in the case of an Englishman. Canada badges on a drunken soldier’s uniform seemed many times larger than the same badges on a soldier quietly attending a symphony concert at Albert Hall.
MY HUSBAND had to sell hihiself to my parents.
They, in common with a lot of other parents over there, looked suspiciously at Canadians. Definitely, they agreed, we should be hospitable to Canadians, for they had volunteered—not been called up—to come and stand shoulder to shoulder with the motherland. They were grand fighters in the last war and probably would be just as good in this one. But to have a Canadian for a son-in-law!
Too many people had heard the story of the “pub” down in Brighton which Canadians had wrecked, and the story had lost nothing in the retelling. There were those drunken Canadians my father himself had seen in Piccadilly Circus.
With all this, it was to a definitely hostile atmosphere that I brought my husband-to-be home for the first time. Through him my people met other Canadians and I think I can say that in all England there is not a more loyal pro-Canadian family than the one my husband and I left behind. Those Canadians sold my family on Canadians.
By the same token we British war brides already here must sell all you Canadians on the war brides who are still to come. Very soon I learned to refrain from saying, “Back home in England we do it this way.” I was making not one but two faux pas there— first, in saying “back home,” for Canada is now my home, and, second, in the suggestion, however unintentional, that the British way was better. For the same reason I have stopped saying “over here.” There have been occasions when I’ve wanted to burst loose. There was the time when, newly arrived in Canada, I went with my mother-in-law to buy her Sunday roast. (I’ve also learned not to call a roast a “joint” because a “joint” in Canada is quite likely to mean a place no lady is supposed to know anything about.) The display in the butcher shop staggered me. Ahead of us was a woman who was slowly driving the butcher mad. She wanted pork and one piece was too lean—the other too fat.
“Oh,” she finally wound up, “all the good pork is going to the English. I guess I’ll have to take a chicken.”
After two years of queuing up for the 44 cents’ worth of fresh meat and the eight cents’ worth of corned beef which my husband and I had between
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us each week, and with the only chicken I had been able to buy in all that time a tough old gamecock sold to me as a broiler, I had a few things I could have said.
“Listen, lady,” I wanted to say, “it may be true that only one little pig stays at home but the other four don’t go to the British civilian public. Over there you don’t tell the butcher what you want. You ask him what he can let you have and you count yourself lucky if it isn’t shoulder or neck of mutton.”
Out of consideration for my motherin-law I refrained, but it is a fact that outside of bacon (about four rashers per person per week) the British public sees little of that pork which is shipped overseas. Most of it goes to feed the fighting men and there are some hundreds of thousands of Canadians in that group.
I also had little sympathy for my sister-in-law when she complained of peaches being $1.29 a basket. In England we never bought a peach. They were available, of course, but at a price of $2.25 each. Grapes ran from $5.50 to $7.50 a pound, with melons anywhere from $3.50 to $7.50 each, depending on size. Oranges, of course, were available, about two or three a month, to children only. Grapefruit, lemons, and bananas were but a memory, and while the huge displays of ¡ fruit in Canada last September may have been a little expensive by Cana-
dian standards, it still was available and the prices far from prohibitive even for a working man’s family
Visits Niagara Falls
I wasn’t impressed, either, by the plaint of the woman I saw in a Niagara Falls restaurant the day my husband took me there, by boat, because he had said no marriage was legal, in Ontario at least, until the bride and groom visited Niagara Falls. This woman and her husband had driven their car from Toronto just as a pleasure jaunt. She wanted a table by the window where she could watch the falls and complained, bitterly, because one was not immediately available.
“We should have stayed at home,” she finally told her husband.
“Yes, lady,” I thought, “and in England you’d have had to. There would have been no petrol for a Sunday drive to anywhere.”
I could have told her about a doctor fined 50 pounds for taking his car to a golf course three miles from his home. His defense was that, overworked as all British doctors are, his health demanded the relaxation and exercise of golf. He argued that it was essential to have his car at the golf coürse because in case of an urgent summons minutes might make the difference between life and death of a patient. The courts, however, looked at it differently. Seamen die so that precious petrol may get to England and they could not hold that a hard-working doctor’s golf was of more importance than a seaman’s life.
I do realize that, unaccustomed to this Canadian plenty and knowing the
realities of war, I am perhaps impatiently intolerant. But there is nothing like German bombers overhead and German bombs whistling down to make you thankful for the bare necessities and a comfortable safe bed in which to sleep. Then, too, we knew a lot of Canadian boys, who made our flat in London their headquarters on leave, who will never again come back to Canada. They died somewhere on a bombing raid on Germany, in fighter sweeps over France or on convoy escort somewhere in the Atlantic or perhaps on the route to Murmansk.
