War Brides' Organisations

1945 – 1950s

War Brides' Organisations

1945 – 1950s

Theme: Immigration and ethnicity

This essay written by Val Wood was first published in Women Together: a History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand in 1993.

War brides' organisations were formed to give assistance and companionship to the overseas wives and fiancées of New Zealand servicemen who were arriving in this country from 1945 onwards. Such organisations flourished at first, but gradually became less active as the women settled.

Hundreds of New Zealand servicemen in World War II married women from the countries where they were stationed. When the war ended the men were sent home, followed months later by their wives and children and finally by their fiancées. Many of these women experienced difficulties in adjusting to their new country: problems with in-laws; the extreme housing shortage, which meant that young couples had to live in appalling conditions for a while; and loneliness – the men were away all day at work, and in the evening there were no local pubs where they could meet friends for a chat.

Organisations such as the RSA, YWCA and Airforce Relations recognised the war brides' difficulties and arranged groups to help them. By early 1946 groups had been formed in Auckland, Hamilton, Hastings, Masterton, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill. In 1946, the Weekly News described the Overseas Club in Auckland as 'one of the best illustrations of the YWCA's "world fellowship of women" . . . run by the brides themselves with a Canadian president, an English vice-president and a Scottish secretary'. [1] Lin Evitt remembered, 'It was great, we were able to let off steam and just talk to our hearts' content and there were keep-fit classes that we could also attend.' [2]

Warbrides and kids at Xmas party

Lin Evitt.

War brides and their children at a Christmas party at the YWCA in Auckland, 1947.

A Canadian Society was also formed in Auckland, under the leadership of Mrs A. T. Grandison. Six of its recently arrived war brides were described in the Weekly News in 1945 as feeling disappointed at the thought of a summer Christmas and longing for some real snow. Sheila Horton recalled how another club started: 'I got the names of those [overseas airforce wives] who were living in and around Auckland and . . . we invited them to lunch in a city store. From that lunch we floated the Cosmopolitan Club.' [3] In October 1946 the Weekly News reported on:

an exceptionally happy group of girls who have formed the Cosmopolitan Club under the leadership of Mrs Cyril Tucker, for wives of servicemen from all parts of the world including French and Italian brides. . . . They have a morning tea every third Thursday of the month. . . . Funds are raised by small donations, for flowers to other brides in hospital or maternity homes. [4]

In September 1946 Lady Freyberg, herself an Englishwoman married to a New Zealand soldier, was invited by the Victoria League to meet overseas wives of New Zealand servicemen at morning tea. She told them, 'All of us have fallen for New Zealanders and so we have a great bond in common.' [5]

As well as support and companionship, the war brides wanted to learn the skills of a New Zealand housewife. At the first meeting of the Overseas Wives' Club in Wellington on 12 September 1946, 100 prospective members heard Mrs Weston of the RSA Women's Auxiliary talk about classes in cooking, dress-making, drama, and any other subject they wished to learn. A month later the club had a membership of 250. Former member Marjory Rogers recalled, 'The club was marvellous as so many of us had a rough spin with our in-laws. We were told about conditions here and about shopping; and shown how to cook New Zealand dishes. The cuts of meat and varieties of fish were all different to those we knew.' [6]

Groups were sometimes set up by women who had themselves been war brides in World War I, such as Vera Mason of Hastings. In March 1946, she met by chance a young woman with a baby who had arrived in the country three days before, only to find her sailor husband had to rejoin his ship. She had nowhere to live and no friends or relations to turn to. After arranging accommodation for her, Mason formed the British Women Overseas Club to help other new arrivals. The group met regularly for 29 years before going out of existence in November 1975.

An Otago group called Kiwis Overseas was started in 1946 by 25 war brides from World War I to provide help and friendship for new arrivals. Other groups formed in Masterton, Christchurch and Invercargill with the same objectives. The Homeland Society in Hamilton met on Wednesday afternoons and also arranged social evenings for the women and their husbands; during the Empire Ball in 1953, the group performed a minuet in costume as part of the entertainment.

Under a variety of titles, the clubs for overseas brides all performed the same valuable service in the post-war years. As the young wives settled into their new life and had children, their need to maintain contact with other women from their home country gradually diminished. By the mid 1950s many of the clubs had closed through lack of membership. The Palmerston North Overseas Club, however, met regularly until 1960, and a few of the original members still met occasionally into the 1990s. A Southland group originally set up in 1946 held a reunion in 1989, and later re-formed.

Towards the end of the 1980s, research for a book on war brides led to several other clubs holding reunions. As a result, some former war brides, now grandmothers in their seventies, began meeting informally around the country to reminisce about their experiences in their adopted country.

Val Wood

Notes

[1] Weekly News, 24 April 1946, p. 13.

[2] Lin Evitt, personal communication, 28 December 1988.

[3] Horton, 1 984, p. 57.

[4] Weekly News, 23 October 1946, p. 12

[5] Weekly News, 18 September 1946, p. 12

[6] Marjory Rogers, personal communication, 12 December 1988.

Published sources

Horton, Sheila, Memoirs of a Colonial Goose, Shoal Bay Press, Auckland, 1984

Wood, Val, War Brides: They Followed Their Hearts to New Zealand, Random Century, Auckland, 1991

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