The War Bride

Kingwell By Kingwell, 2nd Mar 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/axv5-8-m/
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Short Stories

A young English woman marries a Newfoundland soldier during World War II and later moves with him to the new land and to a new way of life.

Auntie Mae's Adorable British Accent

Auntie Mae, how is it that you’ve managed to keep that adorable accent all those years”? It was a question Mae Finlay had been asked many times, and she had to admit that although she loved Newfoundland, she was secretly proud that she hadn‘t lost her English accent. “I guess it’s just something I didn’t forget dear”, she smiled at her niece Mabel, “some things just never leave you”. Growing up in London when the British Empire was still a force to be reckoned with, she knew little of life in “the colonies”, as some still called the now self governing nations that remained loyal to the British crown. That the rocky wind swept island of Newfoundland, Britain’s oldest colony, would someday be the place she called home, was as farfetched a thought as that of marrying into the Royal Family. After Mabel left she found herself, as she so often did now, reliving those early years of her life, feeling sometimes as if she was remembering a dream or scenes from another lifetime.

Love at First Sight

She was 17 and just finished school, when Britain declared war on Germany in August of 1939 and like most other young English women of the day, soon found herself involved in the military. She remembered the blackouts when German planes filled the night sky and no one knew what moment might be their last. Strange she thought, how everyone remained so stoic as the weeks turned into months and the months into years. Despite all that was happening around them however, young people still found time to dream and time for romance. She would never forget the first time she saw twenty-two year old private Martin Finlay, and her heart skipped a beat as she gazed into the eyes of this handsome young soldier. As they chatted, she was as intrigued by his accent as she was charmed by his good looks and enchanting smile. Their first date, if you could call it that during wartime, was on April 10, 1944 and it was then that she learned that he was from a tiny community on the South coast of Newfoundland, not only that, but he planned on returning there to fish with his father when the war was over. Six weeks later, Mae knew she would follow Martin Finlay to the ends of the earth if necessary.

Martin Prepares His Bride for a Culture Shock

They were married on January 30, 1945 in a simple ceremony at St. Mark’s Anglican Church. The only people present were Mae’s parents, her sister and two brothers along with Mark’s best friend, Eddie Markham who also hailed from Newfoundland. Mae had already corresponded with Martin’s mother, although she understood that the letters had actually been written by one of his sisters for his mother had no schooling. As it became clear that the war was drawing to an end, Mae found herself torn between the prospect of a new life with Martin in Newfoundland and thoughts of leaving her family and friends in England. She felt that she already knew the loving family that Martin talked so much about and the island home that he couldn’t wait to see again. He had tried to prepare her for the cultural shock which he knew was waiting for her but she was determined that everything would be fine. She had been rather shocked when Martin first told her that he had six sisters and eight brothers, all but one younger than him, and there could well be another by the time they arrived home, but she had simply said that there would be more children to love and she had always wanted a big family. Mae was equally determined not to be daunted by the prospect of trading life in the world’s largest city for the isolation of outport life in Martin’s boyhood home of Saunder’s Bight with its population of thirty families and just under three hundred souls.

A New Way of Life

Mae smiled now, remembering the day she, Martin, and three month old Luke, first arrived in the bight on board the S.S. Home. It was March 17, 1946, St. Patrick’s Day, and she felt that the entire population of the bight had gathered on the wharf that afternoon, each cramming their neck to get a look at Martin’s “English bride”. ] “Mom” Finlay was the first to greet them tears of joy in her eyes, and soon they were sitting in her cosy kitchen with hot tea and thick slices of freshly baked bread and homemade jam. Considering that Mom must have weighed in at least 13 stone (182 lbs) Mae was amazed at how she hustled about taking care of everyone. She was a little taken aback by the dozen or more children who had crammed themselves into the kitchen and porch apparently to watch them eat and listen to the conversation. She noticed however, that no one else paid the least bit of attention to their presence. It took weeks she remembered, for her to match the faces and names of Martin’s brothers and sisters, and even longer to get used to other children wandering in and out of the house as if it was their own. Mom Finlay was delighted with her new daughter-in-law and the feeling was mutual. Soon Mae was baking bread, pies and molasses buns and cooking a pork and cabbage dinner that was the envy of many women in the bight. Mom took her along to the C.E.W.A. (Church of England Women’s Association) meetings and introduced her to all the ladies, most of whom would become her good friends for life. On Sunday mornings and evenings they got dressed in their best finery and walked to the little church in the centre of the community where the teacher, and about every six weeks the clergyman, led the services of Mattins and Evensong or in the case of the clergyman, Holy Communion.

