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The Immigration Story of Ethel Pell (British 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.

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I am now 81 years old, so many years have passed since landing at Pier 21 in Halifax on November 23, 1944. The name of the ship was S.S. Ile de France. As I am a great lover of the sea the thought of going on a large ship filled me with great excitement and I did not think of the danger we were all facing with the war still on or the distance between Canada and Britain. That reality began to sink in when I arrived at the Hamilton Railway station. My husband was still overseas and would not return for six months.
We met at a “Tea Dance” in London. I was in the ATS and he was with the 13th Field Regiment RCA from Saskatchewan. We married in Oct 1943 on a foggy day, the organist and photographer did not show; we managed to get some snaps with a Kodak camera and a film wedged in with a piece of paper as it wasn’t the right size for the camera.
Our first nine years in Canada were not happy ones, it was not the land of opportunity for us. On arrival in Fruitland, where I was to stay until Reg came back, I was greeted by a house with no running water, an out-house, and sharing a small bedroom and bed with a niece, giving me no privacy. We had a blizzard that left eight foot drifts of snow. I was ready to return to England.
When my husband returned we moved to some rooms in the city with our newborn daughter. Life was a struggle as my husband was learning a trade and the pay was very small. One time we lived for six months in a small house with a family of five; no one wanted to rent to a couple with a baby.
Later, along with other war-brides we moved to converted army huts, they were quite a long way from a bus, we had our own school and a small store. Only thin walls separated us from our neighbours. In the Spring we had to put up with mud and often our wash was covered with smuts because of the soft coal they used to heat the huts. Later cockroaches and a few rats moved in. Most of us had to put up with this for seven years. We eventually got a house of our own, it needed a lot of repairs, but my Reg was a handy man so we were able to make it look better. He also got work at Studebaker with better wages, but some years we had only 6 to 9 months work, because when the change-over to the years new models some of the junior men were laid off until sales picked up. So again we were struggling to make ends meet. Later it became better because there was a guaranteed wage so that when there was a lay-off we got a percentage of our pay. Just as we thought things were getting better the firm closed its doors without any warning and we lost everything. Our Church also burnt down at the same time, so I lost the small honorarium that I was getting for doing the office work. We had to sell the house and moved into an apartment and the Credit Union helped us straighten out our financial situation. Reg went to another plant to work, but they used carbon there and that caused Reg to get emphesemia and later he had to quit, he went on a Veterans Pension and was given only a year to live. We did get eight and was able to take some holidays. He died suddenly on a Sunday morning. It just did not seem fair that he should die when things were getting better for us. But we give God thanks for what we had and that our two children did well at school and university, married and have children of their own. Tragedy struck my daughter too as her husband died at a young age with cancer. But in life you sink or swim and in spite of everything we managed to swim.
We were very involved with the Girl Guide & Scout movement, Church work, Telecare and helping others as we saw the need.