Jackie McLaughlin was a war bride who came to Australia from England in 1946.
Jackie McLaughlin was a war bride who came to Australia from England in 1946.

War bride reaches out to others

JACKIE McLaughlin wonders if there are still women like her who came to Australia by ship at the end of World War II.

They were the war brides.

About 70,000 of these women left Britain in the 1940s bound for Canada or America. Some of them came to Australia.

"I never kept in contact with any of them," Jackie says sadly.

But now, at age 96, and as she peruses the regular Veteran Affairs magazine, Jackie has started to wonder if there are any of those women left, or their family members, who she can chat with about their life journey.

The spritely Englishwoman lives in the forest just west of Queensland's Sunshine Coast.

She's buried her husband of 64 years and her only child, but Jackie still has the company of her second husband, 80-year-old Colin.

 

Jacki McLaughlin with Cathy Meyer from Caloundra Family History Group.
Jacki McLaughlin with Cathy Meyer from Caloundra Family History Group.

 

The memories of her time during World War II and how she came to live in Australia are still vivid and heart-wrenching.

It was a sheet wiped clean, Jackie declares, when she landed in Australia with no idea nor worry of what the future held.

Christened Daphne, she ran away from her country home in Surrey and travelled solo to London to sign up for the air force at age 17 and a half. The war had started two years before.

She had listened to her brother talk about his "exciting" time in the air force as the bored young lady reflected on her future.

"It was either go into one of the forces or the land army or be called up for a munitions factory, and I wasn't an indoor girl.

"That's the sole reason I signed up and I am so glad I did." Her mother threw he hands up in horror, but her father said, 'You really want to do this, don't you?'. I said, 'Yes I do'," Jackie says. "He then said, 'This will be the making you, my girl'.

"I didn't live up to the ladylike name of Daphne at all."

 

Jackie McLaughlin when she entered the air force at age 18.
Jackie McLaughlin when she entered the air force at age 18.

 

After the first week in training camp, her fellow trainees decided they needed to find a less ladylike name for the tomboy.

"They came up with Jackie, and it stuck."

Unfortunately, Jackie says, she spent most of the war working in an office.

It took five months from first setting eyes on each other after an "inane" meeting outside the local pub at Bridlington in Yorkshire in 1944 to walking down the aisle for Jackie with her first husband, Doug, an Australian air force navigator and bomb-aimer. She was 20 and he was 21.

Soon after the war ended, Doug returned to Australia while Jackie stayed in England until May 1946.

She then joined 360 English women and children on board the former hospital ship Atlantis.

Some of the women had been visiting England when the war broke out, others had married Australian personnel.

"One or two of them were going for the trip only and they weren't going to stay here, even though they were married to an Australian," Jackie recalls.

 

An image of the ship Atlantis on which Jackie travelled to Australia.
An image of the ship Atlantis on which Jackie travelled to Australia.

 

The ship first stopped in Fremantle before docking in Melbourne on June 29.

From there she travelled by train to Sydney and on to Brisbane, where Doug was waiting to start their life together in the city.

Jackie remembers on the voyage meeting Una and her two-year-old son.

Una hadn't heard from her husband for quite some time. When they got to Sydney, Jackie accompanied Una to the army office where she was informed the address the husband had provided to the army was a vacant block.

Una and her son, left with nothing to live on in Sydney, soon stowed away in a lifeboat on a ship heading for England.

They were discovered after only a few days and after she shared her story, the passengers gathered enough money to pay their fare.

Jackie's other poignant memory of the voyage to Australia is of a very young boy who became sick and died during the voyage.

"We were two or three days out from Fremantle and the funeral came," Jackie says.

"They stopped the boat and we all stood on the deck."

As the swaddled body was lowered over the side, his mother was in shock.

"She was torn to pieces and said as soon as she hit land she would go straight back to Australia as her husband will say she had killed her little boy.

"They got in touch with her husband (in Sydney) and they flew him to Perth and he was on the dock at Fremantle.

"He came on board. She was shell-shocked, not knowing what to say or do. He just walked up and put his arms around her."

She looks back now with some sadness, but also a lot of joy of the life she came to live in Australia.

Before she left England, Jackie bumped into an old school friend who was to marry an Australian from Goondiwindi. The fare was being paid for by the Australian government as long as she was married within three months. Both were excited they would be living near each other. "Just imagine, in England you walk from this place to that," Jackie says.

The two girls looked at a map of Queensland and got the tape measure out to work out the distance between Brisbane and Goondiwindi.

"We thought, 'That's not that far away, we can have afternoon tea together'," Jackie adds with peals of laughter.

Jackie's not been back to England: "It's too cold," she says.