Immigration story of Beverly Oster (nee Sadler) (British/Canadian Immigrant)

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A Canadian War Child’s Story

My Canadian mother met and married a British Leading Air Craftsman serving in the Royal Air Force at one of the Commonwealth Training programs on the Canadian prairies. He was transferred back to England in 1944. To this day I cannot understand why, but my mother and I, an infant, had to follow him to England to stay with his relatives in war-torn Sheffield, while British children were being sent out of cities like London, in some cases to Canada, to escape the bombing.

We departed out of the port of New York and headed for England, protected by an American convoy ship. When we arrived in England, housing was scarce so my mother and I lived with her in-laws – my adoring grandparents and my aunt, who worked in a bomb factory. My grandparents had four sons and all four of them were in military service.

My grandparents had been very surprised that their youngest son had married a Canadian and that seventeen months later they had a baby girl. However we were made very welcome on our arrival in England. When we arrived they needed to get extra food, so they went to the city market. While they were gone, a bomb hit very close to our duplex. Mom was very naïve and when my grandparents arrived home they found her terrified, huddled under a table holding me. Granddad, who had been an ambulance driver in World War I, recognized that she was shell-shocked and took her to the hospital where he worked. Mum needed to rest for two weeks she was so exhausted by the long trip and had been so frightened by the exploding bomb. When she returned home she found that my dad was being sent to the Far East and could not get leave. (He was sent to Singapore, although we were not told that at the time.)
Dad’s parents and sister were kind to us, but Mum must have found it very different to live with them in an English city after having grown up in an Ukrainian Canadian farming community. However, she brought with her all those talents she had learned back home. For example she could do her own hair, while everyone else in the family went to a hairdresser. She could cook from scratch, crochet and embroider, knit for the Red Cross, and when eggs were available, make buns. She loved to hike and was befriended by an English farm family. She fed the chickens for them on her visits. She missed the prairie farm where her widowed mother was struggling to make a living.

Mum also became a hostess for a few Canadian army cousins and their friends. She made Ukrainian food for them when they were on leave and spoke Ukrainian to them and a bit of Polish. She was told later that she also picked up a bit of an English accent. We lived on a hill and I was allowed to run down the hill with my pram to meet mother’s cousins, Steve and Roman. She also received letters from local friends in Canada asking her to contact their wounded sons in hospital.

Dad arrived home from the Far East in 1946 with malaria. He weighed 96 pounds. Mum suffered from a severe form of homesickness. My eldest cousin said she was nervous and looked unwell. She desperately wanted to return home to Canada.

In May 1948, when I was four, we set out on our return journey to Canada. I only remember the white cliffs at Southampton, the portholes of the Aquitania , and the great food on the ship. My toys and my beloved black dolly had been given to my second cousin. My Dad bought me a mechanical boxer toy and my mother bought a lovely compact with the name of the ship, the Aquitania , engraved on it.
After landing in Halifax we went by train to Saskatchewan. Dad had trouble getting a mechanic’s position right away, so we settled on the farm where my Baba, who spoke only Ukrainian which I couldn’t understand, and my young uncle lived. Dad fixed old machinery and worked on the farm but at first he was so naïve about farming that he fell victim to a practical joke and spent all day stocking sheaves upside down.

Then a Mr. Attum hired my Dad to work in his garage in Unity, Saskatchewan. The first night we slept in the cold attic in the boss’s house then we moved into our first house in Unity, a renovated two-room granary. I wanted to go back to England, but the Anglican minister, Rev. Thomas Howarth brought over his daughter’s toys. Involvement in the Church helped us become part of the community. My Dad sang in the choir, and I attended Sunday school in the morning and went to Evening Service with my Mum.

In small-town Saskatchewan, I learned to skate in the cold outside rink but was bullied in school by three boys because I had an English accent. I missed my grandparents in England so one day I walked down Main Street and met a pleasant couple who owned a bakery. I told them I didn’t want cookies, I just wondered if they would be my grandparents. The agreed and my “adopted” grandmother became Gran to me and to my children for the next forty years.

England is beautiful but crowded. I love the mountains, the wide sky, and the National Parks of Canada. This is a great country, free, sometimes too hot or too cold, but it is home. I am lucky to have sailed to Canada on the Aquitania for a new life.