Friday 2 December 2011

Falling Bombs, Blackouts & Bicycles

Under the falling bombs during blackouts, Britain's young women bicycled to local dance halls where they waltzed to the strains of the violins with their Canadian partners, men in uniform who had arrived in the opening months of the Second World War.  They fell in love in places like Aldershot, England which would be dubbed "Little Canada" as tens of thousands of Canadian servicemen rolled into town to train for battle. 

The first marriage between a British woman and Canadian serviceman took place only 43 days after the Canadians set foot on British soil in December of 1939.  Thousands more would follow suit.  British War Brides clubs formed, offering lessons in Canadian culture and giving members the Canadian Cookbook for British Wives.  In total, 45,000 British war brides and 21,000 children would immigrate to Canada during and immediately after World War II.  Although the overwhelming majority of the war brides were British (93%), Canada also welcomed 3,000 European War Brides including Dutch, Belgian, French, Italian, German and Danish women who arrived on the Queen Mary, Aquitania, Mauretania and other ships at Pier 21 in Halifax. 

They left the land of their birth to come to a country with different laws, a different climate, and in some cases, a different language.  The immigrants boarded war bride trains to cross the country in what the media dubbed "Operation Daddy" or "The Diaper Special".  They were struck by the vastness of the country and pleased to see items available here that were unavailable back home like bananas, butter and white bread, but dismayed to see that rural Canadians still used wood stoves and outhouses.

Although a small minority of war brides were so homesick they returned to Europe, the majority put down permanent roots here and were granted citizenship by the Canadian governement.  In 1946-1947, war brides accounted for more than half of the Canadian immigrants.  Today, it is estimated that 1 in 30 Canadians is a descendant of a war bride.  "Operation Daddy" was a resounding success.  And it all started in the dance halls of Aldershot over 70 years ago. 

Photo courtesy

Here is a poem I found on a War Bride website (

Southampton harbour in the Spring
On a sunny April day
The shouts of stevedores pulling ropes
And a liner huge and grey
Some anxious soldiers march and pace
The busy, noisy dock
A sweeping seagull screams farewell -
the echo seems to mock
The liner shifts her great hulk;
sirens sound
A shrill salute to this great ship
on her last voyage bound
Six hundred war brides crowd on deck
to watch the fading shore
The wartime years - "blood sweat and tears"
go deep in memory’s core
White capped water, smoking stacks
the land now ribbon thin
When can we hope to see again
Our country and our kin.

(Author Unknown)

Photo courtesy

Note: Cartoonist Ben Wicks has written a detailed account of the British War Bride experience in his book Promise You'll Take Care of My Daughter.

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