But if I have at times had this intolerance or impatience I think I have curbed it. I want to be liked in Canada and I want to make a success of my marriage.
In Ottawa, while we were waiting for my husband’s next assignment, I was asked outright, “Why do all you English girls want to marry our Canadian boys?” The questioner, who definitely was not friendly, was a 19year-old stenographer, strictly within the age group whose prospective husband might have been one of those who now has a British bride.
One English bride returning to Canada said she liked Canadians because they were “earthy.” I don’t think that applies in the majority of cases—not if I understand what is meant by “earthy.”
In the great majority Canadian men, no matter what their background, are instinctively gentlemen. When you go to a restaurant with them they hold your chair for you until you are seated. They stand when you come into a room. If you go out with a Canadian he asks where you want to go, what you want to do. He flatters you and makes you feel good in a dozen different ways. Frankly, British men could learn much from the Canadians in this subtle art of appealing to a woman’s vanity and keeping her happy. Their attentions certainly swept us off our feet and we soon found ourselves completely in love with them.
We wanted to marry the Canadians because we were in love with them— and, perhaps, in some cases there was the added attraction of going to a new country. They represented romance and had for us, perhaps, something of the same appeal as Frank Sinatra to those American and Canadian girls who shriek at the first sound of his voice.
Why did the Canadians marry us? ' They tell us it is because they could sit down and talk to us, seriously, plan for the future with us, and that life means more to us than dances, movies and good times. That, from my own , observation, I know, is unfair to Canadian girls although I think, perhaps as a result of being close to • the war, and being deprived of so many of the pleasures Canadian girls ] have, we took a more serious view of a , life which might end, for any of us, • at a few minutes’ warning. Then, too, ] I think British parents, as a whole, do ( not spoil their children, particularly , daughters, in the same way that Cana¡ dian girls are spoiled. Since coming to , Canada I have seen a mother in the ] kitchen, washing up, while the daughter sits in the living room with a magazine.
“She’ll have plenty of time for dishes 1 when she has a home of her own,” the ] mother told me. “Let her enjoy herself | now.” (
That wouldn’t happen in a middle] class home in England. The mother 1 would have been reading and the i daughter doing the dishes. i
But it isn’t an easy matter to marry a f
Canadian—particularly if he is in the ! Army and below officer rank. He must : first of all show his good intentions by ! saving about $200. He must get his commanding officer’s permission to marry and he must wait some weeks before the marriage takes place. In the Air Force it is not quite so difficult but the commanding officer’s permission must still be obtained. And in all cases, as a prerequisite to this permis! sion, the bride-to-be must produce I proof, in the form of letters from clergymen, employers, or others, that j she is a girl of good character and likely to be a success at homemaking in Canada. If there is still any doubt in the minds of the Canadian authorities, the investigation will be long and thorough.
Prevent Unhappy Marriages
I knew of one case, that of a Swiss girl, whose name was German-sounding, whose marriage to an RCAF corporal was delayed for a number of weeks until her antecedents could be gone into thoroughly.
Under this rigorous system of checking, the unhappy marriages are not so likely to occur as they would be if there was no interval during which the parties could stop and think things over.
British girls are going to have a much better chance to make good in Canada after this war, for, under the auspices of Canada House, in London, classes were started in England, last summer, for war brides. They were told if their husband was a rancher it did not necessarily mean the romance and glamour they had read of in western fiction, but more probably a | lonely, isolated existence, far from the j nearest neighbor. Farm life, they were j told, did not mean farm life as it was j known in England, where there are six, seven and eight employees on the j average farm, and the farm owner himself is something of the country gentleman. British girls who have married Canadian farmers I think will know what to expect. The classas have taught Canadian cooking, shopping and housekeeping methods. We should be better equipped in that regard, | and in our knowledge of Canada, than j were our sisters of 1914-1918.
What are we British brides of this j war like? I think we are little different j from the Canadian girls themselves. 1 j have been a bit amused by a writer in a | Toronto paper who claims we don’t “muck up our fingernails with bloodred lacquer and paint our lips into a ghastly red smear.” Of course we do, but in England we couldn’t get makeup easily and what we did get was of mighty poor quality.
We are just as clothes conscious as j any Canadian girl and perhaps more j thrilled over the smart dresses in shops j here than you who have never had to j choose from standard utility clothing, and whose purchases have not been j limited by the fact that the present j clothing coupon issue in Britain is j only 40 coupons a year. With shoes ! requiring seven coupons, dresses 11, j coats 18, and hose three coupons a ! pair, your shopping for clothes is not very extensive.
