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Memento : Issue 31
SEARCHING FOR A WAR BRIDE? If you would like to find information about a World War II bride, the National Archives holds records of the voyages of the ‘bride ships’. The Repatriation Commission authorised free passage to Australia for servicemen’s wives, fiancées and children and kept records of the ships’ voyages. Between 1944 and 1949, 110 ships were chartered to make 177 voyages. Some made only a single voyage; other ships made regular journeys, such as the Orion, which transported war brides on seven voyages between February 1947 and February 1949. Most voyages sailed from the United Kingdom, but the ships also collected wives and fiancées from other ports including Bombay, San Francisco, New York and Vancouver. The Repatriation Commission created a file for each voyage. The files record the names of women and children on board and may also hold information about notable incidents, illnesses, complaints about conditions, or even ships’ menus. The files provide a window on life aboard ship for women and children journeying to new lives in Australia, such as those who travelled on the Stirling Castle. The Stirling Castle was a converted troop ship, and lacked modern comforts. Some of the cabins were crowded, with 10 berths. Toilet arrangements were ‘generally good’, but the Repatriation Welfare Officer noted that a ‘great demand for bathrooms caused delay in bathing for most passengers’. D Deck was used as a nursery during the day and a picture theatre at night. The Repatriation Officer admitted that recreation was lacking on the ship over the long journey, which took about four weeks to travel to Australia. During one voyage, RAAF officers onboard attempted to remedy the deficiency, organising concerts, deck games, cards and quiz nights. Dances were tried, but unfortunately ‘fell flat’ because of the shortage of male partners. The Stirling Castle made three voyages during 1946, carrying up to 600 women and children on each journey. Passengers suffered a variety of minor and more serious illnesses, such as sunstroke and seasickness. Sadly, one child died during the June voyage and another shortly after embarkation in Western Australia. For some young mothers, the voyage to Australia was the first time they had looked after their babies without the support of family and friends. Crew and other passengers did what they could to help – a baby minding service was established to give mothers time to do chores and rest, while the kitchen crew baked over 30 birthday cakes for young passengers. You can find out more about the bride ships by contacting our National Reference Service on 1300 886 881 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org . For information on a particular person, you will need to provide the name of the ship and the date of arrival. Michael Wenke and Kellie Abbott [above] Cherry Parker, pictured having a cup of tea with her neighbour, arrived in Australia from Japan in 1952, four years after her marriage to Gordon Parker. NAA:A1501,A908/4 MEMENTO WINTER 06 13