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The Immigration Story of Janet Thomson Boyle (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.

Category: 
Culture : 
Country of Origin: 
Language: 
English
Creative Commons: 
CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
Accession Number: 
S2014.615.1

Story Text: 

Mum's story
Our mother, Janet Black Thomson, was born 10 January, 1922 in Bathgate, West Lothian, Scotland. She
was the youngest of four children born to Elizabeth and William Thomson, a tailor and staunch
Presbyterian. Called "Nettie" by family members, she grew up as the much-cherished 'baby' of the
family and was very close to her sister, Isabella (Ella), and brother, Raeburn (Rae), especially after the
death of their elder brother, Robert, in 1934. In 1940 she began training as a nurse, following the
example of Ella, and was still in training when she met our father, Douglas Boyle, an appendicitis patient
at Bangour Hospital, near Edinburgh, in 1942.

It was apparently 'love at first sight' for both of them and the relationship grew through the next few
months. It was the custom of our Grandfather to have young men who were serving in the war and
away from their own families to the Thomson home for Sunday dinner and Douglas, the 19-year-old
Canadian, became a regular whenever his ship was in the Firth of Forth. Both the Boyle family in Canada
and the Thomsons urged the young couple to postpone their marriage until the war was over, but
eventually Grandpa Thomson wrote the Boyles saying that it was best to let them go ahead. Jan and
Doug were married on April 30, 1943 at St. David's Presbyterian Church in Bathgate.
 
Doug was back at sea in April of 1944 when his first daughter, Elizabeth (Beth), was born at St. Mary's
Nursing Home in Edinburgh. The birth of a "Canadian" child meant that his bride and baby must be
moved to safety in Canada as soon as possible, so they were told to stand by for news of their
evacuation to Canada at any time. But not before Beth was christened at St. David's on July 2 (the
Sunday nearest Canada's Dominion Day) wearing a robe made by one of Jan's friends, cut from her own
wedding dress because fancy fabrics were unobtainable during the war. (That robe has become the
family christening gown, worn so far (2012) by 15 Boyle children, grandchildren and great
grandchildren.)

But before Jan heard when she would be leaving Scotland, she and her family suffered a terrible blow
when word that her beloved brother Rae had been killed near Caen on July 27. So leaving her grieving
family and the only home she had ever known was a parting she dreaded. Word came on October 12
that she and the baby should proceed with utmost secrecy to Charlands Academy in Glasgow on
October 14 where they would spend the night before sailing. Mum never spoke of how painful her
departure from Bathgate must have been.

At Charlands Academy that evening she met a new friend- Pat Campbell Edwards, who had trained with
Jan's sister Ella in Glasgow. A war bride herself, Pat was headed for her husband Ralph's family on
Vancouver Island. The next day the two women along with many others boarded a train for the run to
Greenock where they were tendered out to the Ile de France, anchored off shore. The ship had started its journey in Southampton where it had filled up with returning troops and English war brides. After sailing from Scotland, it took a southerly route across the Atlantic due to heavy U-boat sightings in the North Atlantic.

Arriving at Pier 21 in Halifax, the war brides stayed on board for an extra day because the arrival day was
used to land the troops. Disembarking through a huge warehouse, Jan and Beth, helped by Pat, boarded
a train headed for Montreal and points west. In Montreal, Jan said a temporary good-bye to Pat and met
the first of her new Canadian relatives, her sister-in-law Irene, who had been sent to meet her and
accompany her across Canada to Revelstoke. Arriving in Revelstoke at the beginning of November, Jan
could not believe the mountains and deep snow she encountered. Somewhere along the line she had
acquired a fur coat because snapshots from those first months in Canada show her always wearing it.

Her new in-laws were kind and welcoming and thrilled with their first grandchild, though Mum was less than thrilled with the new low-slung baby carriage they presented, having left a beautiful high-sprung pram behind in Scotland. Doug joined them on leave in early 1945 when a series of family portraits were taken in Revelstoke.
 
