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Courtesy of James Doak, Canada in 2024.
Margaret Bristow (nee Perkins)
& her mother Edith Perkins
Emigrated to Canada 1945
Margaret in 2024

Notes from James Doak, 2024:
Margaret Bristow (nee Perkins) moved to Canada early in 1945 with her 2 children, Anne and John. Her husband was eventually released from PoW camp after the war and returned to Canada (initially to Chatham, Ontario). He suffered from ill health from the war and treatment in PoW camp and died at age 46 in Gananoque, Ontario (1 week before I was born). My great-grandmother (Mrs Edith Perkins) eventually moved to Canada as well and died in Gananoque, Ontario. I remember her fondly. 
My grandfather (Canadian CSM) actually moved to Canada from England as a child and then returned to fight in late 1939 at age 19. He was an early arrival even for Canadians and had Xmas dinner in the UK in 1939. He met my grandmother at a bandshell [bandstand] concert in Rushden.
My grandmother was a tour-guide for US tourists on the Thousand Islands on the St Lawrence River, One of her many part-time jobs in retirement. US retirees would always ask her why she didn’t marry an American. She would say that "you didn't show up in England until 1942 and I was already married and had 1 child! The Canadians came in 39 and 40!" Most had never heard that the war really started in 1939!
Interestingly, there still is an active bandshell [bandstand] in Gananoque. We went to lots of concerts there with my grandmother.
My grandmother Edith died aged 98. She kept her English accent till her death and always talked fondly of Rushden.
My mother, Anne is now 82 and living in Ottawa, Canada.
Anne Bristow aged 2½ is in this photo on Hearts & Soles.

Margaret recounted her story in an article by Caroline Franks posted online, 5th November 2012, by

“When I see that ship in the photo, I think to myself, Did my kids and I really cross the Atlantic to Canada in a convoy, dodging enemy submarines the whole way?” says Margaret Eaton, who still vividly remembers living through the Second World War.

Margaret had never ventured too far from home, but this great and difficult journey at the age of 25 was made easier with the support of The Salvation Army, who was there for newcomers from the moment they arrived.

Love and War
Born in Rushden, England, about 100 kilometres north of London, 19-year-old Margaret met Bill Bristow, a handsome Canadian lance-corporal, at a concert in May 1940, not long after his unit, the Royal Canadian Regiment, arrived in the United Kingdom. After a whirlwind courtship, they were married that November.

When Bill was stationed in the English countryside, she followed his unit around, which often meant dodging bombing raids as she raised their two young children, Anne and John.

Margaret remembers walking along a street in Middleton On Sea in the fall of 1942, pushing Anne in her pram, when she heard sirens and saw a German plane approaching. Sheltering Anne with her own body, Margaret watched as the plane flew over.

“I remember seeing the pilot’s face, it was that low,” she says. The plane flew over and continued on, bombing a nearby Royal Air Force airfield, leaving mother and child unharmed.

“We lived through the war and the bombs and everything else,” she says. “When you’re young, you accept it because that’s the way it is.”

Journey to Canada
Margaret had promised her husband that if anything happened to him, she would head to Canada to live with his parents in Chatham, Ontario. And that summer, right after D-Day, she received a telegram indicating Bill, now a company sergeant-major with the Essex Scottish, was missing in action.

“You can’t imagine my feelings at the time,” she says now.

She later learned that he was alive and a prisoner of war, but when she tried to write him, she never received a reply.

In December 1944, the British government was making arrangements to send the wives of Canadian soldiers and their children to Canada, so with a heavy heart, Margaret made the decision to go.

She and her children spent the night at a YMCA in Liverpool before boarding the Franconia, part of a convoy bound for Canada. [see also]

“We didn’t have any assistance on-board but all us mothers helped each other care for our children,” says Margaret. “Despite our fear of being torpedoed by U-boats, we did enjoy the food on that ship! We actually ate white bread, which we had not seen in five or six years. We’d only had black or grey bread during the war.”

“What Am I Doing Here?”
Upon arrival in Halifax at Pier 21, the women and children were welcomed by The Salvation Army, the Red Cross and a number of volunteers.

“We stayed at the YWCA overnight in Halifax and were fed and very well looked after,” continues Margaret.

The following day, the women and children heading west were put on a train to Toronto. The train trip was an eye-opening experience for the newcomers.

“When I travelled through northern Quebec with mountains of snow all over, I thought to myself, What have I gotten myself into? What am I doing here?”

