At barely five feet tall, 95-year-old Kathleen Griffith was too small to be a nurse during the Second World War.
It’s not hard to believe – she looks tiny seated next to her dining room table, covered in faded sepia and grayscale photographs taken nearly 80 years ago.
Though she’s small, Griffith is anything but frail. Her blue eyes are clear and lively as she recounts joining the British Army Pay Corps during the war, meeting the 19-year-old Canadian soldier who would become her husband and in 1946, taking a ship to Canada to be with him.
Griffith was born Kathleen Smart in Bradford, England in 1923. During the Second World War, parts of Bradford were bombed and blackout regulations were put in place. It was during a blackout – the city reduced to flashlights and candlelight to avoid overhead visibility – that she met Gerald Griffith, a handsome Royal Canadian Air Force officer with the 425 Alouette Squadron, who was stationed nearby in Yorkshire.
They met in Yorkshire at Betty’s Bar, falling in love amidst the darkness and foreboding of war. But Griffith says youthful optimism won out over fear.
“You fall in love and you don’t think about tomorrow or even that the war will end,” she says, adding that it was easy to fall in love fast at the time – not only because people married young, but because during the war “you’re thinking, I might get killed tonight, why not?”
A year later, in April 1945, the couple married and days later, Gerald was deployed back to Canada to prepare for war on the Pacific Ocean. But the war soon ended, and he instead began the process of setting up their new life.
Griffith herself soon made the voyage, boarding French ocean liner Île de France and leaving behind everything she knew to come to Canada.
In a photo of Griffith aboard a train leaving England, she looks carefree, ready for the adventure of a lifetime.
“Oh, I was excited,” she says. She and Gerald lived first in Halifax, his hometown.
“I came from a dirty mill town, when I saw the ocean I thought, ‘oh my God,’” she recalls.
The couple moved to Quebec and eventually Toronto, where they raised their four children. Later, Griffith worked in security at the Toronto Science Centre and was briefly a member of the mayor’s council.
Gerald died in the late ’80s, and about 25 years ago, Griffith moved to Sidney where her son and three grandchildren also live.
Griffith’s daring post-war journey was not an isolated occurrence. She is among more than 40,000 war brides who voyaged oversea to be with Canadian husbands met during the war.
A painting of Griffith, youthful and veiled on her wedding day, is featured among the collection War Brides, by Calgary artist Bev Toth, currently on display at the Royal Air Force Museum in London, England.
Griffith admits it was hard, she left her mother and her siblings behind for the unknown.
But Canada quickly became home, she says. And she doesn’t regret making the leap of faith to join her husband and build a brand new life in a brand new world.
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