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The Immigration Story of Yolande de Bussac (French War Bride)

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War Bride Yolande de Bussac

The only time my husband and I talked about the war was when we were asked to speak to school children on Nov. 11 1990 about our experiences as a soldier and a civilian during WWII.

Now that my husband has passed away, I wish that we would have shared more with others, our experiences during those years that brought much pain and suffering but also gave us the opportunity to meet, to fall in love and to live a happy life together.

In the summer of 1944 the city of Rouen, where I lived, was evacuated. Family friends, the Perouelles', offered to share their home so my mother, two of my sisters (I am the youngest of five girls) and myself found refuge in Routot, a rural town 60 kms away. While we were further away from the bombing the city, we were also closer to the front lines following the disembarkment...we were now in the middle of the battle, with the Allies on one side of the village, and the Nazis on the other side. We were hidden away in an underground shelter for several days. These were very scary days and nights. The relief was indescribable when the first English tanks drove into town and we were LIBERATED!

A Canadian division followed on the heels of the English tanks. One of the soldiers was a young prairie farmer named Charlie de Bussac. His group had been fighting since D-Day and upon arrival in Routot, they were given a three day rest period.

Charlie spoke French and soon met Mr. Perouelle. Mr. Perouelle was active in the resistance and quickly invited his new Canadian friend to dinner. Charlie was instantly adopted by the family and I was totally captivated. Charlie returned to the house many times and even asked moms' permission to take me fo a ride in his jeep. The days went by too fast, but before he left, Charlie gave me the ring he was wearing and we promised to write, which we both did faithfully. When he was hurt in Holland and had several days of convalescence leave, he came to see me in Rouen, also liberated by that time. In Paris lived two aunts Charlie had never met, his mother's sister, Simone du Bois and Martha de Bussac. We boarded a train and spent the day in Paris getting acquainted with these women, an experience that seemed to create a connection between his world and mine.

We became engaged in October 1945. Charlie applied to stay in France after the war as part of the military occupation to give us more time before getting married. His request was denied; all soldiers who had spent four years overseas had to go home. Time was limited as he was scheduled to leave in January 1946.

Arrangements were made and we were to be married on January 3. The guests arrived, the priest was there, the violinist was poised, the banquet was ready and everything was perfect. Even the badly bomb damaged church looked beautiful to me. Unfortunately the proper legal papers had not arrived from Canada. We proceeded with the ceremony but could not be legally wed until January 16, 1946. It was a quiet affair with only my parents and sisters beside us. My new husband left for Canada two days later.

It would be seven long months later before my passport and departure instructions arrived. I left Rouen on my mother's birthday, Aug. 28, 1946. When I think back I realize how devastating this must have been for her at a time when traveling to a land so far away was not an everyday occurrence. As for me, I was living my dream, following that handsome, strong an dso kind soldier that I fell in love with. I always had an adventurous spirit so the thought of going toward the unknown did not scare me...not until the final good-bye that is. As the train was pulling away from the station in Paris, and all the people I loved were staying behind my heart sank and I wished I could stop that train.

Of my voyage, I remember little. It was as if I were in a fog. We went to Brussels where six more girls found our group of 12 from France. Then by bus we were taken to Rotterdam. Once there, a large number of Dutch girls embarked with us onto an old ship...we were to spend the night crossing the North Sea. The steward came in our cabin of eight to check the porthole, telling us it was a rough sea and we were crossing a mine field. "By the way " she added, "this is the last trip to England for this old ship. " By the grace of God we arrived safely and the next day we traveled to Southampton to embark on the Aquitania. I felt numb as I boarded this enormous ship, filled with thousands of war brides, mostly English, many with children. The lower deck was filled with soldiers.

My memories of that crossing are vague and misty, much like the endless days of thick fog that surrounded our ship. I remember the noise, the Dutch girls singing war songs every night and the intense loneliness that would overcome me in the night I also remember marveling at how well organized everything was, and being constantly amazed by the abundance of food.

We reached Halifax six days later. It was a clear day and as we approached the coast I was surprised and fascinated by the small brightly painted houses scattered on the lush green grass. Why were the houses so far apart I wondered. The people on the docks looked like tiny ants and we could barely hear the band that welcomed us. We were guided to Pier 21 where we were given coffee and doughnuts. I had never seen a doughnut in my life and although it was not the flakey croissants I was accustomed to, I greatly appreciated the spirit in which it was offered.

The Red Cross along with all of the people in charge of us did a marvelous job of giving directions to each of us, according to our destination. A train filled to capacity headed toward the west, stopping at all the main centers let the young brides off to reunite with their husbands. By the time we reached Manitoba there were only two French girls left. We pulled out of Winnipeg and I was left alone to anticipate my reunion with Charlie. He had spent hours describing the prairies to me, but the vastness of this land and the lack of trees, especially beautiful skies and breathtaking sunsets had convinced me to give this country a chance.

The train eased into Saskatoon and I had to look twice at the tall slim man in the blue suit and wide brimmed hat standing on the platform. I had never seen him wearing anything other than his uniform! The initial shock and shyness quickly melted away. We spent the night in Saskatoon, and in the morning headed west on a very dusty drive to Bigger to meet the family. Overwhelming best describes my introduction to the rural Saskachewan lifestyle and mentality. I was emotionally exhausted and physically covered in dust from the 60 miles drive on gravel/dirt roads. The family was gathered and a large meal was waiting. They were all pleasant and welcomed me and yet I felt like I was being tested. No allowance would be made for the culture shock I was experiencing, nor for fact that I was only eighteen and very naïve. Shortly after my arrival, my sister-in-law informed me that I should be prepared to pull my weight because "You know, our parents come from France and all we ever heard was how everything and everyone was so much better in France. We are sick of hearing about it...France means nothing to us. " I understood immediately that there was no room for self pity in this land where the people could be as harsh as the dry gritty wind. This was my initiation to the direct, intimidating manner in which my generation often expressed themselves. My husband had never displayed any of these traits so I was completely unprepared. As for the older generation, they were still under the influence of their upbringing as the old aristocrats of the 19th century. The grandparents understood my confusion and insecurity in this new world. When they arrived in Canada, they had each other, they shared common memories and had familiar ways of thinking and speaking. My husband was the only one who knew or cared anything about my family and my life before Canada. All of this was indeed a challenge and sometimes a real endurance test.

Charlie worked for the CNR as an engineer for thirty-three years. We raised six children and went on to have many wonderful experiences. In 1975 we purchased a farm, as it had always been his dream to return to the land. Our golden years were stolen from us when my husband and best friend died in 1992. I never regretted our 17 years on the farm. Our large house was the katimovik of the family - a place where our four sons, two daughters and their children, 19 altogether, gathered regularly to celebrate, to reconnect, to create a lifetime of happy memories.

If asked today I would say that the culture of Canada had been the most difficult thing to adapt to. Gradually I came to appreciate the unique landscape and diversity of Saskatchewan. Charlie and I would spend many hours driving around this beautiful province talking to the wide variety of hard working people who always had time to share a cup of coffee and a good story or two with us.

We returned to France together four times, and I've gone back alone or with some of the children. My sisters and their children continue to visit Saskatchewan. I love my homeland but today I can say with great confidence that Canada is definitely "Mon Pays ". I have no regrets.