A Warbaby Travels to Canada: Five Scenes from a Voyage
Re-dedicated with Deepest Love to
the Memory of Phyllis May (Morgan) Scott, warbride,
(1917 - 1985) and Leslie Scott (1922 - 2011)
Phyllis (Morgan) Scott and her children, Kenneth (author of this note) and Sandra, traveled to Canada on the ship R.M.S. Scythia departing Liverpool on 18 February 1946.
The trip was to prove an epic 'voyage'. It was one of many voyages which would bring about 48,000 war brides and about 22,000 of their children, from Europe to Canada after World War II. Unlike most, it was a rather long voyage taking some 11 or so days when the average crossing was about 6 days.
The voyage from England to Canada signals the start of my conscious memory. At the time I was three years, two months of age (interestingly about three years after my first ocean voyage). I have no memory of any events in my life before this time, however on this voyage I recall five particular incidents -- my first memories -- obviously written in my mind by the unique circumstances of the voyage. It would be many years later, at the age of 19 when I would more fully realize what impact the leaving of my native Scotland, would have on me.
This document intersperses those five memories with images of documents and details of the trip, many of which were preserved by my mother.
My mother was a warbride, married to a member of the
Royal Canadian Air Force who served with Royal Air Force
units of Coastal Command during W.W.II. Around the time of
VE-Day (the end of the war in Europe in May 1945) my
father was ordered back to Canada to prepare for an
assignment to fight in the Pacific campaign against Japan.
My mother, my sister and I were left in Scotland, living
in Glasgow, pending an opportunity to go to Canada. With
the end of the war in August of 1945, my father was
released from the RCAF in Canada while we remained in
Scotland, still waiting for transportation to Canada.
Warbrides were cautioned to be ready to go on a moment's
notice. In spite of attempts to get more advanced
information to allow preparation for the trip, the notice
we received about 11 February was generous compared to the
'next day' notice some received. Our instructions came in
the following two page 'form' letter, together with
additional medical instructions and possibly other
documents including, possibly, three more pages of
instructions of which only the third remains. We were to
depart on 17 February from our home in Glasgow.
The instructions are interesting in retrospect. The implication of the documents is that the country, although peace had been achieved some six months before, was still operating very much on a wartime footing (or else the form letters of the wartime era had just not been re-written). This is perhaps not surprising as war time government permeated all aspects of life and it took several years for the country to return to a peacetime footing.
In the letter we see that the military classification "CONFIDENTIAL" is assigned to the information and there is also inclusion of the wartime restriction on relatives and friends travelling to the dockside to see the family off. There is no mention of what ship will be taking us. It is interesting, too, to see the restriction on higher denominations of currency. The letter dated 11 February would probably have been received that day or the next (mail service was much more efficient in those days!) and so, with a 17 February departure we had all of 6 days to pack and take our leave of friends and relatives.
For my mother, leave of family was not too difficult. She had been orphaned at the age of 13. She had lost touch with her two brothers during the war (both survived the war and she would establish communication with them a decade or so later). So departure was mostly a matter of packing and saying goodbye to neighbours.
I have no recollection of the departure preparations nor of the train trip to Liverpool. These would not have been particularly unusual for me. Our little family, in my three years, had lived in many different places -- perhaps a dozen or more as we followed my father around England, Scotland and Ireland, and as we stayed in various places while he was on a tour of duty in Iceland. Train trips were not new to me either. In fact this trip with a scheduled time of about seven hours would be short compared to some we had taken in wartime. And my first boat trip had been at the age of two months across the Irish Sea from Scotland to Ireland on the open deck of a ferry, overnight, as my father and mother and I traveled to Ireland on one of his postings. We had lived on the coast in Scotland in Ayrshire and in Glasgow so dock cities were not new. So, not surprisingly, I do not remember going to the dock in Liverpool, nor getting on the ship.
It turned out we were to travel on R.M.S. Scythia, a
Cunard - White Star liner (R.M.S. stands for Royal Mail
Ship; the ship was subsidized by the British government to
carry the mails). The trip was not to be the usual
crossing which in those days was about a six day trip from
Liverpool to Halifax (due to the time of year, ships did
not go further inland to St. John's or Quebec City or
Montreal because of ice -- in the winter months Canada's
east coast port is Halifax) -- but the reasons for the
longer trip only became apparent after we sailed.
One of the documents required by Phyllis, for the voyage, was her National Identification Card (now somewhat deteriorated with age).
Who knows, these days what a Class Code "A' is? The postal address is interesting as it was an address we had prior to living in Glasgow. It is interesting to see the "Removal to Canada" postal address.
The Sea Voyage
Instead of a quick crossing, after setting out from Liverpool the ship had engine problems and had to set back. It limped into Belfast harbour for repairs. James A. Robinson filed this report which appeared in the Daily Mail on 22 February:
One passenger on this trip recalled "Once underway, the voyage was storm-tossed and the Atlantic air bitterly cold. During the worst of the weather and seasickness, I thought that I must have been mad to have left dry land. I was jolly glad to see Halifax."
