Durham Region News
October 31, 2006
An Oshawa war bride remembers
By Jillian Follert
OSHAWA -- Sixty years ago this week, Martha Stauffer caught her first glimpse of Oshawa.
After a seven day journey across the Atlantic and a long train ride from Halifax, the weary young traveller stood at the CN Rail station on Simcoe Street and took in her new home.
"I had been so afraid to leave my family that I loved - but I loved my new husband more," she says. "I left everything behind to be with him. It was just what you did at that time."
That time was 1946, a year after the end of the Second World War. Mrs. Stauffer was one of 48,000 war brides who married Canadian servicemen overseas, then followed them to a new life in Canada.
Most Canadian war brides were from Britain, but a few thousand came from France, Belgium, Germany and other parts of Europe. To mark the 60th anniversary of war brides arriving in Canada, many provincial governments have declared 2006 the Year of the War Bride.
In Oshawa, war brides and women veterans will share their stories Nov. 2 at an event called "My Grandmother's Wartime Stories," hosted by the Ladies Auxiliary of Royal Canadian Legion Branch 43.
Sitting at the Legion on a recent fall afternoon, Mrs. Stauffer and her husband Wilson chatted about their whirlwind, wartime romance and those early years in Oshawa. They are both 80 now, but remember it like it was yesterday.
In 1926, Mrs. Stauffer was born Martha McLachlan in Port Glasgow, Scotland. She grew up in Sterling - just north of Edinburgh - and was only 13 when the war started. She remembers the night sky filling with searchlights as the Germans planned to cross the English Channel and worrying about her grandmother who lived near a shipyard - a common target for Nazi bombers.
As the war wound down in 1945, 19-year-old Martha was working as a bus conductress. Wilson and his friend Vic were on leave from their station in England with the Queens Own Rifles, when they boarded her bus one afternoon.
"I said to Martha, 'hey sweetie, is there a seat for me?'" Mr. Stauffer recalls. "I thought she was beautiful."Ă¢Â€Â¨ The pair were soon inseparable and it wasn't long before Wilson proposed, shooing Martha's four sisters out of the house to buy candy so the couple could have a moment alone.
"He said, 'if it's OK with my mom, will you marry me?'" Mrs. Stauffer laughs.
Wilson was 19 at a time when 21 was the minimum age to marry. He had to write home to his mother in Canada to ask her permission.
When the war ended, Wilson was shipped home to Oshawa and Martha - a newly minted Canadian citizen - followed close behind on a ship called the TSS Letitia. She kept a copy of the ship's dinner menu from Nov. 1, 1946, remembering how decadent dishes like roast turkey seemed, after years of living on rations.
The newlyweds lived with Wilson's mother, before finding their first apartment on Jarvis Street. They moved all over Oshawa in the early years of their marriage, raising three children along the way.
Mrs. Stauffer remembers how exciting the city was in those days, describing the vibrant downtown where she met up with other war brides to talk about life in Canada. Mr. Stauffer remembers entire neighbourhoods of veteran's housing on streets like Cadillac and LaSalle, where homes sold for $5,000.
"It was difficult to get used to a new life here, but it was an exciting time for us, starting our family," Mrs. Stauffer says. "Who knew that we would be here 60 years later?"
Today, the Stauffers still live in Oshawa, surrounded by children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Mr. Stauffer is long retired from insurance company DeHart and Stauffer, leaving it to his son and grandson to run.
Mrs. Stauffer will be among dozens of local war brides and women veterans sharing wartime stories at the Legion Nov. 2. A ladies only luncheon takes place at 11 a.m. and an adults only dinner follows at 4 p.m. Both events are open to the public and take place at Legion Branch 43, 471 Simcoe St. S. For more information, contact Eleanor at 905-576-7876.