Fond Remembrances
Margaret’s involvement with The Salvation Army at this point was just beginning. After arriving in Chatham and settling in with her husband’s family, her mother-in-law took her to The Salvation Army Home League to help her meet new people and gain support.

“The Home League was a women’s social group. We had a lot of activities including crafts and games,” she says. “It was a completely different life in Canada, but we quickly got used to it.”

Margaret says that The Salvation Army not only helped her through some difficult times but also assisted her husband and other soldiers during the war.

“The Salvation Army provided them with all sorts of things, such as food and warm socks, and never asked for anything in return,” she recalls.

Bill returned to Canada in August 1945 and they lived in Chatham until 1953 when his factory job was moved to Gananoque, Ontario. Margaret continued to be a part of The Salvation Army Home League in her new community.

Bill passed away in 1965, but Margaret continued to volunteer her time at The Salvation Army Thrift Store, not to mention other organizations over a span of years.

Now aged 93, Margaret is still volunteering where she is able. In addition, she finds time to visit schoolchildren to speak about her experiences during the war and share with them the sacrifices young soldiers made for their country.

The Salvation Army marked her outstanding work with a volunteer appreciation award this past spring.

“I’ll always remember what The Salvation Army did for me and my family,” says Margaret. “It’s a very special organization.”

Her story was told again in 2015:

In 1944, Margaret Perkins’ love for a young Canadian soldier was so strong she said goodbye to her family and her country to move to Canada, not knowing if the soldier she loved was alive or dead.

In 1939 Margaret Perkins aged 19 was working in a factory making shoeboxes. She lived a simple life with her mother and grandfather on High Street in Rushden, Northamptonshire, England.

“At that time we had the odd air raid and periodically the sirens would sound. Every now and then a couple of German bombs hit our town, but not our street. There was a lot of damage, injuries and a couple of deaths. But that was our normal,” said Marg.

In the autumn of the same year, Bill Bristow lived in Blenheim, Ontario, Canada. The 19-year-old had just joined the Royal Canadian Regiment. Bill was in the 1 Division Canadian Army Advance Party arriving in England on December 17, 1939.

Marg met Bill at a band concert, in Hall Park on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in May 1940. The Division was billeted in Rushden in private homes. They sat and talked and then arranged to see each other again.

“His birthday was October 14 and mine was October 17. He was 20 and I was 20. That seemed so romantic and important at the time, like we were meant to meet,” laughed Marg.

Lance Corporal Bill Bristow was here for about two weeks when there were developments on the war front, and one morning the Canadians left suddenly.

“During the time Bill was in my town we met every day and saw each other as often as we could. So, in July when he came back on a 48-hour pass and asked me to marry him I said yes,” said Marg.

As the young couple was only 20 they needed permission to be married, Marg from her mother, and Bill from his commanding officer.  They were thrilled when permission was granted and they made plans to marry that September. Marg’s grandfather, [John Thomas Denton] gave her his clothing coupons and she was able to buy a white wedding dress with all the accessories.

The Battle of Britain threatened to spoil their plans. Leave was cancelled and Bill was called to duty. So letters were the only means of communication and they were not regular. Against the odds Marg obtained a marriage licence that carried an expiry date of October 31. But when the day came and went with no sign of Bill Marg thought perhaps he had changed his mind, so she didn’t bother to renew the licence, and it cost money.

Late on Friday, November 1, a dirty and tired Bill showed up, and they were without a licence. It was the weekend, and the office was closed.

“Then on Monday morning, when we finally had the paper in hand, we learned we had to wait 24 hours to be married, I suppose, in case we changed our minds. We held our breath thinking Bill would have to leave on short notice. Finally, we managed to be married on November 5, 1940. I was officially a war bride,” said Marg.

Bill only had seven-days leave and by the time they got the license, the newlyweds had only three days together as man and wife before Marg had to kiss her Canadian husband good-bye.

He was often away on duty, but they did spend that first Christmas together. Rabbits were not rationed in 1940, so Marg bought a rabbit.  She had never cooked one before and Bill had never eaten one, but they were together and that was all that mattered to them.

Marg gave birth to a daughter, Anne on January 21st, 1942. Bill obtained a leave pass and came to see them. Then he was away again, and Marg was alone in their small house with their tiny baby. Son John was born on Oct 28, 1943. Once again, Bill saw him the next day, when he was able to get home.

