Saturday, November 16, 2019

100th Anniversary of First World War Brides' Arrival in Canada

Grace Gibson and Hugh Clark on their wedding day. Annette Fulford collection

This year marks the 100th Anniversary for the majority of war brides that came to Canada after the First World War. My grandmother travelled to Canada in September 1919 on the ship Melita.

Check out the recent story about my grandmother Grace Clark by Tamara Baluja of CBC News Vancouver: Canadian war bride's story shared by her granddaughter (Source: CBC News)

I've often wondered just how many families have letters and photographs in the family archives similar to the ones in my family. Thankfully, many have shared their family stories with me. I use these stories to tell the history of the war brides from this era.

(c) Annette Fulford, November 2019

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Remembering the First World War Brides

Grace and Hugh Clark in 1919. Annette Fulford collection

Do you have a First World War Bride in your family tree? Do you know how they met their Canadian soldier? Have you written their story for future generations to remember them by?

With each generation that passes away, information from previous generations gets lost or forgotten. That's why it's so important to write their history before there is no one left to remember them. Send their story to the museum or archive where they lived, or to the local newspaper, and pass it on to your family. Help preserve the history of these pioneering war brides. I'd love to see the day when First World War Brides are remembered alongside the war brides of the Second World War.

Check out my research on First World War Brides: Filling in history: The forgotten stories of WWI war brides by Melanie Nagy of CTV National News from January 31, 2015.

Faded Letters tell untold story  (Source: CTV National News)

(c) Annette Fulford, September 2019

Monday, July 1, 2019

Travelling to Canada to be Married After the First World War

Evening Times & Star, February 11, 1919


If you're having trouble finding a marriage for your Canadian soldier and his war bride in the UK, perhaps they may have returned to Canada before getting married. 

A number of women arrived in Canada after the First World War as the fiancĂ©e of a former Canadian soldier. You will find many young women travelling to Canada “to be married” in the passenger manifests. It might even list a name and address of their intended spouse. This manifest is from the Grampian in February 1919. 

Grampian Passenger List, February 1919.  Library and Archives Canada

But don't just check where the soldier was from, try the port their intended bride arrived at. Some soldiers also met their fiancee part way across Canada to be married. Try at any main stop on the train journey across our vast country.

Two young Red Cross nurses travelled to Canada to marry former soldiers shortly after arriving at the Port of St. John, New Brunswick. Many more arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia and married at Pier 2 before continuing on their journey.

A number of soldiers also returned to the country where they met their wartime love and married at a later date. Check for marriages into the 1920s.

(c) Annette Fulford, July 2019

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Researching Returning Canadian Soldiers: Military Manifests After The First World War (1918-1920)

Toronto World, January 28, 1919


Military manifests are typed manifests of the military men on board. If you locate a ship with dependents on board the majority of these men listed in these manifests will have dependents on the ship. They are usually found at the end of a manifest for a passenger ship.

Here is a portion of a page from the military manifests. In most cases, these men arrived at Liverpool to board a ship from the Canadian Discharge Depot at Buxton, Derbyshire. Buxton was a discharge depot for married men with wives in the UK in late 1918, once the war was over.

Scandinavian Passenger List, July 1919, Library and Archives Canada

You can track these men in the service records by their regimental numbers at Library and Archives Canada in Personnel Records of the First World War. Please note: they may not return to Canada with the same unit they enlisted with especially if they were injured and sent to a hospital in England or if they chose to return to Canada with a bride after the war.

Each one of these men on the manifest indicates how many dependents they have on board. There are usually four sections to a page with the military men on board. These pages can be hard to read as some have not been filmed properly. Images can be blurry, or the sections overlap cutting off vital information such as regimental numbers or the surname of the soldier on the right-hand side. Sometimes the only way to learn what ship they were on when they returned to Canada is in their service record.

Military Manifest, Corsican, 1919, Library and Archives Canada

Finding them in the manifests takes a bit of trial and error; some men are listed by initials and a last name or as you can see they are listed using their full name. If you are looking for family members then you already know the name of their spouse. However, researchers may not have information about the spouse so they won’t know what name they are looking for unless they have read the service file of the soldier. In most cases, the service records might also include what ship they returned to Canada on.

