Canada WWII War Brides (National Institute)
The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian:Immigration Records by Patricia McGregor, PLCGS. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
War Brides[edit | edit source]
During World War II, Canadian soldiers began arriving in Britain as early as 1939. For some it would be six years before they returned home. Many of these young men married and fathered children while they were overseas.
- “Marriages were often performed as quickly as they could be arranged, given family situations and military requirements. Women borrowed wedding dresses, or made fashionable coats out of dyed army blankets. A spray of flowers garnished their lapel and shiny silver cardboard horseshoes were given and carried for luck. Brief honeymoons were enjoyed before the inevitable separations occurred. Husbands left for battle not knowing their wives were pregnant. Babies were born and not seen by their fathers for years, and sometimes never. Wives became single parents trying to cope with new motherhood when they’d scarcely had time to enjoy married life.” (Granfield p. 2)
In all, nearly 48,000 war brides and 22,000 children arrived in Canada during and after World War II. While the vast majority of these women were British, there were some Europeans as well. The ships that had been used to transport the service men and women to Britain returned with their wives and children. The ships carrying the war brides and their children sailed from England to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Pier 21 became the depot for processing the arriving families. In 2000 a memorial plaque was mounted at Pier 21 to commemorate the war brides’ arrival in Canada.
The Canadian government was aware of the number of marriages taking place between Canadian service men and (mostly) British women. Little could be done about this situation during wartime but once victory was in sight the government began to put a plan together to bring these women and children to Canada from Britain and Europe. Several organizations cooperated in this endeavour, including the Department of National Defence, the Immigration Branch and the Canadian Red Cross Society. Travel costs, (ocean and rail) were paid for by the Canadian government.
The war brides were an interesting immigration group. Unlike many previous immigrants they don’t fit neatly into the “push-pull” factors we have previously discussed. Their motivation to emigrate was not based on persecution or the search for a better way of life but on having married Canadian soldiers. They were young and white, the majority were British; most of them had some first-hand experience with the war, and they were separating themselves from family members and in many cases would never see their parents, siblings and other relatives again.
Once in Canada, many of the women set up war bride clubs to help each other adjust to their new lives. With the aging of this group, the numbers are dwindling. Many have recently celebrated 50th wedding anniversaries. Several books have been published that recount personal experiences of the war brides.
For further information, see Canadian War Brides website. This site contains links to many other useful sites regarding War Brides.
For further reading[edit | edit source]
- Brass Buttons and Silver Horseshoes, Stories from Canada’s British War Brides by Linda Granfield. McClelland & Stewart, 2002.
- If Kisses were Roses, a 50th Anniversary Tribute to War Brides by Helen (Hall) Shewchuk. Privately published, 1996.
- Promise You’ll Take Care of My Daughter, The Remarkable War Brides of WWII by Ben Wicks. Stoddart Publishing, 1992.
- Blackouts to Bright Lights, Canadian War Bride Stories by Barbara Ladouceur and Phyllis Spence. Ronsdale Press, 1995.
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