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War brides: Meeting the in-laws

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.

media clip
A CBC reporter is lurking among the husbands and in-laws waiting to meet war brides at Union Station in Toronto. It's daunting enough for these new wives to meet their mothers-in-law. Now they're expected to tell all of Canada about their journey, too! "After what we've been through we can face anything," one war bride tells CBC Radio. Another, a widow who has come to live with her mother-in-law, says she's impressed by the snow in Canada. 
• Accustomed as they were to the relatively short travel distances in the United Kingdom and Europe, the war brides were astonished by the breadth of Canada they witnessed from the train.

• Most surprising to many was the sheer size of Lake Superior. Having read about the largest Great Lake in school, war brides rushed to the windows to see it. Eight hours later, they were still travelling along its shores.

• Given the novelty of the war brides, many Canadians would gather at train stations and platforms just to get a glimpse of them. Some of the onlookers were openly hostile, asking the brides, "Has your man got a job? Where do you think you're all going to live?"

• In a book called The War Brides, a 1978 compilation of war brides' stories by Joyce Hibbert, a woman who was travelling all the way to Vancouver describes the three ways war brides were greeted as they stepped off the train:
- In big cities there was a formal affair with dignitaries and a brass band;
- In smaller towns, particularly in Quebec, there was often a big family group;
- At whistle stops, only the husband was waiting.

• Many war brides got a shock when their husbands met them at the train station. In civilian clothing they hardly resembled the dashing men in uniform that the women had married. "I thought he looked like Al Capone," recalls one. "He wore a fur hat and looked like a Russian," said another.

• Stories about how in-laws accepted the war brides are as varied as the brides themselves. Some were welcomed with open arms while others were shunned. Often the groom had given up a girlfriend in Canada to marry overseas, and his family was wary of the stranger who'd "stolen" their boy.
 
• An acute postwar housing shortage meant there was often little option for the couple but to live with the in-laws.

• Like the widow heard in this clip, some war brides who lost their husbands in the war opted to come to Canada anyway and live with their in-laws.

• Another woman in the book The War Brides remembers a Scottish war bride who lived in the same town as she did. Her mother-in-law greeted her at the train station to report that her husband had already deserted her but welcomed her and her baby to stay.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News Special
Broadcast Date: Jan. 30, 1945
Guest(s): Mrs. Chrysler, Mrs. Merringer, Mrs. Shoemaker
Duration: 3:17
Photo: Library and Archives Canada / PA-115241

Last updated: November 6, 2014

Page consulted on November 6, 2014

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