Story Tools: PRINT | Text Size: S M L XL | REPORT TYPO | SEND YOUR FEEDBACK

In Depth

Canada's war brides

My mother, the war bride

Last Updated November 4, 2006

Mary Fletcher Sheppard is shown as a child in Liverpool and in her ambulance driver's uniform from the Second World War. The medals on display include past president of the Ladies Auxiliary, Royal Canadian Legion, and a 35-year service pin. Mary Fletcher Sheppard is shown as a child in Liverpool and in her ambulance driver's uniform from the Second World War. The medals on display include past president of the Ladies Auxiliary, Royal Canadian Legion, and a 35-year service pin.

Crossing the ocean in 1947 as the wife of a Newfoundland sailor was the single defining decision of my mother's life.

Until she met my father when she was 18, she was a giggly factory worker in Liverpool who loved to dance, see the latest films and ride her bike down to the docks to see the ships moored in the Mersey.

Seven years later, she was the mother of two girls, very pregnant with a third and on a ship going to Newfoundland. She thought she had extracted a promise from my father that he would stay in England. And he did try. They stayed two years after the war and were making a go of it, just barely, when a telegram came from home to say his father was ill and he wanted to see his eldest son one last time.

Granddad met them at the train station, healthy as a horse and they both knew they'd been had. But they agreed they would wait until the baby was born to see what was to be done.

She stayed. The facts were simple. England was absorbing hundreds of thousands of men home from the war and jobs for foreigners were scarce. Meanwhile, Bowater had promised any man who volunteered to fight that his job at the paper mill was guaranteed when he came back home.

Home was elsewhere

But her heart never settled. It was always understood in our household that "home" was not the house we lived in. It was that mythical place across the sea where roses bloomed in May, houses were built of brick and rainwater made the softest hair on earth.

This business of "home" not being where her children were raised and not being the house that she and father had bought and finished, furnished and refurbished over the years was a constant threat to us bonding as a family. How could we be a family like in Father Knows Best when our mother's home was somewhere else?

Like the other war brides, she had to start again. She had no mother to confide in, no sisters to console her or to help with babysitting, no lifetime neighbour who knew her as the cute kid from Fortescue Street or teacher who knew of her academic successes. She was her dad's little princess when she stepped on that ship, and while she didn't know it then, she would never see him again.

We lived in a newly built post-war veteran enclave. The house had four walls and not much else when they moved in. There was no running water, the road was barely passable and the veterans' houses were built on top of a hill that was swept with deep snow and high winds most of the long winter.

Snow. She had never seen snow and with three small children, twins on the way, no family support, no road and water that had to be hauled up the hill by the buckets, snow was hell. She never did get to like it. In winter, it was her prisoner; in spring, it kept her garden from blooming well into June.

The common ground for war brides was the legion. It was there, at Branch 13, that my mother felt comfortable talking with the other war brides and raising money. She must have helped cater hundreds of dinners and weddings and auctioned off dozens of novelty cakes made in our kitchen.

Comfort at the legion

I think it was the volunteer work at the legion that brought her out of her domestic cocoon. And once that happened, she became a force to be reckoned with. Sure, there were now nine children underfoot, but there was greater work to be done.

I was in Grade 3 the year my mother went on a campaign to get water and sewers to the neighbourhood. She did radio phone-in shows, wrote letters to the editor, talked to politicians until she was blue in the face. And finally, the diggers moved in and after more than 10 years of a community water tap at the bottom of the hill, we could turn on hot and cold water and flush a toilet.

She went on a mission to get my father's war pension sorted out. That took her 20 years, but in the end, she got what she felt my father deserved for his many wounds. Over the years, she learned when to call the premier's office and how to get action.

I think that eventually, say after 40 years of marriage, my mother finally accepted that marrying her Newfoundland sailor was indeed a good thing. By that time, she'd gone "home" a few times and compared the cost of raising nine children in England versus Newfoundland. The Rock won out, hands down. She was shocked when in the 1990s, her sister was robbed of her TV while she was asleep in her bed in a little village near Liverpool.That wasn't her England. But she never stopped referring to England as home.

She's dead now. I sometimes think we did her an injustice by burying her on an isolated hill overlooking the Bay of Islands. I keep meaning to buy a British Union Jack to put on her grave so there's a reminder that here lies a woman who is forever far from home.

Mary Sheppard is the executive producer of CBC News Online.

Go to the Top

Menu

Main page
The war bride train trip
Interactive
Love in war
by Brian DuBreuil
My mother, the war bride
by Mary Sheppard
The war bride train:
A diary
Your stories:
Margaret Mitchell Button

Photo galleries

The war brides train

Your View

Share your stories, photos

RELATED

CBC stories

Canadian War Brides
CBC Archives

External Links

Canadian War Brides
Pier 21 in Halifax

(Note: CBC does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of external sites - links will open in new window)

[an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive]
Story Tools: PRINT | Text Size: S M L XL | REPORT TYPO | SEND YOUR FEEDBACK

World »

Kim Jong-un says U.S. president will 'pay dearly' for threats to North Korea video
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, in an extraordinary and direct rebuke, called U.S. President Donald Trump "deranged" and said he will "pay dearly" for his threats, a possible indication of more powerful weapons tests on the horizon.
Mexico earthquake: Rescuers race to free survivors from collapsed buildings video
Rescuers swarmed over rubble with shovels and picks on Thursday in a frantic search for survivors two days after the earthquake in Mexico, focusing on 10 collapsed buildings where people may still be alive. But an official said a missing schoolgirl whose fate captured the nation "did not exist," leading to an outpouring of anger over the mix-up.
Puerto Rico could be without power for months after Hurricane Maria stuns island video
Deadly Hurricane Maria caused flooding in the Dominican Republic as it brushed past the country on Thursday after destroying buildings and knocking out power across the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and St. Croix.
more »

