The tales about war brides who fell in love with Canadian servicemen overseas during the Second World War have long been told, but Canada also drew its share of war grooms.
Vancouver Island Military Museum has dedicated a new display to war grooms – servicemen who met Canadian women while training in Canada and returned to start new lives here following the war.
“Most people know about the war brides … but no one really knows too much about the war grooms,” said Brian McFadden, Vancouver Island Military Museum vice-president. “These are young men from the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, who came to Canada to be trained as air crew – pilots, navigators and radio operators.”
Those trainees, McFadden said, met their future wives while training at air bases across the country, often in or near small farming communities that had surplus land suitable for aircraft operations. The training program brought an unprecedented influx of young men to those communities. Many of the young women who lived in these communities ended up being employed at the training bases or in businesses supporting them, which afforded plenty of social interaction between servicemen and the women and local families.
“Hundreds of these young women from these small towns were employed by the air force on the bases. They’d meet these young men and they’d all look very handsome in their uniforms. They had leave. They had money. Dances were organized for them – all types of social activities – so it’s a typical boy-meets-girl,” McFadden said. “These young men got married or went off to war, came back and got married to the girls they’d met in these small towns all across the country.”
McFadden doesn’t know the exact number of men whose hearts were captured by Canadian girls, but accountings of the encounters are chronicled in a book by author Judy Kozar, Canada’s War Grooms and the Girls Who Stole Their Hearts, published by General Store Publishing House.
Kozar, a retired teacher-librarian from Manitoba, reached out to veterans associations, museums, historical societies and advertised to find stories of 45 war grooms she could include in her book.
In her book’s introduction Kozar noted that the Canadian government provided passage for 48,000 war brides and their 22,000 children to come to Canada, so plenty of documentation about them exists, but she could find no documentation about war grooms because they weren’t Canadian servicemen so Veterans Affairs has no records of them and there is no accurate estimate of how many of them there were.
Kozar includes stories from war grooms across Canada to portray a broader perspective of their experiences. Most of those she contacted were willing to share their stories and in cases where the groom, his wife or both had died, the stories were provided by their families.
Many of the men met their wives through the British Commonwealth Air Training Program as did most of the grooms in Kozar’s book with the exception of four; one was in the British army and three were sailors with the Royal Navy and the Norwegian merchant navy.
Vancouver Island Military Museum in Nanaimo and its new exhibits, including the story of Canada’s war grooms, will be open to the public following Remembrance Day observances, Nov. 11.