My mother recollected that the captain was not allowed to dock the ship in the harbour. It was feared that if the ship docked many of the warbrides would 'desert' -- get off and not get back on. Another warbride recalled ". . .that one ailing expectant mother was taken off on a stretcher at Belfast. The rest of us clubbed around while the ship was being repaired to raise money to pay her air fare to Canada".
Two scenes from an Atlantic Voyage
Scene 1: I am on a deck of the ship. We have obviously been on board for some time. The ship's rails have all been closed in with sheets of metal or some other material so that young children will not fall overboard. The obvious consequence is that we children, who are not tall enough to see over the rail, are not even aware that we are at sea (whatever that is for a three year old living in Glasgow!). In any case a sailor or someone else has kindly built a little step so that we 'little people' may see over the rail. Mummy says to me 'step up and take a look' and I mount the steps and look over the rail. There is nothing but this, this, . . . horizon. That I can see it still, today, almost 60 years later, and that tears come to my eyes, is indicative of how wrenching the change in my life was and would be.
Scene 2: Again I am on the deck. This time I am with my mother, Phyllis. She, in turn is sitting on the deck. We are in the sun and since we are travelling west in February it is clear that we are on the port side of the ship. In my image I see round pipes rising vertically. It is a sunny, even warm, day, so I suppose we are on a southern route ( it would be interesting to find the route map of the voyage - -would it still exist?). Mummy is sitting on the deck. I am pretty sure she is sitting on a blanket on the deck (not a deck chair -- they may not even have had them). She looks very beautiful and relaxed - more so than I guess I had seen her in the previous months; presumably a lot of the stress of the last few months is starting to dissipate.
A view of the starboard B deck,
At some point in the voyage the following ditty was penned (author unknown) -- it is difficult to add to the description!
One of the features of an ocean trip was the dining experience. For wartime English, the exposure to the dining on a ship was something of a luxury. Foods of a kind and quantity not seen for years by ration weary Brits were served. First, of course was the assignment of seating for dining. Phyllis had the following:
The last day on board was one of great expectation and an evening event was planned for the adults. But, of course, before that it was necessary to put the children to bed. A special party was laid on for the children. The printing presses on the ship were running full steam and the following Menu was printed:
The signature on this frontispiece is that of Captain Bateman -- is it real or printed? -- and the menu:
and, so, this must have been my final festive event on the ship. Meanwhile, for the warbrides the ship produced an elegant last evening meal, a Diner d'Adieu:
This menu appears in Joyce Hibbert's book. Of course, the signatures are not the same, but on the other hand, many are the same! It was interesting to me to see another copy of this menu reproduced in her book.
As each warbride arrived in Halifax she received the following message from the Captain:
The message was probably delivered to each room on the morning of the arrival (or perhaps was given at the dinner the previous evening. The ship docked in Halifax on 1 March at Pier 21, the pier that immigration ships tied up at in Halifax. I remember this pier.
Scene 3: We are on a dock (In Halifax) All over the dock there are people and piles of luggage. Mummy and Sandra and I are somewhere in the middle of this crowd with our trunks and bags. A man in uniform comes up. I ask Mummy "Is this my Daddy?". She says "No". (it is an airman assigned to help us). I am very disappointed. I made this trip to see my Daddy.
The Trip West
A train trip in Canada was (and is) not like a train trip in England. In England one can move from one end of the country to the other within a day. It is not so in Canada. It took several days for us to travel across Canada. The train gradually discharged its cargo of warbrides as it made its way across the vast continent. I have one memory of this trip
Scene 4: We are on a train. Later I am told this was probably in northern Ontario, but it might have been in New Brunswick or Quebec. The train ride went on for days . . . and days. However, I had by this time in my life been on many long train trips and it did not particularly register. However, I do have this vague recollection. I was in the train. Mummy was with me. We looked out the window. There were very strange looking people standing out there.
That is all I remember. Mummy later told me that at one of these stops I was offered a banana and cried -- I had never seen one before. I seem to recollect, too, that someone mentioned to me that I was looking at Indians and that many of the women (warbrides) were afraid of them because they were afraid they would be scalped.
Eventually all voyages come to an end. Ours ended in Edmonton, Alberta. My best estimate is that this was about March 6th, 1946.
Scene 5: There is snow on the ground. The train pulls into the station. We are (finally?-- it has been several days) at a station and we are getting off. At the station are a row of people. It is my father, his parents and his brother and his brother's wife. I am confused. This cannot be my father. He is not in uniform. The platform is covered in snow. There seem to be no buildings. (Later, I learn that my grandparents are somewhat taken aback by having a grandson with a broad Scots accent).
My new life as a Canadian boy was beginning. My accent
would change. My father would teach me Canadian winter
skills such as skating.
|Kenneth (who now lives in Florida)
skating at the Rink of Dreams, City Hall, Ottawa,
February 2nd, 2016.
 "The War Brides", by Joyce Hibbert, PMA Books, Peter
Martin Associates, Toronto.
This article was originally written in 2002 and was
revised with the addition of some photographs on 18
February 2016, the 70th anniversary of the departure of
the RMS Scythia from Liverpool.