Canadian soldiers find romance in WWII Britain
Surrounded by falling bombs, strict rationing and nightly blackouts, a generation of young women found love. They were the war brides: British and European women who married Canadian servicemen in the Second World War. After tearful goodbyes to their families, they embarked on a grueling journey by ship and train to join their husbands and in-laws in a new country. Once they arrived, many war brides had to confront culture shock and desperate homesickness before embracing their new lives in Canada.
For the Canadians, local women offered companionship and calm during daunting circumstances. With death and destruction so close, thousands of these couples met, dated and married hastily, determined to live for the present.
• During the war most young British women aided the war effort in some way. Many worked in factories manufacturing parachutes, aircraft parts and other essential items.
• Others served in the Women's Land Army. Members of this group were sent to farms as agricultural labourers to replace men who were fighting the war.
• Women also served in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force and in other military support units.
• In 1943 a Canadian Roman Catholic chaplain, charged with addressing new recruits, classified the three types of women a Canadian serviceman might encounter while in the United Kingdom. They were:
- Prostitutes: "You do not have to meet them. They will meet you. Beware."
- "Working girls, factory, munitions, etc... If they had any morals, they have discarded them."
- "Good Girls": "They are not always on the street. When you meet them, treat them as you would your best girl at home." (Source: The Half-Million: The Canadians in Britain, 1939-46, C.P. Stacey and Barbara M. Wilson)
• The first wedding during the Second World War between a Canadian serviceman and a British woman took place on Jan. 29, 1940 -- just 43 days after the Canadians arrived in the United Kingdom.
• In November 1940 the Canadian Army issued rules for members who wished to marry overseas. A soldier had to request permission from his commanding officer, who was charged with ensuring that the man was debt-free and that the woman was of "good moral character."
• The rules were amended in December 1941. A soldier was required to declare his current marital status, possibly because cases of bigamy had surfaced. He also had to swear he was able to support a family after his military service ended. In addition, he had to agree to have $10 deducted monthly from his pay (up to $200) to cover his wife's eventual passage to Canada.
• His bride, meanwhile, was compelled to produce a letter from a "responsible citizen" vouching for her character.
• Both bride and groom had to submit to a two-month waiting period, and then had to schedule a wedding during the groom's leave.
• Once the couple was married, the woman was entitled to a military dependents' allowance. Some critics of such marriages charged that the women married solely for this money.
• By the end of 1946, some 44,886 Canadian servicemen had married in Britain. Not all married British women; some brides were fellow Canadians or from Holland, Belgium, Italy or other countries.
• Some British citizens resented the liaisons between their women and Canadian servicemen. Such was the negative feeling that the performers of a popular BBC radio show for Canadians, Johnny Canuck's Revue (aired 1942-45), were cautioned against mentioning the phenomenon. "The less said about relationships between Canadian soldiers and the girls of this country, the better," wrote Capt. Brian Meredith of Canadian military headquarters.
• The First World War also produced its share of war brides. One of these was Peggy Holmes, who came to Canada in 1919. With her husband she began homesteading in rural Alberta.
• Many years later, on CBC's Voice of the Pioneer, Holmes remembered the rough welcome war brides of the First World War got from Canadians upon their arrival. The experience propelled her and other women of her generation to help war brides after the Second World War.
Program: Between Ourselves
Broadcast Date: Nov. 14, 1975
Reporter: Brian Slemming
Special thanks to Melynda Jarratt.
Last updated: November 5, 2012
Page consulted on March 12, 2013
All Clips from this Topic
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Wives and children of
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Peggy Holmes, a war bride of the First World War, recalls coming to Ca...
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War brides of Ontario and Quebec meet for the last time.