At the end of the Second World War, more than 45,000 young women left their homes and made the journey across the Atlantic. They were war brides. Many of them knew very little of their new homes and what awaited them.
Kathleen Phillips was just 17 when she left her home in Dartford, Kent to join the Women’s Royal Naval Service.
“I thought it would be fun,” the now 95-year-old said from her home in Edmonton.
Her living conditions were bombed twice, so they were moved to the village of Liphook, not far from Bramshott where thousands of Canadian soldiers were stationed.
“We hadn’t been there long and an invitation came from the army,” she said.
The invitation was for a dance in the mess and was signed by Sergeant ‘E’ Fournier, a Canadian soldier, who also attended. He called Kathleen a few days after the dance to ask her on a date.
“I forgot what he looked like,” she laughed. “You dance with so many people.”
The rest — as they say — is history.
The couple married about a year later. Kathleen’s family pitched in ration coupons so the bride could have a white dress made.
A year later, the couple welcomed their first daughter, Rita.
But as the war came to an end, Sergeant Emile Fournier was sent back to Canada. Several months later, Kathleen learned she and their daughter would be able to join him. But she didn’t know much about where they were headed.
Kathleen still has her letter from the immigration branch.
“However, as you are no doubt aware, the home to which you are destined is located in Dawson, Yukon Territory and is in the Arctic area of Canada,” the letter reads.
“However, even in view of this, the house is relatively well equipped with modern convivences.”
Kathleen is still amused by the letter.
“It was a road house. There was no modern conveniences, you had to pack water.”
In September 1946, Kathleen and baby Rita set sail from Liverpool, England on board the Aquatania. The ship was full of other war brides.
“All these young women, we all had a child — some had two.”
Six days later, the ship docked at the famous Pier 21.
But Kathleen’s journey wasn’t over yet. From Halifax, it was onto a train to Vancouver, where her husband was waiting.
Much like the boat, the train was full of war brides, all headed to their new homes across the country. But by the time the train arrived in Vancouver, Kathleen and her daughter were some of the only people left.
Once in Vancouver, it was on to another boat, headed to Alaska, then a plane to Whitehorse and finally a train to Dawson City. In total, Kathleen had travelled more than 13,660 kilometres.
“I think I traveled the furthest than any other war bride.”
Life in the Arctic was a big shock.
“My mother, bless her, she used to write every Sunday and she would say, ‘If you don’t like it, you come home.’ Well, I never told any of them how it was up there.”
Years later, Kathleen’s story was recognized and her portrait painted by artist Bev Tosh for her “War Brides: One-Way Passage” exhibition, which has been shown around the world.
“That was the neatest part because when I told her about that letter about the modern convivences – she copied the letter and put it beside my portrait.”
Kathleen and Emile eventually settled in Edmonton. They were married for 69 years before Emile passed away in 2013.
The couple’s grandson, Julien, is now an employee with Global News in Edmonton.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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