www.downhomelife.com August 2007
The following story is an exerpt from the article "Of Love and War" from the August 2007 edition of the Downhome magazine. It is posted with the permission of the Downhome magazine and its author Lin Crosbie-Marshall. The original article has been divided into three parts and can be viewed separately on this web site in the "Stories" section under the names of the war brides Marion Hann, Mary Hann, Catherine Rowsell and Eileen Hamlyn.
Lin Crosbie-Marshall discusses courtship and cultural connections with four Corner Brook women who left Scotland over 60 years ago, and followed their soldier husbands to western Newfoundland.
The bonds of love forged during wartime are often so strong they cannot be severed by time, distance, or even death. In the early 1940s, as bombs shattered the tranquility of Europe’s cities and countryside, love was busy blitzing its way into the hearts of four young men from Newfoundland and four young women from Scotland.
In the wake of the Second World War, nearly 50,000 brides from Great Britain followed their soldier husbands to Canada. Many came to this province and several from Scotland settled in western Newfoundland. Now, more than six decades later, Downhome spoke with four of these “war brides” in Corner Brook, who enjoy a common heritage and friend-ship cemented during their weekly Scottish dancing classes. Here, they share their wartime love stories and their memories of how they created new lives for themselves an ocean away from home.
Eileen Hamlyn (nee Fraser) met her husband at a village dance in Fort Augustus, Scotland. Robert Hamlyn, of Port au Choix, was serving with the Newfoundland Overseas Forestry Unit and Eileen was working with the British Forestry in the Nursery department. “We both loved dancing and Bob was a wonderful dancer,” Eileen reminisces. They were married in 1945 and in August 1946, they boarded the SS Drottingholm in Liverpool for the voyage to St. John’s. Eileen was one of the few war brides who actually made the trip across the Atlantic with her husband, travelling together with their infant daughter. From St. John’s, they sailed on the coastal boat, Northern Ranger, to Port au Choix.
Having just arrived from the bustling port cities of St. John’s and Liverpool, she was surprised and found herself wondering, “Where did all the people come from?” when she saw the welcoming party for the Northern Ranger when it entered Port au Choix harbour. She had forgotten that Bob came from a family of 14, and every Hamlyn who owned a boat was at the wharf to greet them. Eileen counted at least five boats filled with people before she was whisked into her in-laws’ home where, in typical Newfoundland fashion, “there was food everywhere,” she says.
After four months living with Bob’s parents, Eileen and her husband moved into a cabin in the woods by a pond – her face still lights up when she talks about how beautiful it was there. Bob cut wood with his brothers during the winter and fished in spring and summer. Eileen stayed with Bob’s family while he fished and cared for two of his brothers who had contracted tuberculosis. When the floating hospital, MV Christmas Seal, came to Port au Choix in the early 1950s, Eileen was X-rayed and diagnosed with TB herself.
She spent a couple of years in the sanatorium in Corner Brook, while her two children lived with her sisters-in-law in Port au Choix. Later, after Eileen recovered, she and Bob had a third child. Bob became a successful salesman and the family made Corner Brook their permanent home.
Eileen confesses to being “homesick in spurts” and still vividly recalls a day in Port au Choix when she was “picking blueberries and crying and crying and crying.” Although she still has a deep-rooted affection for her ancestral home, when her time comes Eileen wants to be buried next to her dear Bob, who died in 1997. “We were very much in love, you know,” she confides.
Four women and four stories of sacrifice, adaptation and, most of all, love. They can sum up their lives as Scottish war brides in Newfoundland with two words: No regrets.