Watling, Sylvia

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                                        SYLVIA WATLING
                                    Memories of a War Bride
                                       By Cathy Carnahan


When the Second World War ended, more than 47,000 European women came to Canada. They called them the war brides.

Sylvia Watling of Sussex, England was one of them.

As Christmas draws near, the Chatham Head woman cherishes memories of her native homeland and the loved ones she left behind. She also thinks about what it means to now be Canadian.

"I've never been home for Christmas since 1945," she said sadly during an interview. She's been home to visit at other times of the year, but it's not quite the same, she said. "You still remember your folks at Christmas. You still have that longing to be home for Christmas."

The Miramichi has been her home for more than 45 years, but memories of England will always remain.

Watling and her young daughter arrived in Canada in Halifax on July 31, 1946. The trip took seven days aboard the Queen Mary, but they had no regrets. Sylvia Hessman had married a private in the North Shore Regiment on June 5, 1943 and she knew he would be waiting for her and their daughter in this unknown land of Canada. He was.

Archie Watling, who was a corporal by the time the war had ended, arrived home to Black River Bridge a year before his new bride. She and the baby had to wait for government approval before leaving. It was a long and often restless wait, but finally the day arrived.

"I was one of the last ones to come, the boat I came on," Sylvia recalled. "There were a lot of tears shed that day." Her mother, Emily, was devastated. She wondered how kind this country called Canada would be to her daughter and wee granddaughter. Life had stolen her husband, Frank, when he was just 49, but she always had her children. There were eight of them, two boys and six girls. Sylvia was the second youngest.

Sylvia Watling, however, had a mind of her own and was longing to be with this young man in New Brunswick whom she loved. She and Archie have been married for more than 48 years and have five children - three sons and two daughters.


                 We used to have a tree, but we never had lights

The Chatham Head couple are well known members of the Chatham Pioneer Senior Citizens Club. Sylvia is president of the organization. It was at the Chatham club house that the war bride told her story of that first Christmas in Canada.

The one thing that impressed her when she arrived in Canada were the Christmas tree lights. "We used to have a Christmas tree at home, but we never had lights. My father used to put candles on it. The house we lived in didn't have any electricity. We just had a big Aladdin lamp, but we had a big open fireplace in every room. I think that's what I miss the most," she said.

                                Canada must remain united

The sight of Canada poised to break apart saddens war bride Sylvia Watling of Chatham Head. This is not the country she has come to know and love, she said in an interview. She came to the Miramichi on July 31, 1946 and it's been her home ever since.

               This is an edited copy of her story as she has written it: 

"Today may be a special day in the lives of many people. For some it may be the first day of work and there may be others who mark this day as a time of thinking back or thinking ahead. A great many of us spend a large part of everyday thinking about our job, doing it as well as we can and getting a certain amount of satisfaction out of being paid for our efforts.

"Have you ever walked confidently into another room, or out the door, only to stop yourself asking, 'What am I doing here’? Statisticians tell us that six years of one's young life spent in a war added 20 years to that young life. Six years of my young life were spent during the war (of) 1939-45.

"I remember the first German flare that was dropped. I remember the first oil bomb, the first pilot-less plane and the Battle of Britain. I spent seven nights sleeping on the bare ground under a farm house, seven days without removing my clothes. And now, 45 years later, I sit wondering and asking myself, 'Did 1 really come through all that?'

And that's just a small part of it. My daughter was born in England in 1944 - during an air raid - and afterwards was put with all the other babies in a shelter that was bomb and gas proof.

"Five and forty years have passed since I began my big adventure. And so it was on a summer's day towards the end of July that my daughter and I started on our journey to an unknown country to us - Canada. It took us seven days. It was rough through the Bay of Biscay. When we arrived, the funnels were white from the salt spray. The rest of the time it was fairly smooth.

"I was born in Sussex, England ... (and) I loved the water, the woodlands and the flowers. As soon as I grew up I planned to go farther afield, anywhere, everywhere, eager to find adventure with all the keenness and capacity for enjoyment.

"The journey up to Halifax Harbor was full of interest, the color and the beauty of the bright green fertile fields of Canada, a beautiful and dangerous rocky coast hugging so closely to the shore. The nearer we came to Halifax, the finer the scenery became. The surf-beaten rocks looked silent and weird, the lonely home of many Canadian birds, a wild rugged coast so majestic in its grandeur, so beautiful in its aloofness. The little red roofs of the tiny hamlets all seemed to nestle on the rocks, almost touching the water, and the little white houses made a delightful picture as we passed quite close to them. It was evening when we arrived. We glided into the sheltered harbor and were tied up at dock side.

"Many flags had been hoisted to welcome the strangers from England. Silently we stood on deck watching it all - a gaunt and eerie coast of Canada; a land full of mystery and sadness, poetry, folklore, romance, with people full of music and poetry - a simple charming and kindly folk with a great love of their own country deeply embedded in their hearts. So marked is this devotion to their own land, it is quite enough to admire the beauty and the mountains. The sun was setting in its splendor as we embarked on Canadian soil. At last, this land is our land.

“There were a few moments when things seemed cold and ominous. Long after the sunset had faded, soft white clouds - just lightly hovering over the summits - remained touched with pink. After the sunset, just at dusk before the night, there comes a spell of quiet light. I now know exactly what this meant. It was exactly like that, quiet after the guns and bombs of six years at war. The new moon, sickly shaped, and one big star hung over the fading hills in the palest green sky of that dusky twilight.

“The next morning was a dream come true. When I awoke, I had to rub my eyes and get my bearings. I was in another land, this land of Canada. It was like a fairy tale. What a morning! So wonderfully clear it did now become; every tree, every detail standing out so distinctly. Life was a sheer joy that morning. The wildness and the freedom; I felt intoxicated. And some say there is no God! This is Canada - where men are free. Peace reigned everywhere. The sun shone out of a clear blue sky, even the clouds had gone to play.

"It was a long and jolty drive on the train from Halifax to the Miramichi. This land is our land. In those 45 years of being a Canadian, among other things, I have seen the beautiful deer. I have heard the call of the wild geese.

                                      Heart aches

"My heart aches for the unemployed. Bilingualism is a problem created by government. During the six years of war, no one cared what nationality you were. Everyone was the same. French Canadians and English Canadians fought side by side.

"A look at the map of Canada cannot help but impress one with the vastness of the land, but the map tells only part of the story. It does not tell you how beautiful Canada is. It does not tell you how rich it is in lumber, mines and fisheries. It does not tell you of its people composed from all the races in the world to form a happy, kind-hearted race called Canadians.

“But I sailed in and found it all."


Source: Miramichi Leader – December 18, 1991

This text is available for use under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. For more information, select the following link: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

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