(c) Annette Fulford, June 2019

Researching First World War Brides in Canadian Passenger Lists, 1918-1921

Toronto World, January 20, 1919

Thousands of war brides came to Canada during and after the First World War in an immigration scheme arranged by the Canadian government. By late January 1919, the Canadian government provided the soldiers’ dependents with free third-class passage to Canada along with free rail passes from their home in the UK to their final destination in Canada or the US. 

However, finding these young women in passenger lists can be complicated unless you know what to look for. I have tracked thousands of these young women leaving Britain between 1917 and 1921. Here are a few tips to look for if you are having trouble locating them.


Start by using the database Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865 to 1935 at This is the most comprehensive database of passenger lists available to Canada. If they travelled to Canada prior to the Armistice in November 1918, then there is not always identifying info that shows that they are a war bride. The only info that might indicate they are a war bride is the fact that they have never been to Canada before and they are headed to be with their husband.

However, some war brides like Florence Gould and Lily Palmer travelled to the Dominion while their soldier-husband was still overseas. I only had newspaper articles and oral history to go by. Florence Gould left England on the Justicia the day after the Halifax Explosion occurred in December 1917. She had to change plans overnight. The ship was rerouted to New York instead of landing at Halifax and she had to take a train from New York to Saskatchewan.

Maud Carson, Aquitania, April 1918, Library and Archives Canada

 When Maud Carson travelled to Canada in April 1918 the manifest shows that she was travelling “with husband Retd soldier”. Other women on the same page show they were “going to husband Retd Soldier.”

After November 1918, most war brides will be located in the manifests marked with Dependents somewhere on the page. Some pages may be marked Military Dependents, 3rd Class Dependents, Canadian Military Dependents or Steerage Dependents at the top of the page. The majority travelled by steerage but a number of officers’ families were able to travel in a better class. Those pages might be marked as Cabin Dependents in Saloon or Intermediate class.

Canadian Military Dependents, Library and Archives Canada

A war bride may be listed by her full name, by her initials and surname or the manifest might only have Mrs. with a surname. The key to verifying that the husband and wife are on the same ship is the destination they are travelling to.

Steerage Dependents, Library and Archives Canada

A large number of military dependent passengers may have the initials SD WH or a variation of those initials on their line. It stands for "soldier dependent with husband". This indicates that they are travelling on the same ship as their husband but you will have to locate him in the military lists which are usually at the end of the manifest pages. You will have to check the manifests of soldiers to learn if their husband was on board. The key will be to know their regimental number.

Remember, if you use different databases like the ones at Library and Archives Canada for the passenger manifests at Passenger Lists for the Port of Quebec City and Other Ports, 1865-1922 or Canadian Passenger Lists, 1881-1922 at FamilySearch, these databases might give you different results than those at Ancestry.

However, they don't include full records up to 1922. Only Halifax has original records indexed up to 1922 and Quebec goes to up to 1921. The rest only include records to 1912. A large majority of the war brides arrived at St. John, New Brunswick during the winter of 1918-1919. These records are not included in these databases.

Also, if you do know the date they travelled and name of the ship they travelled on you can view the original manifests at Passenger Lists, 1865-1922 at Library and Archives Canada. You can look at the manifests page by page to find passengers who are not indexed correctly. The only downside to using this database is advancing to the next page once you have clicked on an image. You may find it easier to advance the images at Family Search because their viewer is better.

(c) Annette Fulford, June 2019

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Canadian Pacific Railway ship RMS Melita

RMS Melita - Annette Fulford collection

The Canadian Pacific Railway ship RMS Melita was just one of the many ships that brought war brides to Canada after the First World War. It was purchased by Canadian Pacific Ocean Services in 1917 and she started her first run to a Canadian port in January 1918 at St. John, New Brunswick. The ship could carry 1750 passengers on board.

Manifest details for the Melita. Library and Archives Canada

My grandmother travelled on the Melita in September 1919 and she left the family a wonderful collection of memorabilia of her trip including a voluminous letter, a postcard print of the ship and a souvenir spoon. The latter two were purchased with the proceeds of a boxing match my grandfather won on board.

Melita, July 1919 Menu. LAC RG 76, Immigration Branch files

This is a menu from the July 1919 sailing. My grandmother wrote about meals she had on board while on her journey:

The sea is awfully rough and has been for some hours. — Quite a large number of people have been sick already, but I am pleased to say I feel o.k. I eat a hearty breakfast consisting of bacon & liver. Of course that does not say I shall not be sick but I am hoping not.

