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The Immigration Story of Frances O'Leary (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 was born just in the border of London. When I was seven, we moved into our own house in Croyden. This was a great achievement for my Dad. We were six in all. There was my Mum, Dad, brother Ken, sisters Joyce and Doreen, and in the middle of the sisters, myself. When the war started, my brother, who was in the militia, was called up right away. My father joined the fire service, my mother the air raid wardens and a year later my older sister joined the WAF. My youngest sister was evacuated which left me to look after the homefront.
In 1940, whilst on leave, my sister went out with her friend, Sadie, and they met two Canadian soldiers. Sadie wanted to date her man, but we were only allowed to go out in foursomes so my sister told Joe, her date, to bring a friend. She would get me to come as his date as she had to go back to camp. I was not very happy with this arrangement at 15, as I felt that I should be making my own dates but I didn’t want to let Sadie down.
It was a miserable night raining and chilly. We went to the movies and I was not overly impressed with my “date”. He was funny and easy to get along with so we made further dates to get together with Sadie and Joe. My mother was not too happy about me dating. For the first three weeks, we said good-bye at the front gate. But after the first time, he was allowed in the house. Chuck charmed my mother and my father both. We dated quite a bit until he was stationed about forty miles away. Then chuck would come by train and go back on the milk train. Often times he would come during air raids and the train came under fire from planes quite regularly.
In 1943 Chuck was sent to Sicily and then onto Italy and all over Europe. We corresponded and made plans to marry but it was 1945 before he was able to get leave. He came home unexpectedly on March 28th which was the Wednesday before Easter. My mother, along with my aunts, got things all arranged and we were married Easter Saturday with white gown, flowers, wedding cake, etc. This was amazing as things were very hard to come by at that time. Our honeymoon was one night at the neighbour’s house. Her husband was in the Merchant Navy and was away at the time. Thursday Chuck had to leave to go back to Belgium and he came back in June for 9 days leave before leaving for Canada. I had all the necessary forms, medical, etc. done for my journey over but had to wait until February 1946 before my departure. This was a hard time for my family as they had just been told my brother had died in a Japanese prison camp on my Mother’s birthday.
I took the train from Croyden to Victoria Station only to find there had been a mistake in the orders for the N, O and P’s on the list. We had been called two days early. We were housed in a large building on bunk beds. We ate jello, macaroni and cheese every meal. The last morning the rest of the girls arrived. We were put on the train for South Hampton. It was seven o’clock that night before we had a meal on board the ship but it was a great thing to see white bread, whole milk and so many other good things to eat. The voyage was long and cramped as the ship had not been converted back to civilian shape. We had bunk beds with little privacy just the same as the troops had. We arrived in Halifax on March 3, 1946 in dripping, icy snow and very cold. The band was playing and there was a great crowd but I saw my husband and I knew I would be ok.
My first impression of Canada was not too good. My husband’s stepmother was not very friendly, very critical and it was obvious in her remarks that I was not welcome. We had a small room with a bed, dresser and chair for which she charged us $16 a week. My husband made only $25 a week so we weren’t able to do very much. This was such a shock to me as my mother was the opposite of this woman. My mother would give everything she had to make Chuck and his friends welcome even though our rations were not very plentiful. I stood this for a month and then told Chuck we had to do something or I would go home. That afternoon we went to his sister’s place. She had a room larger than the one we were in and she was so different than his stepmother. It was my 21st birthday the day we moved. She baked a cake and iced it for me. It made me cry. I was so happy. We stayed with Sis until November and then found a little house in Eastern Passage where we stayed for two years.
Chuck had part ownership in a service station for a while but we wanted to travel and so we went to Ontario where Chuck went to work as a welder. He liked this work but they seemed to be going on strike all the time. He decided to go back in the service for a while. He joined the RCAF in December 1949. We enjoyed 20 years of traveling, nine in Germany, four in Goose Bay, Labrador, and the rest around eastern Canada. In 1969 he retired from the service and we returned to Nova Scotia where he went to work for the Province. I worked for the Scotiabank. Our only child, Francey, was born in Germany and was schooled there and also in England for a while. She married in Nova Scotia and had four children but in 1994 she passed away from cervical cancer. My husband also passed away in 1997. He had a stroke eleven years previously but did enjoy many years in spite of his disability.
I have never regretted marrying my Canadian husband. We had 52 happy years together and he was a good provider, father and husband.