The young family moved into their first home at Royal Roads, near Victoria, that summer and in
November a baby boy, Allan William, was born. Sadly, their beloved only son died of a bowel obstruction
at 5 months of age. They were heartbroken and Jan longed for the comfort of her own family, so the
Thomsons brought Jan and Beth home to Scotland for a few months in the summer of 1946. They
returned to Canada and a year later a second daughter, Isobel, was born. Her fair-haired 'bonny baby'
did much to cheer Jan up and her life began to take on the pattern of a career naval officer's family with
moves from Victoria to Ottawa to Halifax and back. In 1951 a third daughter, Heather, was born and,
with Doug off to sea for a period, Jan took the 3 little girls home to Scotland in March of 1952, to
comfort her father after the untimely death of her mother. This time she remained in Britain for two
years because Doug was soon appointed to the Canadian Naval staff in London, England, where a fourth
daughter, Margaret, was born in November, 1953. The family returned to Ottawa in 1954 and continued
the naval family existence of a move, or change of appointment, for Doug every two years. Mum often
said her "home" was not place but a "family", wherever we were! In Victoria, in 1959, her youngest
daughter, Patricia, was born.

Life for the growing girls had two rhythms in those years. "Dad at sea" was more relaxed with all of us
(Mum included) learning to cook and sew and Mum telling us stories of her own happy childhood in
Scotland and scolding us with her funny sayings like "you're a wee blether'' or "you're as black as the
Earl of Hell's waistcoat" and many others- all uttered in her lovely Scottish accent. "Dad at home"
tended to be a bit more "shipshape" and we all toed the line- though over the years Mum's influence
mellowed Dad's stricter approach. (We girls became adept at negotiating our way through both
rhythms!) Mum never allowed the Navy to overshadow our home though she was always proud and
supportive of Dad's career and his need to do the job the way he did. In his turn, Dad was ever grateful
for her commitment to caring for the family.
 
By the mid 1960s life began to change as Beth and Isobel left home for university and nurses training in
Victoria while the rest of the family headed east to Ottawa and then Halifax with Doug's advancing
career moves. Jan had begun to take the role of a senior officer's wife in the 1950s, mentoring other
naval wives when the men were at sea. In Halifax in the 1970s she also had to assume the role of the
Canadian Naval Commander's wife and learn to entertain on a grander scale as chatelaine of the house
at Royal Artillery Park. She was funny about all this, calling it "silly nonsense and fuss" in her down-to earth way, but I believe she was much appreciated by the naval families and friends who knew her.

Jan always maintained her Scottish accent and insisted Scotland was "God's country", a running family
joke with Dad who stood up for Canada. One funny story occurred in the 1970s when the war brides lost
the naturalized Canadian status bestowed on them when they had landed in Canada and Mum discovered that she would have to swear an oath to obtain her Canadian passport. Delighted to be once again just a Scot, as she saw it, Jan was having none of it. Isobel reports that she practically had to drag Mum to the judge's office to swear herself a loyal Canadian.

Four of the daughters married between 1966 and 1981 and the first five grandchildren were born, followed by five more as the 1980s rolled on. Mum delighted in her grandchildren and took whatever
opportunity she could to visit the young families and Isobel who were by then spread across Canada.

With Dad's retirement from the Navy in 1977, Jan and Doug moved to Mill Village, Nova Scotia where
they began to restore a lovely 200 year old farmhouse. Mum loved this time, pottering in her garden
and welcoming her children and grandchildren for visits. But Dad found life a bit too quiet and so the
couple moved to Ottawa in 1980 where Dad took on a few consultancy jobs before finally, really retiring
in the mid 1980s. Mum kept busy renewing old friendships, volunteering at the hospital and Christ
Church (Anglican) at Bell's Corners. They celebrated their 40th and 50th  wedding anniversaries there,
surrounded by three generations of their large family.
 
In 1995, after a six month decline and nursed by Doug and each of her daughters, Jan died at home on
March 29. She is still missed very much.

(Mum's Story was written but her eldest daughter Elizabeth with input from her other four daughters, Isobel, Heather, Margaret and Patricia.)