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The Immigration Story of Margot Carmichael (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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Margot Coombes was still in mourning over the death of her boyfriend – a Canadian airman from Nova Scotia – when she met another Canadian at a dance in Covent Garden in October, 1943.
The Italian campaign was in full swing and the air force was in the thick of bombing raids over Germany. Every day in the papers were lists of the dead and missing. Naturally, Margot was reluctant to get involved with another airman knowing he too may not survive the war: but 19 year old Ted Carmichael loved to dance and by evening’s end he was just as determined that he had met the girl he would marry.
Margot grew up in Earl’s Court, London and was attending Carlyle Secondary School when the start of the war closed the London schools in 1939. Her father was a chemist and the family lived in a flat above his shop at 70 Warwick Road. Canadian servicemen were welcomed in the Coombes’ home: like most Brits, Margot’s parents recognized that Canadians were in England to defend the country – but that didn’t mean they wanted their daughter to marry one. Margot’s father thought Canada was a “country of shacks” and he was not very happy about her decision to marry.
When Margot met Ted Carmichael, she was working as the Assistant Secretary for Thomas R. G. Bennett, the Managing Director of the Wellcome Foundation. Margot’s role was considered an exempt occupation and as such represented her war service. The Wellcome Foundation produced pharmaceutical products considered essential for the war. Not even bombing raids would halt their activity. The Wellcome building on Eustaon Road had a lookout on the roof to monitor bomb activity and this allowed the staff to work through the sirens.
Ted was a navigator stationed at Metheringham, Lincolnshire, with RAF Squadron 106. Between the time he and Margot met in October 1943 to October 1944 they saw each other seven times in London. The escaped the tension of the war by going to see the popular Hollywood movies of the time and dancing in the clubs. When they were apart, which was more often than not, they wrote letters back and forth sharing common frustrations of waiting out bad weather to fly and not knowing when they would see each other again.
By October 1944 Ted had completed 35 missions in a Lancaster Bomber over Germany and was fortunate to have many near misses. He was honoured to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross after a major bombing of Stuttgart. The plane was heavily damaged, difficult to navigate and picking the route and altitude home was very challenging. The crew were so late returning to England that they were declared Missing in Action. A telegram indicating he was MIA was actually sent to his family in Windsor, Ontario.
With 35 bombing missions under his belt, Ted’s tour of duty was over. That October he was on leave at Margot’s parent’s house in London when he received a telegram saying he was being shipped home. Recognizing that he would have to leave very soon, they pulled together their wedding quickly and were married on October 14.
Ted was only 20 years old and id not have his father’s permission to marry so he had to swear an oath that he had his father’s approval. The honeymoon was a very brief five days before Ted had to say goodbye.
On December 12, 1944 Margot left Liverpool on board the troop ship HMS Louis Pastuer, zigzagging across the Atlantic to avoid submarines. She endured the long train ride from Halifax to Windsor to start an exciting new life in Canada. Their first child, Donna, was born in 1946 and a job opportunity took the young family to London, Ontario where Dane arrived in 1951. The Carmichaels were presented with the usual financial challenges but love for each other, their children and some good friends help them settle into life as a family unit of four.
Everything seemed to boing well for Margot and her little family in Canada, but in England, post-war London was not so easy for her parents: with four of their own children now gone they had a very unhappy empty nest. As the marriage disintegrated, everything came to a head and Margot’s mother was hospitalized for severe depression. As her mother’s champion, Margot took the bold step of inviting her to come live in Ontario and in 1953, Ethel Coombes joined the Carmichaels in a new London – this one in Canada. It was the best move Margot ever made, not only for her mother, but for herself and her small family.
Very few British War Brides would have had their mothers living close by. It was a fact of life in 1946 that once a War Bride left Britain, she may never see her parents again. So when Ethel came to Canada Margot knew she was a very lucky woman – sand so did Ted and the children. Ted’s own mother had died when he was young and in many ways Ethel was the only mother he ever knew. He got her interested in hockey – Canada’s national sport – and together he, Ethel and young Dane would watch hockey on television. She became one of the Toronto Maple Leaf’s biggest fams, cheering them on to their last four Stanley Cup victories in the 1960’s.
The family moved from London to Toronto in 1954 where Ted was offered a new job. Ethel helped balance the family needs so Margot could work outside the home, first as an admitting clerk at the Hospital for Sick Children and then a office manager for a group of physicians.
The last twenty years of Ethel’s life were special ones for the Carmichaels. Margot, Ted, the children and Ethel comprosed a unique family unit that was likely the envy of other War Brides. From the children’s perspective, growing up with both their mother’s and grandmother’s influences was an experience they would never trade: they were lucky, and they know it.

Postscript: Ted passed away in 1998. Margot lives in Windsor, Ontario and is looking forward to a planned visit to England this year with her son Dane.