Anna Bowen

Roses and Thistles



Peter's father (in Newfoundland) had sent me a beautiful. blue silk dress, which I had kind of saved to be married in, because there was no such thing as being able to get a new wedding dress. But, anyway, I had this old bachelor uncle ... who just doted on us two children .... He said, 'Look, you can always go up the street in your best dress and say you've been married but you only have one day you can wear a white dress.' So my uncle bought me my dress, and he was a wonderful old man.

      Anna's marriage to Peter Bowen, a Newfoundlander serving in the Royal Air Force, took place in Northampton, England, on March 16, 1943. Anna was nineteen and Peter eight years older. The two were very much in love and had planned to marry when Anna turned twenty-one. But His Majesty's government intervened: one winter's day Anna got her "call-Up papers" or conscription documents from the army. Her mother was upset. She had lost her husband to mustard gas in World War I and now was threatened with the absence of her daughter on whom she was economically dependent. When Peter pointed out that married women were never conscripted, the wedding day was immediately set.

      Goods were scarce in wartime Britain and everyone was subjected to rations. For Anna this showed a community willing to share and to pull together. During the young couple's courtship, Peter's mother sent food parcels from Newfound¬land. With the wedding on the horizon, Anna's mother saved the dried fruit from these parcels to make the wedding cake. Neighbours chipped in with an ounce of fat, and the butcher donated "two big ox tongues". The food office allowed a maximum of twenty-five people to attend weddings, and despite the fact that Anna was marrying in the Catholic Church, all her staunchly Anglican relatives attended in support. In Newfoundland, life as one half of a "mixed marriage" would not always go so smoothly.

      Like most of the war brides, Anna automatically planned to immigrate to Newfoundland following her husband's tour of duty in Britain. When she arrived in St. John's in March, 1946, Anna and Peter lived with his mother and Anna kept the twenty-one room family house. Work was just not available for married women and she had no children; she could easily have lived a very isolated life. However, her role as a war bride remained very much a part of her life after the war, and it was this status that presented opportunities and responsibilities and gave meaning to her life during these first years in a new land. She served on the Women's Auxiliary of the Legion and on the committee of the Rose and Thistle Club, which she helped found, and as well did a great deal of hospital visitation "because don't forget, there was a lot of hospital visitation done with the war brides that were in the hospital because they didn't have any family to visit them. We were a big support group, a wonderful support group we had".

      Added to the economic conditions and the new culture and unfamiliar ways of doing things, these women often had other problems in adapting to the new life. As Anna observed in the same interview,

some of the men had no work and then some of them were at Memorial (College) trying to finish their education. Few had homes, because the Americans were here and the Americans were paying skyhigh rents for all the apartments. And here were these girls, unemployed most of them.

      The Rose and Thistle Club, a St.John's social organization for overseas brides, was a saving grace for many of the women as they gradually made their adjustments to life in the New World:

(it) was a sounding board for us. We bitched about our in-laws. It never went any further than that meeting. You couldn't go outside and say to a Newfoundlander, well, they treat me terribly here, or this happened to me or that happened to me, because the Newfoundlanders were very good to us. So you couldn't go and, you know. I mean. we had never, I had never seen a stove in my life. I'd always had a gas range not like the cookers that are on the go. I mean most of the girls burned wood fires. I was lucky I lived in a house where there was an Enterprise oil range. But nobody knew bow to turn dampers on or clean out flues '" we had to find this out the hard way. So, you know, we really picked up the way of Newfoundland life from one another.

      The war brides had had to cope with shortages and rationing in their native lands, and they brought their resourcefulness with them to Newfoundland. Anna recalls selling forget-me-riots for July lone year with Marjorie Power, a war bride from Sussex.The two decided to explore St.John's and they walked the three miles to the fish plant on the Southside Road. Anna claims that the workers there, who were all men in those days, bought every last flower.But these two war brides were shocked to see hundreds of pounds of flatfish or flounder not being processed but being discarded or used for fertilizer. Marjorie insisted that it was an edible and tasty fish, much like the sole that she had been familiar with in Britain. For many months after, the two women would walk over the railway trestle bridge with two carrier bags and fill them with flatfish, provided free by the plant workers. What they did not consume themselves would be distributed to the other war brides at the Rose and Thistle Club.

      Before they married, Anna converted to Peter's religion, Roman Catholicism. She explains:

Peter was a devout Roman Catholic who never missed Mass. When my mother realised that our relationship was serious we talked about the difficulties of combining two faiths in a marriage. She suggested that one Sunday I go to Mass with Peter and find out what his worship was all about. I realize now what a wise woman my mother was; a woman really before her time. I attended Mass with Peter and was surprised to find that the Mass was the duplicate of what I attended at my church, the High Church of England. Our Sanctus and Kyrie, etc., we recited in Latin, so it was not difficult for me to follow the Latin Mass .... The basics of our religions were the same. We recited the same Creeds; we acknowledged the same sacraments, and above all we believed in the Blessed Trinity. So I decided to enter the Roman Catholic Church.

      By joining Peter's church, which she felt to be "a duplicate" of her own Anglican faith, Anna thought she would make her married life as uncomplicated as possible.

      There was the added bonus in that: "My father-in-law was delighted, Peter had 'saved a soul'. Talk about hero worship, he thought his son was St. Peter!" But all was not sweetness and light, for religion and sectarianism presented problems upon Anna's arrival:

I can honestly say that until I came to Newfoundland I did not realize what prejudice was. I knew what it meant but I had never experienced it.

      Anna was very upset and offended when her parish priest suggested that she try to convince another war bride in a "mixed marriage" to have her children baptized as Catholics. In addition, another priest told her that she was committing a sin by attending the Rose and Thistle meetings as the club was, he alleged, "a Protestant establishment." Both of these incidents ended in angry verbal exchanges, but Anna held her ground. Furthermore, when Anna arrived in Newfoundland she

met prejudice of not only religion, but of country of origin. While Peter's family had been wonderful as far as letter writing and sending food parcels; now here I met with sudden and dreadful hostility. Here I was an 'Englishwoman' daring to put foot in an 'Irish' household. I was supposed to make friends with only Irish Catholics according to the edicts of the family.

      The "aside remarks" by her mother-in-law about her English ancestry once angered Anna so that she answered with words I'll never forget":

It was bad enough coming into this family as an English Catholic. It would've been, ... God help me, if I had entered it as an English Protestant.

      Again Anna found solace at the Rose and Thistle Club. This club "which had no religious affiliations" was used "as a sounding board for all the difficulties that we encountered in trying to build new lives for ourselves".

      Although the activities of the Rose and Thistle Club dwindled over the years as the women assimilated into the community and had more children and less time, Anna insists that the club remained invaluable to her and to many of the other war brides:

Even though people didn't attend the meetings .., they were still the war brides, the great rapport.... Oh yes, we all, you see when I look back, it's amazing how we held together like that, how jelled we were you know. In other words,we became a family. You know, we became a family.

To read the complete File see:
Memorial Library

Author: Casey, George J.
Author: Hanrahan, Maura C.
Title: Roses and thistles: Second World War brides in Newfoundland
Journal: Newfoundland Studies, Fall 1994, Vol. 10(2), pp. 240-249.
Subject: HISTORY-20th Century
Article Type: Article
Note: bib
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