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Sarnia woman one of Canada’s last surviving war brides

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Troy Shantz

A life in Canada was not on Betty Robertson’s mind when a young soldier at an English pub caught her eye one night in 1942.

But within months she had married Canadian Reed Robertson, and after the Second World War she move with him to Sarnia.

Robertson, 93, is among a small group of surviving Canadian war brides, the number of which she estimates at “about 14.”

In June, she’s heading to Edmonton for another war brides reunion, where once again they will play the English pub song ‘Knees Up Mother Brown.’

“Everybody will get up and jump around and do a kind of conga line,” she said with a laugh, noting some participants will be in wheelchairs.

Robertson was one of about 200 women who moved to Sarnia between 1942 and 1947 with their Canadian military husbands. Most of the newcomers hailed from the United Kingdom, but others had left Belgium and The Netherlands, and the group met regularly at the local YMCA, then located on Mitton Street.

During the war, an estimated 48,000 young women met and married Canadian servicemen. By March of 1948 the Canadian government had transported about 44,000 wives and 21,000 children to Canada.

For years, the Sarnia women organized social gatherings and potlucks to reconnect with other expats, Robertson said.

The membership included a single war bride, Nell Ward, from the First World War, she recalled.

The group shared memories of home and chatted freely in their native slang, which often left other Sarnians scratching their head, she said.

Soon, their children and eventually grandchildren attended the gatherings as well.

The relationships forged helped ease the homesickness and loss of family and friends left behind.

“You needed it,” Robertson said.

Eventually, local members connected with other war bride groups in Canada and annual national gatherings were established.

In 1987, for example, Sarnia hosted reunion attended by 325 war brides and their husbands at the Holiday Inn in Point Edward.

The two-day event included a variety show, live music, dinners, dances and bus tours of Sarnia-Lambton.




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