It's a good thing that there were other choices on the menu beside liver and bacon. I imagine that would be hard to stomach if you are experiencing sea sickness.

Well Mother, I must say I am always ready for my meals. We have breakfast, at 7 am, dinner 11:45, tea 4:30, so we are early birds. There are three sittings, usually aft half an hour after the one before.

They could also purchase items from the canteen if they got hungry between meals.

 Hello! Here I am again, it is just eleven o’clock and Hugh has just gone down to the canteen (or stores) to get me some apples. — There is beeftea, & boveril and tea etc., to be got there, which are nice warming tonics. It is not dinner time for another three quarters of an hour yet, and you bet I shall be ready for it.

I am so thankful my grandmother left such a wonderful keepsake of her journey to Canada. It has inspired me to learn more about her journey and the war brides from her era.

(c) Annette Fulford, June 2019


Clark, Grace (Gibson). Letter, written 17 September and 24 September 1919, while on board C.P.R. ship R.M.S. Melita to her parents Mr. and Mrs. F.O. Gibson in Sheffield, England; held since 1992 by the author.

Clark, Grace; Passenger list: RMS Melita, 25 September 1919, Quebec, Library and Archives Canada,  Microfilm T14702 (accessed 18 June 1999).

Library and Archives Canada, Immigration Branch, RG 76, Volume 615, file 908571, pt. 20.

The Ships List (accessed 20 May 2002)

Friday, March 8, 2019

YWCA National Immigration Secretary, Mrs. Burrington Ham

Edith Alexandra Burrington Ham (1881-1951)

Among the many voluntary organizations to help with the immigration of war brides and soldiers' dependents arriving in Canada after the First World War was the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). Mrs. Burrington Ham, a YWCA National Immigration secretary, was the most notable. She had a long history of helping female immigrants arriving in Canada. She travelled the country, lecturing about White Slave Trade for the government,[i] and the perils of single young women arriving in the Dominion without guidance from a trusted source and how other organizations could assist them.[ii]

An Aura of Mystery

Edith created an aura of mystery about herself in official records, which made it more difficult to find information about her. In most records, she used her initials E. A. and the surname Burrington Ham was often hyphenated, although Burrington was her husband’s middle name, not part of his surname. She often indicated she was a widow who was born in India, although this was proven incorrect. It is possible she was divorced from her husband Harry, who was several years older than her, but a record of their divorce has not been located.

Early life for Edith Alexandra

Mrs. Burrington Ham was born Edith Alexandra Johnston in England in 1881 to Walter Mowbray Johnston and Fanny Louisa Ellen Dunne. Her parents were married in India in 1876 and several of her older siblings were born there but Edith was born in Hammersmith, a suburb of London on April 10, 1881.[iii] In 1888, she and her sister Irene were admitted to the St. Stephen’s Parochial School in Hammersmith.[iv] Edith was taught at home prior to joining the school.

By 1901, I believe she was a sick nurse at the Kensington Infirmary in London.[v] However, more information is needed on this part of her life. Was she a fully trained nurse and where did she train at? The only other indication she was a nurse was in the Militia lists for Canada in 1917.

She married Harry Wilberforce Burrington Ham at Pietermaritzburg, Natal, South Africa on February 4th, 1905[vi]. Harry was the son of Henry Hobbs Ham and Maria Lavenia Davis of Long Ashton, Somerset, England. Harry served in during the South African War with the 48th Company, 7th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry from North Somerset. Did Edith also serve during the South African War as a nurse or did she go to South Africa to visit her brother Arthur Johnston at Pietermaritzburg?

Their son Arthur Fenton Ham was born in South Africa in January 1906 and in June 1907, the family headed back to England and took up residence in Bristol, England.[vii] They travelled from Durban, South Africa to Southampton, England on the ship Walmer Castle which arrived on June 13.[viii] By 1912, Edith headed to Canada with the YWCA and toured the country lecturing at interested clubs across Canada.

YWCA Immigration Secretary in Canada

Mrs. Ham became a YWCA Immigration secretary in Canada and toured the country looking after the welfare of female immigrants, making sure they had places to stay while travelling, they arrived at their employer's safely and that working conditions were suitable.

