PORT WILLIAMS N.S. - War brides are a group of approximately 45,000 women who married Canadian soldiers during the Second World War and moved to Canada with their new husbands.
The vast majority of these women were British. Most of these war brides came in 1946, landing at Halifax’s Pier 21.
Mary Keddy of Port Williams was one of these war brides, crossing the Atlantic Ocean in 1944 at the age of 19, arriving in Nova Scotia in the dead of winter, to meet her husband, Harvey.
Keddy grew up in England, south of London, and spent the war years as a volunteer sewing wires into oxygen tanks for soldiers. That is, when her family wasn’t evacuated off the coast.
“You just get used to living in fear,” said Keddy.
This explains why one day when she heard the air raid sirens, she didn’t pay much attention. Keddy says she looked up to see an airplane overhead, and she immediately tried to figure out, by looking at the insignia on the bottom, whether it was friend or foe. When it started firing at her, she realized it was definitely foe! Keddy quickly rolled under a hedge, as per her training.
Harvey Keddy, Keddy’s soon-to-be husband, had his bride picked out long before she knew it. Harvey was stationed on the hills above the towns and used to watch Mary going back and forth to work. He eventually found where she worked and after the second date, proposed. It took her a bit more convincing, but three months later, Mary and Harvey were married.
Harvey’s ship was torpedoed off Italy, and nearly drowned. He was sent back to Canada on a medical ship, to Camp Hill Hospital in Halifax. Mary eventually found voyage on a ship and came across the Atlantic in 1944 to join him.
“England had been in blackout for so long, that it was so lovely to come in and see all the lights in the Halifax Harbour,” she says. “It was like a fairyland.”
After promising her mother she would try living in Canada for at least six months, Keddy settled in. Adjusting from city life to being on a farm in rural Centreville took some getting used to, but at least she and Harvey were together.
Eileen Spicer, of Bridgetown, was literally in the same boat coming to Canada as a war bride a few years after Keddy.
Spicer grew up in Caterham, 25 miles southeast of London. Because of their close proximity to the city, when London was ablaze from bombings, they could watch the flickering flames from a distance, she said.
“We were so young, thinking at the time how exciting it was, without really thinking about how serious it actually was,” says Spicer.
The West Nova Scotia Regiment was stationed three miles from Spicer’s home. The soldiers often put on dances and went around town picking up all the young women in a truck to bring them there. One night, Spicer attended with her sister’s boyfriend, and it was there that she met Andy Shaffner from Bridgetown. She was 18 and he was 22, and six months later they were married.
“Andy promised my mother he would never take me from England,” says Spicer.
When Shaffner was demobilized from the Canadian Army, however, they were required to return to Canada. Spicer says her mother encouraged her to go with her two small children, as there would be more opportunities in Canada including housing, jobs for women, and there wouldn’t be rationing.
With a heavy heart, Spicer said goodbye to her mother, not realizing she would never see her again, for it was 18 years before she returned to England and her mother had died.
Spicer arrived in Bridgetown in January when it was -14 degrees and began wondering what she had gotten herself into. She and Andy had a farm in Tupperville and raised their children until he died in 1955 in a fishing accident.
A few years later, Eileen married Jim Spicer who was stationed with the air force in Greenwood. He too was from England and had served in the war. Spicer and Jim were married in 1961, only for him to die the following year of lung cancer.
Throughout the tragedies, Spicer decided to remain in Nova Scotia, especially as her sister was still in the same area, having come over a few years before Spicer, also as a war bride.
Spicer kept in close contact with about 200 other war brides in Nova Scotia through the War Brides of Nova Scotia Association where she served as secretary for 18 years. The war brides and their families met for reunions every two years, always having a dance, celebration, and business meeting. Now that members are getting older and numbers are diminishing, the organization is no longer active.
Neither Keddy nor Spicer have any regrets of making their new homes in Canada. They both felt they were better off in Canada, with greater opportunities, especially post war.
“My heart is in England,” says Keddy, “but my family is here.”