Skip to the main content

The immigration story of Elizabeth Radford (Scottish War Bride)

The Museum reviews and accepts donated personal or family memories and histories into its collection. As a learning institution, the accounts help us understand how individuals recollect, interpret, or construct meaning from lived experiences. The stories are not modified by Museum staff. The point of view expressed is that of the author and not that of the Museum.

Country of Origin: 
Creative Commons: 
Accession Number: 

Story Text: 

Born March 29 in Edinburgh, Scotland, married William Bruce Radford of Keyes, Manitoba, Canada in Edinburgh in Old Restalrig Church which dates from before 1178.

I met Bruce at the Palais Royal on March 29, my 19th birthday, and we were married January 24, 1942. Bruce was a Canadian soldier, raised in Manitoba, and had joined 10 days after war was declared by Canada in September, 1939. He quit his job to join the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and later transferred to the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders. He was in the first convoy of ships leaving Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada in December 1939.

One of the most horrific episodes he was involved in was the bombing at Petworth, England, where 28 children and two teachers died. The Germans were thought to be aiming for the Canadians who were distributed throughout the woods in tents near Petworth.

Bruce celebrated his 27th birthday in France and I sent him a special parcel to celebrate. When it arrived, his comrades gathered around, looking forward to a small feast. But the haggis and his birthday cake had spoiled, also ruining the razor blades and cigarettes I'd included. His friends had a good laugh and took pictures of their "special feast"!

Bruce was machine gunned through the stomach on August 29, 1944 in the Falaise Gap in France. He didn't arrive back in Winnipeg, Manitoba until May 7, 1945 the day before the war ended. He suffered with his wounds for the rest of his life including enduring 11 operations.

Our daughter, Gail Morag Radford, was born in Edinburgh. On March 29, 1945, Gail and I embarked on the ship Franconia for Canada. On board ship, we were on Deck B, Cabin 11, Berth 9, Section 10. The deck below us was all soldiers but we were kept completely separate.

I was pregnant and seasick the whole way to Canada and Gail had whooping cough and was very ill. She had her second birthday on the ship.

We arrived April 10 at Pier 21 in Halifax and we then boarded the train to go halfway across Canada.
Arriving in April in Canada, there was still a lot of snow, ice, and cold and the trip was bleak indeed. It took us about five days to reach Winnipeg, Manitoba, a tough trip for everyone over the 2,179 miles.
Coal was still being used on the trains so the amount of soot was incredible. It was also an old train and had just been put back into service so it was rather grungy. It was full of war brides and their children as well as service men, and there were many stops throughout the five provinces from Nova Scotia to Manitoba.

Although many Canadians were very good to us, there was also some gouging of the war brides. During the train trip, I purchased bananas from a vendor who, although he probably paid two or three cents a pound for the bananas, charged me $1 for three of them. We knew we were being taken advantage of but we hadn't seen fresh fruit in over five years so we paid the price demanded.
When we got to Winnipeg, my in-laws, Robert and Viola Radford, were there to meet us. Our names were being announced so my father-in-law stepped forward and kissed the woman in front of me, mistaking her for me. We laughed about that over the years but I'm not sure how much my mother-in-law appreciated it.

We then took another train from Winnipeg to Keyes which was about 120 miles northwest of Winnipeg. When we arrived in Keyes, we had another mile east to go by horse and wagon. The road was very rough with ice, dried mud, and some snow and it was very cold – in fact I believe it was about 3° below zero that day. I was wearing a blue wool suit, certainly not prepared for Canadian weather, but Gail was very comfy. My sister, Isa, a furrier in Edinburgh, made a white fur coat and hat for Gail before we left Scotland. I doubt she anticipated how helpful her generous gift was going to be!

Before Bruce arrived, we stayed with my in-laws on their farm and it was a completely different world for me. We had running water, gas lights and gas heat, and Edinburgh, Scotland was a very cosmopolitan city.

I grew up in Edinburgh very close to Holyrood Palace. We often played around the Palace as children and were able to go through the old parts of it. Queen Elizabeth and her sister, Margaret Rose, stayed at Holyrood every year when they were young princesses and we saw them several times during each visit.

I now found myself in the middle of nowhere, living life very similar to the original Canadian pioneers. We had no electricity, certainly no running water, and our toilet facilities were an outhouse. You haven't known real cold until you've sat on a wooden seat in an outhouse in 40 below zero weather in a Canadian winter!

Bruce had bought a quarter section of land, that is 160 acres, that was one mile north of his parent's place at Keyes. The house was four rooms that had originally been a two room log cabin. It needed quite a bit of repair and it took Bruce quite some time because of his injuries.

Although Bruce had had quite a bit of cash on him when he was wounded, he lay on the battlefield for hours and when he arrived in hospital everything had been taken from him, including his boots. So when he arrived back in Canada, he had nothing. As a military wife, I had received several cheques which I hadn't been able to cash so I had about $300 and that provided the money for us to start our lives together.

We had two horses, Topsy and Bell, several cows – which I had to learn to milk – pigs, chickens, and we also tried turkeys. We also had numerous cats and dogs over the years.

With five sisters, I had never cooked nor baked at home in Scotland. So I had to learn to do those things as well as manage a wood stove. I also had to learn how to garden because, living in an apartment in Edinburgh, naturally we had no garden. Over the years I learned all those skills and became renowned for my gardening and my baking – especially of shortbread cookies – winning numerous awards over the years. As was often said of my shortbread, the goodness of them was the death of them!

Some of the mementos I saved from my trip to Canada include an October, 1944 booklet, Canadian Legion Educational Service: Rural Life in the Maritimes and the Western Provinces of Canada.

Another memento is the Monday, April 9, 1945 Officers Menu for the Franconia. The choices, luxury indeed after over five years of rationing, included oranges - heaven! - beef, ham, lamb and, of course, fish.

My most valuable document, though, is my National Registration Identity Card - precursor to a passport - which shows my name, my Edinburgh address, and the notation 'Removal notified to Canada'. The stamp shows 'Embarked 29 Mar 1945 Liverpool'. The Immigration Identification Card stamp shows: 'Landed Immigrant Canada Immigration April 10, 1945 Halifax N.S.'

Bruce and I were married for 64 years. During those years we moved many times and to many different locations. In the first years, we moved because of Bruce's health issues and his being unable to handle heavy work. He spent a lot of time in the veteran's hospital, Deer Lodge, in Winnipeg.

In the mid 1950s, Bruce started work with the Manitoba Good Roads Association – which was the Manitoba Highways Department – as a soil inspector and worked there until his retirement at age 62. As before, we moved often to Bruce's work sites.

We had done some travelling while Bruce was still working but did a lot more once he had retired. We visited Scotland many times as well as England, Portugal, Spain, Balearic Island, Majorca, New Zealand, and, of course, Canada and the US in many different locations.

Bruce died on March 29, 2006, my 84th birthday. Although Bruce had many tough times, he never lost his wonderful sense of humour.

Times were frequently hard, both financially for us and health-wise for Bruce, but we had a good marriage. We had two more children, Eric and Norma, and now have seven grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. We had no idea what we were starting when we met in 1941!

How different my life was though, than it would have been if I had stayed in Scotland!