Sunday, February 11, 2018

First War Bride Ship Arrives At Sand Point in St. John, New Brunswick

Sand Point, New Brunswick Harbour circa 1909. Annette Fulford collection.

It was on 10 February 1919, that the first official ship 
carrying military dependents - war brides and their children, arrived at Sand Point in St. John, NB. Many war brides had travelled to Canada since 1917 but this was the first sailing where the ship was just for dependents. The Tunisian carried 711 adults and 202 children under 14 years of age and sailed from Liverpool on 31 January, landing 11 days later.

Tunisian Manifest Info. Library and Archives Canada.

All soldiers’ dependents were provided with free third-class passage aboard the troopships, except for those who paid to travel in a superior class. Unfortunately, obtaining a superior class on board usually meant they had to travel to Canada at later date. And when given the option to wait until later to sail, most chose third class passage in order to get to Canada as soon as possible with their husbands.

Third-class is essentially steerage, where the cheapest accommodations on the ship are housed. This is where the majority of the passengers were located on the ship. The rooms are below deck and were very crowded. In some cases, there is no proper ventilation to air out the stale air, the smell of seasickness or dirty diapers.

The rooms were very basic, often containing only two or four berths, which included bunk beds, and a wash basin. Steerage also had limited toilet facilities for the vast amount of passengers it contained. It was inadequate for women travelling with small infants.


At the beginning of the repatriation scheme, there are many complaints in the immigration files about conditions in the third-class accommodations as most families were not used to travelling in steerage. It was an ordeal for most travellers.

Once on the ship, though, most passengers preferred to be on deck in the fresh air, not stuck in their cramped berths. Another common complaint was the lack of seating on deck for those who wanted to escape their berths. There were additional complaints about seasickness, overcrowded, dirty accommodations, and lack of amenities. Many of these complaints were dealt with while on board, while many other complaints were aired in local newspapers after the voyage.

The Calgary Herald, on 15 February 1919, described the adverse conditions on board the Tunisian:
Mr. Dyson who was a travelling representative for the Returned Soldiers' Commission, reported that "there was a good deal of sickness among the women and children owing to the conditions they were subjected to on board the steamer." Due to rough seas, lavatory water soaked the floors in steerage.

However, this information was not confirmed in any of the other news reports about the sailing.

Annette Fulford Collection

Gladys Kendrey, a war bride who was headed to Peterborough, Ontario, noted in a letter to her parents in England a month later, that the sailing was uncomfortable but she did not expand on the subject further. It was possible that she was trying to appease her parents so that they would not worry about her. Her father had sent a news clipping from a British paper with the headline "Brides Pelted with Refuse." She was adamant that this was not the case. Gladys was concerned about the many war brides who had yet to travel would read this and change their minds about coming to Canada.

She told her parents that her arrival in Canada was very pleasant. They had expected a cool reception from the Canadians. Once they made it through the immigration process, they were treated to free refreshments from the Salvation Army, Knights of Columbus War Activities and Y.M.C.A, in a large hall. They had time to freshen up and were shown a place for their children to take a nap while they waited for the trains to be loaded with passengers. If someone was ill, they could be seen by a nurse.

On the final leg of their journey, young children and the ill were given special treatment while travelling by train. Each train carried a Red Cross nurse. Once they arrived at their final destination, the local Rotary Club took them home in cars.

Cars taking soldiers home. Annette Fulford collection.

Sadly, Gladys Kendrey didn't stay in Canada for long. She and her husband Roscoe went to the US where her husband died in 1930. She returned to England with her young son. Donald Walker Kendrey enlisted in the British army during WW2 and died on 28 November 1944. His name is listed on a memorial in Singapore for the soldiers and airmen who have no known grave.

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