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The Immigration Story of the West Family (Scottish Immigrants)

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An Aquitania Story

My husband James B. West was with the B.E.F. in France in 1940. A little known fact is that while the “little boats were evacuating troops from Dunkirk, the 51st Highland division was holding the German Army back. Twelve days after Dunkirk they were still a fighting unit despite lack of support & supplies. When they reached the sea at St Valery there were no boats to rescue them and 10,000 men had to surrender to General Rommel. They spent almost 5 years as P.O. W.’s enduring many hardships. That was a fifth of his life age 21 to 26.

On returning home, he was granted six weeks leave and then had to serve another year in the army even though the war was over. We had one room in my grandmother’s house, no electricity, only 1 toilet shared with another family and any hot water came from a kettle. When our daughter was born Jim applied for the extra points needed to be eligible for a Pre Fab house that was being built and was told that we would have to have another child… and our baby only 6 weeks old! Jim was very disillusioned and we decided to emigrate and applied to the Canadian Embassy.

We got ten days’ notice of a sailing date on the Aquitania. We left Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire in the aftermath of a blizzard. Our ten month old daughter in a carry cot between us, and a suitcase in the other hand. We had to make sure that our two trunks were transferred from London to Southampton.

We were disappointed to find that I was allocated a bed with our baby in a woman’s dormitory while my husband was on a deck below us as the Aquitania was still fitted out as a troop ship. Lounge and Dining room were still first class and we never missed a meal in spite of rough weather when we were not allowed on the outer decks!

This was long before the days of disposable diapers and that aspect was a problem but my husband got a sympathetic sailor to let me use a tub in their quarters! I think they put the oldest, dirtiest trains on the trip from Halifax to Hamilton. Going thru Northern New Brunswick, Quebec & seeing all the tar paper shacks. Jim said “Is this what I’ve left my home for?” When he saw my aunt’s home in Hamilton he was re-assured. He never had a trade but was very adaptable and was never unemployed. He worked assembling big transformers in Westinghouse, as an agent with Metropolitan Life Insurance and finished up as a Correctional Officer!

We had a son and another daughter born in Canada. Our son became a family physician, oldest daughter a medical receptionist and the youngest started their own business with her husband. Our family is spread from New Brunswick to Vancouver! Canada was certainly the land of opportunity for us & our family and we never regretted our decision. Two of Jim’s brothers and a sister joined us here!

Although it was 14 years before our first trip ‘home’ we made countless trips later and often compared the trip by air to our trials and tribulations travelling by train & ship.

Sadly, in his early 80s, Jim developed Alzheimer’s and died in 2006 at age 87. I had the health & strength to look after him in the home that he had provided for us by hard work and dedication! I am still living in it at age 94 ½. And the little baby we brought with us in the old Aquitania is now an old age Pensioner!

PS Our son, James B. West Jr. (born in Hamilton) became a family physician serving mostly in Graner Bay/Westfield, N.B. for over 40 years and has recently retired. Canada a great opportunity for him and Canada benefited by having him.