Margaret Houghton arrived in Moose Jaw, Sask., on Aug. 16, 1946. Having travelled from her small town in England, she was finally going to see her husband, Arthur Houghton, again — and she would not only meet his family for the first time, but would also introduce Arthur to his infant son.
But that meant she had to leave everything she knew behind.
“I couldn’t really put into words my feelings, because I was anxious to see him again and I never knew what I was coming to,” Margaret said. “The first time I saw him in civilian clothes, I wondered, ‘Who is that?'”
More than 70 years later, Margaret is still in Moose Jaw, living in a care home surrounded by greeting cards, photographs and British knick-knacks. She smiles as she looks around at the photographs of her wedding day, her children, her grandchildren, and her late husband in uniform.
Margaret was one of about 48,000 war brides who followed love to Canada after the Second World War. She made the trip without knowing much about her new country.
She first met Arthur in England, where he was training, in 1940. She was a private with the British Army stationed in Shrewsbury, northwest of Birmingham. Arthur, who was from Moose Jaw, had joined the Canadian military after high school, when the war began, and was hanging out with one of his friends when his path crossed with Margaret’s.
“I was just sitting with my friend,” she recalls.
“She was waiting for a boyfriend and [Arthur] happened to come along with him to pick her up. And he was just left there and I was [too], so he said, ‘Can I take you home?’ And that’s where it all started.”
Margaret was 16 and Arthur was 19 when they met. They spent his two years in Shrewsbury taking walks and getting to know each other.
When Arthur was sent off to fight, the two exchanged letters back and forth.
“He was a very nice man; very kind, considerate and very caring.… It was not hard to fall in love with that man,” said Margaret.
“As soon as he came home [to England], we married and I never regretted it.”
They were wed in a small ceremony at the registrar’s office on Sept. 1, 1945 — just a few months after the end of fighting in Europe.
Soon after their wedding, Arthur was given orders to go back to Moose Jaw. He told Margaret — now expecting their first child — all about his hometown, and what life would be like for them, before leaving her and their unborn child in England.
Margaret’s parents supported her through her pregnancy and after the birth of her baby boy in spring 1946. In August, she made the trip to Canada aboard the RMS Queen Mary, with a baby in tow.
The choice to leave her home was a hard one to make, she said, but Canada was her new home.
“When I was on the Queen Mary, the ship captain said ‘The land of your adoption is Canada.’ That’s the way he put it,” Margaret said.
She arrived during a party for Arthur’s sister, and the couple embraced as Arthur met baby Art for the first time.
Margaret says Arthur’s family welcomed her immediately.
“I lived with his mother and dad until we got a wartime house” — a small two-level house with a garden around it, Margaret recalls. “His parents were so kind to me.”
There were some changes when arriving in Canada, Margaret said. The stores were full of food and she had a banana for the first time ever. Other adjustments were less pleasant.
“It was a really bad winter that year and lots of snow,” Margaret remembers, laughing. “They thought I was going to get lost in the snow.”
Margaret and Arthur had four children and were married 67 years, but the war affected him. In his later years, Arthur became “strange,” Margaret said. One day, he disappeared from their house.
“We found him at the bottom of the garden, in the middle of winter, laying in the snow, trying to dig a trench to save me from the enemies,” Margaret said. “That was just in his mind.”
The two protected and loved each other even when his health began to decline, Margaret said.
“He died very peacefully. His nurses told me that all his organs had shut down. So I climbed into bed with him and held him in my arms,” she said.
“And all of a sudden he stopped breathing and that was it. Just quiet and peaceful. It was sad.”
Now, Margaret continues telling their story of love and loss to keep the memory of war brides alive.
Nearly 75 years after the end of the war, many have already died, and young people don’t understand what they gave up in those days, says Margaret.
“It is a sacrifice when you leave your country,” Margaret said.
“I might be English, born in England, and my heart is there — but I live here.”