Most of us are hard-working, ambitious and anxious to help our husbands plan for the future. I know of three girls, in a little group of eight, in one Canadian city who have obtained positions so that when the time comes that their husbands are demobilized they will have a good solid bank account on which to build for the future. One is in a war factory, a second 1
is a stenographer and the third is doing clerical work. In Ottawa, during the month my husband and I were waiting there, I took a temporary secretarial position and. as a result, even though we had to live for the full month in a hotel and eat all our meals in restaurants, we not only kept our heads above water but wound up the month with a little money saved.
Solves Housing Shortage
We have initiative, too. Witness the case of one little girl from the English Midlands. Her husband, a flying officer in the RCAF, was posted as a navigator instructor to an air station in western Canada. The only town nearby was crowded. There was no apartment anywhere. But did this stop the Lancashire lassie? Not a bit. She carefully took off every bit of the red nail lacquer, removed her lipstick and the rest of her make-up and then went to see one of the town ministers. Within 10 minutes of her arrival the minister was on the telephone to his parishioners and within 20 minutes she and her husband had a very cute, furnished apartment.
You, of course, are interested in our backgrounds, for backgrounds can be a real factor in the success we will make of our lives in Canada. Let me introduce you then to some of the members of one group which, out of the loneliness that hit us all terribly for a time, has organized a club where we can meet, talk about the people in Britain, our experiences since coming to Canada and the things we hope to do here. Sometimes, I admit, our in-laws get a bit of a going over!
There’s “Jill,” for instance. Jill, a Scottish girl, landed on both feet when she came to Canada. Parents of her squadron leader, D.F.C. husband are wealthy. They have a lovely home in which she can await the husband she preceded to Canada. She was given a new fur coat, and since her arrival her life has been almost a continual round of receptions.
But Jill didn’t need to have things made soft for her. She had been four years in the British WAAF, enlisting two months before the outbreak of war and rising, through the ranks, to become a commissioned flight officer. She had shown she could take it on two occasions when her husband was missing on active service, once for a period of 17 days and the second time when he tossed around in a little rubber dinghy for 43 hours in the cold North Sea.
It was Jill, who counts herself extremely lucky, who had the idea of organizing this little group, principally so that the war brides not so lucky as she might have a place to meet and discuss all their problems.
Then there is “Anne.” Her people in Ireland gave her a good business education and when war broke out she went to England where, perhaps, her services would be of more value in the war. When she met her husband, a sergeant in the Canadian Army, she was bookkeeper in a canteen which cared for the men of all the United Services. Anne has preceded her husband to Canada but she is going to have a home for him when he gets here. As a start she has obtained a position as bookkeeper in one of Canada’s large trust companies. She’s already had one increase in salary in the three months she has been working there.
Little “Mary” is one of 12 children of a Welsh coal miner. In the NAAFI canteen in England in which she
dispensed tea, coffee and chocolate bars there was a Canadian Army private who was among her most regular customers. The tea he bought, so steadily, was merely an excuse to talk to Mary. Eventually they were married, and when her husband was repatriated and discharged on medical grounds Mary was with him. The boy she had married was poorly equipped, educationally, for a white-collar job. His physical condition prevented him from doing heavy work. He was a long time finding employment. But the same was not true of Mary, and in less than a week after her arrival in her new home she had a job in a war factory. For over two months she was the breadwinner in that home.
“Jackie” is the tragedy of the little group. She came to Canada, from a well-to-do Scottish family, so that the baby she and her ferry pilot husband were expecting might be born here. The husband never saw the baby. He was killed in a crash before it was born. Jackie, however, is carrying on. She has a home with a family who can care for her baby a few hours a day and those few hours she is devoting to securing a Canadian business education so she, alone, will be able to give the child the home she and her husband planned for it together.
“Rose” is the oldest one of the group. Romance for her, with her Army husband, came late in life. She had no need to marry for security. That was already established, for Rose was a competent, clever nurse before her marriage. She gave all that up, late in life, to start a new home and a new career in a country that was new to her. But she will get along. She has the kind of courage that Canada asks of her citizens.
These are not a hand-picked group. They are representative of all the war brides who after peace will be found from one end of Canada to the other. None of us are quitters. All of us know that it isn’t an easy life that lies ahead of us. We know that there won’t be the same glamour in civilian life that there was when our husbands were members of the Navy, Army and Air Force. We know that when they lay their uniforms aside there may be a few grim experiences and a few hard times before they are re-established. But I think we can face up to that.
We are determined to make a success of our new jobs. There may be times when you will find us a little trying and difficult to understand. That, I can assure you, will not be intentional. As you learn to know us I am sure you will learn to like us, too.