CBC Digital Archives

1947: War bride reception centres close

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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It was a British invasion. In 1944, Canada's Department of National Defence began what the press dubbed "Operation Daddy" -- transporting 45,000 war brides and 21,000 children to new homes in Canada. The Second World War was drawing to a close; these women, who'd married Canadian servicemen in Europe, were reuniting with their husbands. The job took three years and posed many difficulties, but it's finally wrapping up, as heard in this CBC Radio clip.

For three years, Red Cross Escort Officers in Canada and overseas worked in the war bride ships, trains, hostels, and reception centers. They fed babies, handed out medication, carried parcels, and made beds for thousands.

By January, 1947, most war brides are in Canada. The last war bride train arrives at Union Station in Toronto at month's end.

Ten days later, on February 2nd, 1947, the Red Cross and the army surrender their war bride responsibilities to Canadian immigration. The last trains complete their cross-country runs; the Red Cross Reception Centres officially close their doors; and hundreds of female Red Cross volunteers return to regular life.
• The Canadian government provided war brides with free sea and rail passage, as well as daily food allowances and free medical care en route.

• About 94% of war brides were British. Other nationalities included Dutch, French, Belgian, and Italian. Some 80% married soldiers. Only 2% married sailors.

• The Red Cross Corps was a female-only Voluntary Aid Detachment which assisted the Department of National Defence. At its height, there were 15,000 Corps members.

• During and immediately following the Second World War, the federal government banned Canadian women from travelling overseas. Earning a posting with the Red Cross Corps was one of the few ways women could travel off continent.

• Just under 650 Red Cross volunteers served overseas. To qualify for a Red Cross overseas position, a woman needed first aid and home nursing training, and at least 200 volunteer hours at a hospital.

• Two hundred Red Cross volunteers served at Toronto's Overseas Reception Centre. With each of the 153 war bride train arrivals, 60 aides worked a five-hour shift.

• The Toronto centre saw over 11,000 reunions between brides and their husbands. Canadian war brides on their way to Australia, New Zealand, and Norway also passed through Toronto. So did war widows heading to a new life with in-laws they had never seen.

Medium: Radio
Program: CBC News Roundup
Broadcast Date: Feb. 4, 1947
Host: Larry Henderson
Reporter: Bob Kesten
Duration: 2:18
Photo: National Archives of Canada A136664

Last updated: October 24, 2014

Page consulted on October 24, 2014

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