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War brides together again, 40 years later

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.

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There's a little piece of Britain in Brandon, Man., tonight. War brides and their husbands have gathered to sing old favourites, meet friends and reminisce about coming to Canada. Moving to a farm after living near London was an experience Beryl Howard recalls with fondness, but it was no laughing matter at the time. "I didn't know one end of a cow from the other," she tells a CBC reporter. 
• In this clip, a war bride's husband alludes to a legend about a soldier who told his British bride-to-be he owned a gopher ranch on Yonge Street.
• Teasing and pranks like this that played on war brides' ignorance of Canada was a rite of passage for many. One woman believed her brother-in-law when he told her the gophers in Saskatchewan stood on their hind legs on the roadside to hitch a ride into town.

• Many groups for war brides, such as the ESWIC (England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Canada) Club, were established after the war. But as war brides found their feet many of the groups disbanded.
• One of the first war bride reunions was held in July 1962 in Windsor, Ont. Sponsored by the Trans-Atlantic Brides and Parents Association of London, it welcomed former war brides from Canada and the United States.

• In 1964 the Globe and Mail reported that Toronto had at least six clubs for war brides. Some welcomed newer British immigrants and were formed in order to arrange charter airline flights to Britain.
• In 1975 Gloria Brock of Abernathy, Sask., founded the first provincial association for war brides. An informal gathering of war brides at Saskatchewan's provincial legislature inspired Brock, who went on to help war brides in other provinces form similar groups.

• Many of the most active war bride clubs have been based on the prairies. This is possibly because war brides who moved to farms had a much tougher time adjusting to Canada and placed more value on meeting with women who shared the same experience. In larger cities, war brides were more easily absorbed into Canadian culture.

• In 1983 Jean Cummings became a war bride 37 years later than she expected. She had met a Canadian serviceman, John Moores, while serving as a nurse during the war. He proposed to her, but then was sent to Germany and they lost contact before they could marry. As she told CBC's As It Happens, she found him again years later through the Canadian Legion magazine.

• In 2004 a group of war brides held a reunion in Peterborough, Ont. Because most of them were by then in their 80s, it was planned to be the last reunion for war brides from Quebec and Ontario. They had met annually for the previous 30 years.

• War brides and their children were not the only legacy of Canadian soldiers' romantic lives overseas in the Second World War. Many fathered children with women they didn't marry and left behind. Dutch war bride Olga Rains calls these offspring "war children," and in 1980 she and her husband Lloyd founded Project Roots to help these now-grown children find their Canadian fathers.
Medium: Television
Program: Saturday Report
Broadcast Date: Oct. 13, 1984
Guest(s): Kay Garside, Beryl Howard, Art Howard
Anchor: George McLean
Reporter: Susan Ormiston
Duration: 2:21

Last updated: March 16, 2012

Page consulted on October 17, 2014

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