The term “war brides” refers to women who married Canadian servicemen overseas and then immigrated to Canada after the world wars to join their husbands. The term became popular during the Second World War but is now also used to describe women who had similar experiences in the First World War. There are no official figures for war brides and their children during the First World War. In the Second World War, approximately 48,000 women married Canadian servicemen overseas. By 31 March 1948, the Canadian government had transported about 43,500 war brides and 21,000 children to Canada.
A war bride and child arrive at Bonaventure Station in Montreal, Quebec, on 4 March 1946. The mother and child had travelled across the ocean on board the SS Aquitania.
War Brides of the First World War
During the First World War, approximately 424,000 Canadians served overseas as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. By the end of the war, thousands of their dependents were living in Britain and Europe. Many of these dependents were Canadian wives (and children) who had travelled to Britain to be near their husbands. However, thousands of soldiers also married women whom they met during overseas service, mostly in Britain. One report estimated that 25,000 Canadian servicemen married British women during the First World War.
In January 1919, the Canadian government offered to transport all dependents of Canadian servicemen from Britain to Canada. This included free ocean transport (third class) and rail passage. In total, more than 54,000 dependents arrived in Canada following the war. However, this includes all dependents of Canadian servicemen and there are no official figures for the numbers of “war brides” and their children.
Assistant Matron Kathleen Hurley helping war bride Mrs. H.F. Whitmore and her son Mervin, who are en route to Canada. Photo taken at the Maple Leaf Club in London, England, on 4 December 1944.
War Brides of the Second World War
More than one million Canadians and Newfoundlanders served in the armed forces during the Second World War. As in the previous war, many Canadian servicemen married women they met overseas. By the end of 1946, there had been 47,783 marriages between Canadian servicemen and women from other countries (mostly European); these unions produced 21,950 children.
The vast majority of war brides (44,886) were from the United Kingdom, where Canadian forces were based for much of the war. Smaller numbers came from the Netherlands, Belgium, France and elsewhere. Thousands of Dutch women (1,886) married Canadian soldiers, who had liberated their country near the end of the war. Marguerite Blaisse of Amsterdam, for example, met Lieutenant Wilf Gildersleeve of the Seaforth Highlanders on 7 May 1945. They married a year later and settled in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Marguerite and Wilf Gildersleeve and family outside St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church in Vancouver, British Columbia, in the 1950s.
Some 80 percent of the war brides married soldiers, whereas 18 percent married men in the RCAF and the remainder married men in the navy. Although all the servicemen's wives were eligible to come to Canada, an estimated 4,500 war brides declined to make the trip. By 31 March 1948, the Canadian government had transported 43,454 wives and 20,997 children to Canada.
War brides and their children en route to Canada. Photo taken in England, 17 April 1944.
Some Canadian servicewomen also married British men while overseas. Their husbands, known as “male war brides,” were eligible for free transportation to Canada as well. However, little is known about these men.
As in the First World War, the Canadian government provided the war brides with free sea and rail passage from their original homes to their destinations in Canada. They also received daily food allowances and free access to medical care on boats and trains.
Escorting officers Helen Drope and Patricia Keene of the Canadian Red Cross serving supper to the children of war brides en route to Canada aboard SS Letitia. (Photo taken on 2 April 1946 in Liverpool, England.)
The war brides and their young children travelled across the Atlantic Ocean on troop ships and converted luxury liners, arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia, at Pier 21. Most then boarded special trains that took them to their final destinations in communities located across the country. Many of the war brides were unprepared for the conditions they found in Canada, but most stayed and adjusted to a new way of life.
Joyce (Gawn) Crane was a British war bride who married a Canadian soldier stationed in England during the Second World War. She later immigrated to Canada.
Joyce (Gawn) Crane, Leading Aircraft Woman and War Bride
During the Second World War, Joyce Gawn served in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in England. While on leave, she met Bruce Crane, a soldier in the Canadian army. They married on 6 January 1945. The following year, Joyce and her infant son travelled to Canada to reunite with her husband.
One night after returning from a leave, my friend and I decided to get a cup of tea at the snack bar at Manchester railway station before going back to our balloon site. It was a very crowded place and while we sat there, we saw a good-looking Canadian soldier walking toward our table and he asked if he could sit with us. … Bruce returned to Canada in September aboard the Mauritainia, and because I was pregnant, had to wait. Brian was born on January 10, 1946, and the two of us crossed the Atlantic on the Queen Mary. We left June 11 and arrived in Halifax on June 15. Bruce was there to meet us and at first I didn't know him in his blue suit and trilby hat. I had only ever seen him in uniform!