Penticton resident Laurie Myres is not only the daughter of a war bride, she is a child of a near-fairytale romance.
Myres’ parents – Marjorie Mary Holmes and David Wilson – met near the end of the Second World War in the quaint town of Newark-on-Trent in England and their chance encounter led to a long and loving marriage, two children and a lifetime of happiness.
After the war ended, it is estimated that 48,000 women from Britain and other parts of Europe emigrated to Canada as war brides, a term for those who married the active Canadian servicemen they met who were serving overseas.
“My father was flying heavy bombers for the RCAF. He was from Vancouver and went to Saskatoon to train to be a pilot and then was posted over to England. Heavy bomber commands were mainly in the midlands of England, and my mom’s hometown was Newark-on-Trent which was the nearest town to the base that he was stationed at,” said Myres.
Hearing the retelling of how the young pair first met, the story seems almost too perfect to be true – a dashing, yet quiet Canadian soldier travels on the back of a motorcycle to a nearby town for his afternoon of leave from the base in the fall of 1944 and catches a glimpse of a beautiful, young shop girl who happened to be changing the window display in a dress shop.
“He came out of a shop and looked across the road and in the dress shop across the street there was this cute blonde lady redressing the window, and he said he felt immediately that he had fallen in love,” said Myres. “Love at first sight.”
Because Newark was so close to the base, Myres said her father knew he would have a lot of competition to win the heart of the young lady. He decided to act fast and waited until she went on her tea break so that he could ask the store manager who she was and what bus she’d be taking.
When Holmes returned from her break, Wilson introduced himself and asked her to see a movie later that night. Myres said it’s ironic that at the time, her mother’s favourite pasttime was dancing but her father’s upbringing was very strict and so that was not an activity he did. This didn’t seem to bother Holmes, who accepted his proposal a few months later just shy of her 18th birthday.
“My mom was turning 18 in November, and they got engaged at the end of October but her father wouldn’t sign for her to marry because he was very concerned that she’d be left a widow,” said Myres. “So they weren’t married until May 1945, a few months later, a week after VE-Day (Victory in Europe Day). Although my father was still posted then until all the European clean up was done and then the troops were back where they needed to be.”
Myres said her father was supposed to be stationed next in the Pacific, but after Japan was bombed by the United States in August 1945 this did not happen. Later that year at just 19 years old, Holmes – now Mrs. Wilson – made the harrowing journey by sea to Vancouver to start her new life with her husband.
“My dad had already been back and decommissioned, with his job at the oil company again and found a house, which was no small feat. There were no new housing starts during the war. She came out to a little bungalow that he found for them,” said Myres.
David and Marjorie Wilson were happily married for 36 years, until David passed away from prostate cancer in 1981. Myres said that this loss was especially hard for her mother because of the strong bond they had formed with one another so many years ago.
“I’m very fortunate in that my mom did give my family quite a bit of insight into life back then. In Newark, it was blackout every night (during the war). It housed a ball bearing factory that was a target of the Germans, so there were tight curfews,” said Myres. “People didn’t know if they’d wake up, they didn’t know if they’d take a direct bomb during the night. So she said you lived for the moment, it was nothing to go into a dance hall and ask about a crew only to hear that they ‘bought’ it the night before. That was how life was, it was very precarious and you did kind of live on edge.”
Marjorie passed away in Penticton in 2005, having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1997. Myres takes pride in passing along her parents’ stories and other family history to her own children. For those interested in learning more about their own family’s history in advance of Remembrance Day, Ancestry.ca is offering free access to all Canadian military records from Nov. 8 to Nov. 11.
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