In 1913, she became a YWCA National Port secretary in Quebec and was one of the first matron’s placed on ships coming to Canada.[ix] She met with female passengers on board to provide them with information about their destinations, how to travel there and answered any questions they may have. 

At the end of the war, Mrs. Burrington-Ham responded quickly to the various needs of the dependents coming to Canada. She travelled overseas to make arrangements for the wives and children of Canadian soldiers working closely with the Commissioner of Emigration in London, J. Obed Smith.[x]

Caring for Soldier’s Families travelling from England

The following article describes the work that was done by Mrs. Ham and her fellow YWCA workers for the soldiers’ dependents in Britain, most of whom were travelling to Canada for the first time:

"Immediately on the signing of the armistice, Mrs. Ham saw the necessity of Y.W.C.A. reception huts at the ports of St. John and Quebec; also the need for Y.W.C.A. secretaries on the ocean-going steamers with dependents. An extra office was opened in St. John and also hut work.
Mrs. Burrington-Ham went to England to organize the work there for the soldiers’ dependents, arrange for the Y.W.C.A. secretary to travel on the ships bringing the women to Canada, and to attend to all the comfort and welfare work necessary for them. She began her work in London at British Columbia House with the Military Dependents branch of the O.M.F. of C. and then moved with them to Cockspur Street. Later [she] transferred to Buxton, where she established an office in the Canadian Discharge depot." [xi]

Buxton was close to Liverpool where many of the dependents travelled to Canada from. Mrs. Burrington Ham travelled across the Atlantic many times during this time period assisting passengers on their journey. Her last trip was on the ship Vasari which travelled from Liverpool to New York in early December 1919. 

Edith continued to work in the immigration department for a few years but later remarried in BC in 1927. She died in Sidney, BC on December 3, 1951, at the age of 70.

(c) Annette Fulford, March 2019

[i] Marques, Greg. Policing Canada’s Century: A history of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, 194. “In 1917, the CCAC welcomed a rare female speaker Mrs. E.A. Burrington-Ham, British Representative in Canada for the Young Women’s Christian Association and “White Slave Agent” for the federal government at Quebec.” However, Barbara Roberts in Sex, Politics and Religion, indicated “It was not only the female reformers who were concerned about moral dangers to female immigrants. Most immigration reformers and many social reformers were almost obsessive about what they described as “white slave traffic. In fact, there was not a real traffic in Canada. The problems that drove women to prostitution were economic, not moral…”
[ii] “Touring Province: Mrs. Burrington-Ham Inquiring Into Treatment of Female Immigrants”. Manitoba Free Press, February 11, 1916, 5 and “Care of Girls: Immigration Secretary Speaks of Good Work Done”. Manitoba Free Press, February 12, 1916, 8. Online at on February 20, 2008.
[iii] London, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1906. Accessed from on February 24, 2016.
[iv] London, England, School Admissions and Discharges, 1840-1911. Accessed from on February 24, 2016.
[v] Census of England and Wales, 1901: RG 13, Piece 33, Folio 29, page 2. Accessed from on March 3, 2009.
[vi] South Africa, Natal Province, Civil Marriages, 1845-1955," database with images, FamilySearch ( 10 March 2018), Harry Wilburforce Burrington-Ham and Edith Alexandra Johnstone, 04 Feb 1905; citing Pietermaritzburg, Natal, South Africa, Natal Province, Civil Marriage 1845-1955; National Archives and Records Services of South Africa, Pretoria; 1,795,040. Accessed at on March 19, 2014.  
[vii] British Phone Books, 1880-1984. Accessed at on March 17, 2016.
[viii] UK, Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960. Accessed at on March 3, 2016.
[ix] Weaver, Otis B. “Official Chaperons on Ocean Liners Are Proven Great Success.”The Shawnee Daily News-Herald, Vol 19, No.90, Ed. 1 Friday, December 19, 1913, 2. Online at The Gateway to Oklahoma History  Accessed March 19, 2014
[x] Canadian Almanac & directory 1919: Immigration Dept. Mrs. E.A. Burrington-Ham
[xi] Bio of Mrs. E.A. Burrington-Ham from the article, “City Association Council Meet Two Days at Y.W.C.A.” Calgary Herald, May 17, 1919, 6 & 14.