War bride recalls life in wartime England

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'All these loads of soldiers on these big trucks stopped at the pub and they were all singing and happy'

BIBLE HILL - They were just a couple of young British gals out for a sunny, Sunday ride on their bikes.

Then, suddenly, with the call of a stranger's voice came the dark clouds of war to cast a pall on their lives.

"We were biking along, this old lady ran out of this cottage waving her arms and we stopped," said Margaret (Peggy) Bates, 90, of Bible Hill. "She said, 'the war started, the war started.' Well we didn't hear the announcement because we were on the bikes."

And little did the teenaged Bates (nee Macquire) know just how long it would be before those clouds would dissipate from her life.

The day was Sept. 3, 1939 and although Britain's officials hadbeen preparing for warfor some time, the woman's announcement came as a surprise to 'Peg' and her teenaged friend, who had other thoughts on their minds.

"'Cause when you're about 18, I don't think in those days we worried too much about wars," she said from her Bible Hill home, while talking of those long ago days. "Anyway, as we drove along we came to this pub and we saw these big truckloads of soldiers. And they seemed to be older (regular soldiers who had been just been called into service) ...

"So, we thought this was hilarious, all these loads of soldiers on these big trucks stopped at the pub and they were all singing and happy. And that's my memory of that day. We had no idea from 1939, that day, it was going to last five years."

It was a terrifying time, she said, as people struggled to survive on the bare essentials they could obtain with their ration cards, after standing for many hours in long queues.

With war raging across her homeland and beyond, Bates was put to work in the Woolwich arsenal factory where tanks were made.

And, then came the nights.

"We spent a lot of time in air raid shelters down under," she said. "I slept inside an air raid shelter during the last few years. "I forget the name of it but it consisted of a large metal table reinforced all around with heavy wire, like a cage, with an opening to crawl in and out ..."

Bates also vividly recalls the terror brought on by the continuous onslaught of German bombs screaming down from above.

"They were shaped like a small plane and they went incredibly fast," she said, of a particular type of bomb known as 'doodlebugs.' "You could see them passing over and they made quite a loud noise and when the noise stopped, the motor stopped, they would drop, wherever that was ...

"You would run in the direction from where they were coming so you would be in the opposite direction (from where they landed)."

At some point during the war, Peggy met a Canadian airman named Scott Bates. They were married in London, April 9, 1944 and on May 10 the following year, she departed from Liverpool aboard the Briannic III, bound for Halifax, one of thousands of war brides who made their way to Canada at war's end.

Having survived the war, Bates was determined to make the best of her future in her strange, new land. She arrived in Halifax on May 23, 1945 to a sight she has never forgotten - outdoor lights at nighttime.

"We had a blackout in the war (in England)," she said. "That's the first time I saw lights for five years, outside, I mean."

It would be the following October before her new husband would make his way back to Canada to be with her but, in the meantime, Bates did her best to acclimatize herself to the strangeness of her new surroundings.

"I believe it was the culture, maybe," she said, of the most difficult part of the transformation. "In those days, they didn't have any theatre or anything in this area. Or the dancing was different. The music was certainly different. I never heard any of the old time music, we'll say. I never heard that before."

Back home, ballroom dance music was in vogue and while her new way of life took some time to get used to, it was nonetheless better than wartime England.

"After five years of war and the hardships that went with it, there seemed to be quite an easy-going way of living to me. Everything was here," she said.

"I was quite determined I was going to make a life here for myself and I think it all depends on your attitude."

Together, she and her husband raised three children, two sons and a daughter and after Scott died in 1979, she spent some time living in British Columbia and Mexico, before returning to Bible Hill earlier this year.

"I've done quite a bit of traveling around ...," Bates said. "I've had a lot of adventures. I've been in a lot of countries."

Geographic location: England, Bible Hill, Britain Halifax Canada London Liverpool British Columbia Mexico

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  • Peter Van der Borch
    November 12, 2011 - 18:39

    Nivember 12/'11 Peggy, During the years 1955 - 1960, I cherish sitting on those bar stools, trading comic books, and drinking Nesbitt's orange pop. Best wishes, Peter Van

  • Carol McInnis
    November 10, 2011 - 23:54

    Peg...thank you so much for sharing your story! You have shared much about parts of your life with me but I did not know that you were a war bride! Love you and hope you''re fabulously happy this Remembrance Day.

  • Rik Casey
    November 10, 2011 - 13:30

    ....great article Peggy...it so refreshing to hear of how it was from one who was there....Peggy you are part of my Remembrance Day thoughts. I wish you health and Happiness in your new home.......

  • Jill Bates
    November 10, 2011 - 12:00

    Lovely article Nanny Peg! So proud to be your granddaughter! Love Jill

  • Krista Veizi
    November 10, 2011 - 09:31

    Nanny Peg! You make me very proud! Hugs and kisses from England xoxo

  • Margaret Tanner
    November 10, 2011 - 06:50

    ah Peggy, what a fabulous women you are!

    • Sharon Mccabe-Furlotte
      November 10, 2011 - 08:30

      Aunt Peg.....I remember going to your store ,sitting on the stools and drinking a small bottle of ice cold pop that u had to dry off as it was sitting in water in a cola cooler....You sure must have seen a lot of changes in your lifetime.....