Mae becomes a true Newfoundlander

That summer she learned to help with the fish, spreading it to dry on the large wooden flakes on sunny days, and rushing to get it inside should signs of a shower appeared on the horizon. She went berry picking too and learned to make jam and preserve it for the long winter months when the hills would be coved in snow. She helped in the garden where the family grew potatoes, carrot, turnip and cabbage which would be preserved in a cellar. They also kept two cows, a dozen or so sheep and some twenty laying hens. Mae learned to shear the sheep in the late days of Spring, to prepare the wool and spin it into yarn and finally to knit mitts, socks and sweaters to be worn in winter. There was also grass to be cut and hay to be made and stored in barns for the animals during the winter. She enjoyed working outside during the Spring and Summer and even tried her hand at cod jigging, going out in the small rowboat with mom in the early morning while the men fished much further out the bay in a larger boat. They ate well during that Summer with lots of Salmon, Lobster and fresh cod together with home grown vegetables. Mae developed a taste for most Newfoundland dishes, though she struggled at first with the salt beef that appeared as a stable with many of the meals and of course was the main ingredient in “Jiggs Dinner”, the favourite meal of most Newfoundlanders. In less than a year however, she had not only come to love the taste of salt beef but salt cod as well.

"Home" Was Now a Place called "Newfoundland"

Martin and his father spent part of the Fall cutting logs for what was to be his and Mae’s house, it was to be built about thirty feet from that of his parents on a piece of land willed to Martin by his Grandfather Finlay. Later the logs would be taken to Peter’s Brook where Johnny Marshall would saw them on the halves. Although she loved living with mom and dad Finlay, Mae was anxious to have a place of her own, especially now that she was pregnant with their second child. The house was started late that fall, and once it was covered, the men could work even in wet weather. It was now that Mae was to learn something else about Newfoundlanders, when someone needed help, everyone pitched in. Most of the men in the bight were carpenters of a sort as well as fishermen, and she watched in amazement as men turned up in the morning with their tools to give Martin a hand with building their house. The men would often work all day expecting no pay, indeed would accept none, although it was understood that they would all come to the big house with Martin for a “mug-up” as the mid-morning, and mid-afternoon breaks, were called. Mae, at mom Finlay’s suggestion, also cooked a pot of salt beef and vegetable stew for their midday meal. There were more surprises in store for the newest member of the Saunder’s Bight family. Mae went to the site of their new house one day to find Jim Bunge putting the finishing touches on the most beautiful table she had ever seen, nearby were six matching chairs. As the Autumn days passed, Mae saw their new house take shape before her very eyes, at this rate she thought, they could move in before Christmas. Martin went to the Merchant in Cottle’s cove, to whom he and his father sold their fish, and ordered a stove, two beds with mattresses and a crib. These would arrive about three weeks later, courtesy of the S.S. Home. The other things they needed could be either made or bought locally. The house was ready for occupancy on the 23 of December, but they elected to spend Christmas with mom and dad Finlay. It was a great occasion she remembered, as the community celebrated the twelve days of Christmas. There were parties every night and although none of the women drank, all of the men, even those who were the backbone of the church, were expected to have a few drinks of whisky or rum during Christmas. Then of course, there were the mummers dancing to tunes played on the accordion or mouth organ to the delight of their audiences. Every night there would a different group, or at least they would be dressed differently. That was the winter she learned to play cards. Auction, sometimes called 120’s and 45’s were two favourites in the bight and almost everyone played during the long winter nights. In the next sixty-three years, she would visit her family in London on three occasions, yet each time she would find herself thinking of “back home” and this time she meant the beaches, meadows, and rugged coastline of a place called Newfoundland.

Tags

Air Raids, Contentment, Fishing, Gardening, Happiness, Jiggs Dinner, Kingwell, Knitting, London, Marriage, Newfoundland, Romance, Salt Beef, War Bride, World War Ii

Meet the author

author avatar Kingwell
I am 75 years old and retired.I like writing short stories, poetry as well other articles of interest.

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Comments

author avatar Delicia Powers
2nd Mar 2014 (#)

Wonderful history that speaks of the heart of home... that same love and the soul of belonging-heart roots that grow a family... generations... a town!

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author avatar Kingwell
2nd Mar 2014 (#)

Thank you Delicia, you put it very well.

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author avatar cnwriter..carolina
2nd Mar 2014 (#)

a lovely walk down Memory Lane..thank you so very much...

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author avatar Kingwell
3rd Mar 2014 (#)

Thank you Carolina

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author avatar Songbird B
3rd Mar 2014 (#)

What lovely details you wove into this story Kingwell, making it seem so vivid..An enjoyable read..\0/x

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author avatar Kingwell
4th Mar 2014 (#)

Thank you for your continued support my friend.

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author avatar Fern Mc Costigan
4th Mar 2014 (#)

Beautiful post!

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author avatar Kingwell
4th Mar 2014 (#)

Thank You Fern. Your loyalty is appreciated.

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
6th Mar 2014 (#)

You took me again to a faraway land and to a time that can teach city-folks what mutual help, cooperation and self-sacrifice are about. I remember with gratitude the women in countries like India who had to adapt to harsh conditions after marriage when they were still young girls. You have paid them tribute too Kingwell as your story resonates without borders - siva

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author avatar Kingwell
6th Mar 2014 (#)

Thank you Siva

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