Bill, now Sergeant Major Bristow, went to France with the Essex Scottish just after D-Day.

“In July I received a telegram from the Canadian government saying Bill was missing and believed killed in action. I think you can imagine how I felt. In reality Bill had been captured in Caen, France. He was a prisoner of war, and I thought he was dead,” said Marg.

After Marg had married to Bill, she started to correspond with his mother and father in Canada. The day after they married she had sent the top tier of their wedding cake to his parents. Marg promised Bill if anything happened to him she would take the children and live with his parents in Canada, and if she did not like it she would return to England.

“It was around September when we heard the most amazing news. Bill was alive and in Stalag IV-B.  We had felt certain he was dead as another soldier from Bill’s hometown had seen him covered in blood, laying in a ditch. Bill had been wounded, but the blood was not his. By the time we heard he was alive his name was already on a commemorative plaque in the town square. He was listed as a fallen soldier, and I believe it’s still there,” explained Marg.

In spite of Bill being held at a German PoW camp, he and Marg were able to correspond, to some extent. He sent mostly using letter forms. Marg didn’t think many of her letters were received, and guessed what Bill saw had been censored. Eventually Bill ended up in Stalag XIIA, close to the Russian border and all correspondence stopped.

In December 1944, the Canadian government contacted Marg and told her arrangements were being made for her and the children to travel to Canada.

“I had to make the decision very quickly. I had no idea if Bill was alive or dead. I decided we would go to Canada. By this time I had a three-year-old and an 18 month-old. I wrote to Bill of my decision, but of course I never heard back,” said Marg.

After she received the train tickets to go to Liverpool Marg said goodbye to her mother and her grandfather, knowing she would not see her dear 85-year-old grandfather again.  He died several months later.

They stayed overnight in Liverpool and the next day they boarded the Cunard Line RMS Franconia. The fully-appointed ocean liner had just returned from taking Churchill and Eisenhower to the Crimean Conference.

“We had two bunks, top and bottom.  I put the children at each end in the bottom bunk and slept on the top one.  The food was wonderful, things we hadn’t seen for years and some we had never seen. We went in a convoy. There were U-Boats everywhere. At times we wondered if we would make it across,” said Marg.

They docked at the famous Pier 21 in Halifax. From there, they boarded a train to Ontario.

“In Quebec we were held up as trains full of troops had to get past us. It was night time. We could see the lights of Quebec city in the distance. It was magical. We hadn’t seen lights at night in years. We just sat looking out the train windows at those twinkling lights for hours. I was wishing Bill was there to see it with me,” said Marg.

It turned out, that Bill had escaped from the prison camp just as the allied troops advanced. He wandered around for a couple of weeks with other prisoners.  He often told the story of eating raw turnips and potatoes in a field to survive. The Canadian soldiers were officially liberated on May 9, 1945, and the injured were taken to hospital in London.

“He had not heard from me in a very long time. When he was well enough he got a pass from the hospital and travelled to Rushden looking for us. Imagine how he felt when he got off the bus and was told we were no longer in England anymore. His family had moved to Canada,” said Marg.

Bill returned to Canada in August on the ocean liner SS Ile-de-France, and was finally reunited with his family. He then spent three months in the Veterans Westminster Hospital before joining the Chatham, Ontario Police Force.

For the rest of his life Bill suffered the effects of the malnutrition and shrapnel in his shoulder. He died in 1965 due to the injuries he’d sustained in the war, aged just 45.

Marg’s in-depth understanding of the complexities of being a military spouse secured her an invitation to participate in Women and War, A Panel Discussion, presented by PeaceQuest in partnership with the Thousand Islands Playhouse in Gananoque, Ontario.

Margaret Perkins Bristow Eaton in 2015 aged 94 years old, moved from her apartment into a retirement home. The vivacious war bride was still active in her community, and speaking at events and Remembrance Day ceremonies in schools.

Postscript from James Doak:
Margaret’s mother came to Canada in 1948 and lived nearby until she died in 1975. Margaret married Frank Eaton in 1968 and was widowed for the second time in 1978. Her children Anne and John are now in their sixties and have given Margaret five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Further research:
Edith Ellen Denton was born 30th Sept 1888 daughter of John Thomas and Mary Ann. Her father was a shoeworker and she had a twin brother Frederick.
On December 12th 1912 Edith married Charles Perkins, a clicker (son of George and engine driver), of 8 Station Road. They married at Park Road Methodist Church.

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