Canada »

Privacy commissioner aims to start more investigations rather than wait for complaints
To make the most of its current powers, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner is shifting more resources into proactive investigations, rather than waiting for people to make complaints.
Use of force 'appears to be justified' in video of police shooting, former SIU director says
A shooting by a Toronto police officer to stop a brutal and prolonged stabbing attack last week appears to be justified, says a former director of Ontario’s police watchdog, based on his viewing of video of the incident that is making the rounds on social media.
Canada is 'work in progress,' Justin Trudeau tells UN General Assembly
Describing Canada as a "work in progress," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tells the UN about the country's failures and mistakes in its historical relationship with Indigenous people and his hope to right the wrongs of the past.
more »

Politics »

Canada sending bomb disposal experts to Iraq to train security forces
A handful of Canadian army combat engineers will soon be in Iraq to train local security forces in the finer points of detecting and defusing roadside bombs, the Liberal government announced Thursday.
Canada is 'work in progress,' Justin Trudeau tells UN General Assembly
Describing Canada as a "work in progress," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tells the UN about the country's failures and mistakes in its historical relationship with Indigenous people and his hope to right the wrongs of the past.
Missing and murdered inquiry commissioners to review police conduct and 'investigate the investigations' video
The chief commissioner of the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls says she has assembled a team of forensic investigators who are reviewing the activity of some Canadian police forces.
more »

Health »

Sorry - we can't find that page
 
CBC.ca

Sorry, we can't find the page you requested.

  1. Please check the URL in the address bar, or ...
  2. Use the navigation links at left to explore our site, or ...
  3. Enter a term in the Quick Search box at top, or ...
  4. Visit our site map page

In a few moments, you will be taken to our site map page, which will help you find what you looking for.

more »

Arts & Entertainment»

Studio downplays concerns about long hours after Riverdale star's car crash
K.J. Apa, 20, who plays Archie on the CW show Riverdale, was involved in a car crash last Thursday after working a 14-hour day on set.
Black Mirror book tie-in taps Canadians Cory Doctorow and Sylvain Neuvel
Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker, who picked up two Emmy Awards for his mind-bending TV anthology series last weekend, has announced that Canadians Cory Doctorow and Sylvain Neuvel, along with British writer Claire North, will author the first volume of Black Mirror fiction, due out in February 2018.
Blade Runner 2049 to open Montreal's Festival du nouveau cinéma
Quebec director Denis Villeneuve's highly anticipated Blade Runner sequel will open Montreal's Festival du nouveau cinéma.
more »

Technology & Science »

Privacy commissioner aims to start more investigations rather than wait for complaints
To make the most of its current powers, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner is shifting more resources into proactive investigations, rather than waiting for people to make complaints.
Video Archeologist finds sunken German submarine from WWI video
The well-preserved wreck of a First World War German submarine, possibly still containing the remains of its 23 crew members, has been found off the Belgian coast.
Preventing oilsands bird deaths not a 'realistic goal,' says U of A biologist
Cannons, radar scanners and scarecrows will never be enough to completely prevent bird deaths in the oilsands, says a conservation expert charged with protecting waterfowl in open-pit mines.
more »

Money »

GM laying off 255 at St. Catharines plant due to strike at CAMI facility
Layoff notices have been handed out to 255 workers at the General Motors transmission-making factory in St. Catharines, Ont., as effects spread from a strike that started Sunday at the GM CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ont.
Amazon reviewing sales algorithm after suggestions in U.K. that bomb-making ingredients be bought together
Amazon says it is reviewing its website after a British news channel found that its product algorithm was suggesting customers buy products that when used together could build an explosive device.
U.S. stock market regulator urging corporate cybersecurity upgrades is hacked
The U.S. federal agency responsible for ensuring that markets function as they should and for protecting investors was hacked last year and the intruders may have used the nonpublic information they obtained to profit illegally.
more »

Consumer Life »

Sorry - we can't find that page
 
CBC.ca

Sorry, we can't find the page you requested.

  1. Please check the URL in the address bar, or ...
  2. Use the navigation links at left to explore our site, or ...
  3. Enter a term in the Quick Search box at top, or ...
  4. Visit our site map page

In a few moments, you will be taken to our site map page, which will help you find what you looking for.

more »

Sports »

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Shanghai fans eat up Canucks-Kings pre-season China spectacle video
A golden dragon was held aloft on poles by skaters. Kobe Bryant appeared on video. NHL mascots gave the crowd a primer on what this odd game is all about. NHL preseason hockey made its debut in China — a 5-2 victory by the Los Angeles Kings over the Vancouver Canucks.
Video Hip Check: China oohs and ahhs over NHL hockey video
It's probably the first time a dragon has ever been used in an NHL pre-game ceremony
France threatens to skip Olympics over North Korea-U.S. tensions
France's Winter Olympics team will not travel to the 2018 Games in South Korea if its security cannot be guaranteed, French Sports Minister Laura Flessel said on Thursday, raising the first major doubts by a participating country over the event.
more »

Diversions »

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
more »