As an escort officer with the Red Cross, Kay Ruddick (née Douglas) accompanied 48,000 war brides from England to Canada, between January and November 1946.Kay Ruddick
In the Captain's quarters aboard the Queen Mary 1, August, 1946. Kay Ruddick is back row, third from the right, sitting next to Captain Cyril Illingworth. Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King (seated, second from the right) made this trans-Atlantic trip with 1,000 warbrides and 1,000 children.Kay Ruddick
"Great big part of my life. It really, really was. Marvelous, marvelous opportunity."
The [Red Cross] Corps was formed in Moncton [New Brunswick] and I joined up, hoping to go overseas, and this was, well, I joined up probably in 1944/45. And then I went overseas in 1946 as an escort officer to help bring back the 28,000 war brides that our Canadian soldiers married. They came from Scotland and Ireland and England and France and very few Italians, because when they were in Italy, they were fighting and they weren’t in the dance halls meeting the girls. And the Canadian Army organized it all and it was extremely well done.
All the brides, whether they lived in London [England] or not, had to come into Mostyn Hostel in the Mayfair District in London and stay overnight before they would get on the trains to go down to whether they were sailing from Liverpool or Southampton. It was very sad to see the parents down saying goodbye when they would board the ship with the babies in their baskets. The Dutch had these great big white baskets, they were so attractive.
Margie Holder [née van der Mude] and I would, when a draft came in to Mostyn Hostel, we’d look to see who was going to Moncton. And so we’d look around and I looked one lady up and she said that her husband had a ranch in Lakeburn. In Moncton, there are no ranches [laughs]. Just a few then-old wartime houses. Her husband didn’t have a ranch as such. I mean, he was lying to her.
I feel very strongly, very strongly, about brides that came over and found out they were in the back end of nowhere with no running water and nobody spoke English and all the rest of it. That was their own fault, they could have found out, if they’d wanted to.
My friend Pat, who I used to go up to visit in Scotland, when she married Tom, her mother contacted the mayor of Kirkcaldy to find out if Tom Mitchell was who he said he was, which of course he was. But it was very, very easy to do that. Anybody could have done that. Two friends of mine in Moncton who married officers, Canadian officers, and found that they were already married; so, you know, it didn’t just happen to the war brides.
We had 1,000 brides and a 1,000 children on the [RMS] Queen Mary. And we had a terrific, terrific storm in the middle of the night and our digs were up on the top deck and the water was coming in the portholes and that often happened on the [SS] Lady Rodney or the [SS] Lady Nelson [other ocean liners] and all of a sudden you realize what you were on. And it put the ship right out of commission. And it came up and hit the bridge and down into the captain’s quarters and they were all, the brides were all sick, sick, sick. It was before they had stabilizers on the Queen and the captain had told us the next day, he was afraid the thing was going to collapse because it was going up and down, sideways and no control whatsoever.
[Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon] Mackenzie King was onboard. And I have a picture of me in the captain’s cabin. Actually, he had been sitting on the bed beside me and a few of us, my OC [Officer Commanding] and I - and I forget how many others were invited to this cocktail party. And somebody was going to take a picture and they made him get off the bed and sit in achair [laughs]. But they had asked him to make a speech to the brides and he started out his speech by saying, “I’m a fine one to make a speech to brides, I’ve never had one myself.” Yeah. But we met quite a few VIP people that were on the ship.
And it’s the only way any of the servicemen’s wives could get over to Canada at that time. And whether they were the top brass, army, navy, whatever, wives, they had exactly the same treatment as the privates’ wives. And they certainly had marvelous treatment.
Mostyn Hostel where they stayed in London had 700 beds and after they left for their ships, we were, well, we weren’t on the ships, we worked at Mostyn Hostel every day. And the faster we made the beds, the more time we had off. It was volunteer, but everything was paid for. You know, we stayed in 80 Brooke Street which is the part of London - and the Savoy Hotel was just two blocks away from us. We had no expenses and I can tell you, we Maritimers, when we had time off, days off between drafts coming in, we’d go out and tour around London and we made sure we came back to 80 Brooke Street for our lunch because it was free, go back out again and make sure that we came. And some of the girls, the majority of the girls who were in the Red Cross of course, say, in Ottawa and Toronto and the big cities, they had never worked for in their lives, never volunteered. Like Sheila Burkes from the Burkes, you know, family. And some of the, they’d go down and they’d check into the Savoy Hotel for their days off. Wheras we run home, got a free lunch, go back, come home for a free supper.
When I see English ladies married to Canadians and they’re in their 80s, I always go up and talk to them and say, “are you a war bride, what ship did you come on?” And funny enough, the only war bride I’m still in touch with lives in Ottawa. She was a Dutch lady and she came and knocked on my door one day in Montreal and said“I hear you need a cleaning woman.” And I had a new, I guess it was my fourth baby, yeah, it was my fourth baby and oh, I was so glad to see her.
Great big part of my life. It really, really was. Marvelous, marvelous opportunity.