War Bride’s quest
JACKIE McLaughlin wonders if there are still women like her who came to Australia by ship at the end of World War II.
They were the War Brides. About 70,000 of these women left Britain in the 1940s bound for Canada or America. Some of them came to Australia.
“I never kept in contact with any of them,” Jackie says sadly. But now, at age 96, and as she peruses the regular Veteran Affairs magazine, Jackie has started to wonder if there are any of those women left, or their family members, who she can chat with about their life journeys.
The spritely Englishwoman lives just west of Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. She has buried her husband of 64 years and her only child, but still has the company of her second husband, 80-year-old Colin.
The memories of her time during World War II and how she came to live in Australia are still vivid and heartwrenching. Christened Daphne, she ran away from her country home in Surrey and travelled to London to sign up for the Air Force at age 17-and-a-half. The war had started two years earlier.
She had listened to her brother talk about his “exciting” time in the Air Force as the bored young lady reflected on her future.
“It was either go into one of the forces or the land army or be called up for a munitions factory, and I wasn’t an indoor girl,” she says. “That’s the sole reason I signed up and I am so glad I did.”
Her mother threw her hands up in horror, but her father said, ‘you really want to do this, don’t you?’. “I said yes I do,” Jackie says. “He then said ‘this will be the making of you, my girl’. I didn’t live up to the ladylike name of Daphne, at all.”
After the first week in training camp, her fellow trainees decided they needed to find a less ladylike name for the tomboy. “They came up with Jackie, and it stuck.”
Unfortunately, Jackie said, she spent most of the war working in an office.
It took five months from first setting eyes on each other after an “inane” meeting outside the local pub at Bridlington in Yorkshire in 1944 to walking down the church aisle for Jackie with her first husband Doug, an Australian Air Force navigator and bomb-aimer. She was 20 and he was 21.
Soon after the war ended Doug returned to Australia while Jackie stayed in England until May 1946.
She then joined 360 English women and children on board the former hospital ship Atlantis.
Some of the women had been visiting England when the war broke out. Others had married Australian personnel. “One or two of them were going for the trip only, and they weren’t going to stay here, even though they were married to an Australian,” Jackie remembers.
The ship first stopped in Fremantle before docking in Melbourne on June 29. From there she travelled by train to Sydney and on to Brisbane, where Doug was waiting to start their life together in the city.
Before she left England, Jackie bumped into an old school friend who was to marry an Australian from Goondiwindi. The fare was being paid for by the Australian Government as long as she was married within three months.
Both were excited they would be living near each other. “Just imagine; in England
you walk from this place to that,” Jackie says
The two girls looked at a map of Queensland and got the tape measure out to work out the distance between Brisbane and Goondiwindi.
“We thought, that’s not that far away; we can have afternoon tea together,” Jackie says with peals of laughter.
REMINISCING: Jackie McLaughlin came to Australia in 1946 as a War Bride. INSET: Jackie signed up for the Air Force at age 17-and-a-half.