Home > War Bride Stories > Mari Helen (nee Whike) Whiting
| Click for larger view. Maury and Mari Whiting on their 61st wedding anniversary.
Contributed by Maury Whiting
The many events celebrating the year of the war bride brought to fore memories of my bride, Mari, and some of her adventures. She was a young twenty year old, pregnant with our first child, when she stepped off the ship at Halifax. After a ten day rough sea voyage she was then faced with a four day train journey to reach her destination, a small town in Saskatchewan. What a brave girl she was.
I first saw Mari when I was waiting for a train to attend a dance in a town several miles away. I noticed her as she climbed the stairs to the platform, she was the most beautiful girl that I had ever seen. The Underground Train swished into the station and she entered the first door that opened. I was staring at her and almost missed me ride but I managed to wedge into the last car just before the doors closed. I hopped out of the train the minute that it stopped, hoping to see her again, but she had disappeared in the crowd.
I went to the dance still thinking about her and was sitting waiting for the music to begin when the band leader announced, “the next dance will be a lady's excuse me (ladies choice-tag dance)”, and from out of nowhere a voice said to me, “would you care to dance?” I looked up and there she was.
I was on leave at the time awaiting a ship to return to Canada to attend the Officer Training Centre at Brockville, Ontario and I saw her everyday for a week until I was summoned to report for departure. We corresponded during my stay in Canada , and we took up where we had left off on my return to England in late 1944. We were married shortly after the war ended in Europe in July 1945.
The five O'clock Flyer came to a grinding halt right on time on the afternoon of the 25th of May 1946, having made a special stop to let Mari off. She looked gorgeous as she stepped off the train immaculately dressed in a beautifully tailored blue suit that discreetly revealed that she was about five months pregnant. A local towns woman, by the name of Helen Ramsay, headed up a small group to welcome her but Mari was not impressed with their dissertion of the virtues of Qu'Appelle while standing in the hot afternoon sun. She claims to this day that the temperature was over 105 degrees Fahrenheit. I have never heard of such a high temperature in Saskatchewan in May, but I guess with her trepidation of meeting my family for the first time and being dressed in a wool suit made it like it. It was a hot day no doubt.
I had borrowed a car from a neighbor to pick her up and she suggested that we go for a short drive so that we could catch up a bit after being several months apart. We drove around the town for awhile exchanging stories and then we went to Hamblin Brothers store to meet my brother Bill, who was employed there. He dashed out and gave Mari a big hug and a kiss, which broke the ice a bit for meeting other members of my family. I am the eldest of nine so she had a few more to meet.
My parents lived on a small farm on the fringe of town and we made that our next destination. My mother had all the kids scrubbed clean in their best Sunday duds and lined up outside the house to greet us. They were all there except sister Elsie who was away teaching school at some remote place in Northern Saskatchewan . Mari was nervous, my mother was nervous and the kids were nervous, so the introductions were reduced to a polite hand shake and muttered greetings, while my younger siblings stared at Mari intrigued with her English accent. We talked, awaiting my dad and brother Bill to come home for supper, and while we talked my mother kept dashing about getting the meal ready. Mari was from a small family who had been subjected to food rationing for more than six years, and her eyes grew wide when she saw my mother placing heaping bowls of food on our very large table with place settings for eleven. “Does she do this all the time?” she asked me later. “Only three times a day,” I said. It was normal procedure in our house and until then I had not appreciated my mum's diligent efforts in preparing meals for us.
The initial reactions of my beautiful bride to her new environment can best be described by her, but coming from the bright lights of London to the dimly lit town of Qu'Appelle and to a house with no electricity or running water must have been quite a shock. I can still see the bewildered look on her face when I handed her a flashlight to find her way to the outside toilet, then washing her hands in a basin with warm rain water from the wood stove reservoir. “Do I use that to brush my teeth too?” she asked. “Oh no,” I replied, “use the water from the pail beside the basin, its hard water from the well.
Jobs were scarce, housing was scarce and cars were scarce so we stayed with my parents while I searched for employment. After a few weeks I found a job with a grain company, located at White Bear, a village about three hundred and fifty miles north west of Qu'Appelle . One of the fringe benefits was that a house went with the job at a very modest rental. We thought that we were in clover. As luck would have it a friend of mine offered to sell me an old 1927 Buick, that he assured me was in good condition, so we loaded up our worldly possessions, including a young pup Laddie that one of my aunts had given Mari, and we set out on our journey.
It was a beautiful morning in July and we purred right along on old Number 1 Highway on the way to Regina . As we were making our way along one of the main streets in the city, the car radiator suddenly exploded spewing anti-freeze all over the windshield making it impossible to see where I was going. I glanced around the side of the windshield and pulled over to the curb while dozens of city dwellers, on their way to work, gaped at us in wonder. Mari started to laugh but I couldn't find any humour in our situation, we were miles from our destination and I had no idea what the problem was. I checked the oil and it was topped up, but the radiator was bone dry. I got some water from a friendly citizen, filled the radiator, recovered the cap and started the motor and we set off again. During the next fifty miles or so we had several repeats of the problem and finally I pulled into a small town garage and asked a mechanic to take a look at it. “You've blown a gasket,” he said, “I can fix it in about a half hour, so why don't you take your wife to lunch and I will get right onto it.”
With the motor repaired we sped right along and entered the small city of Swift Current late in the afternoon. After a brief stop for gas and a cool drink we headed North and arrived at the banks of the Saskatchewan River around five thirty where we were held up for a half an hour, awaiting the ferry. It was near dusk before we could continue with the last leg of our journey.
It was pitch dark when we finally arrived at our destination and there wasn't a soul in sight. A single light bulb dimly lit up the sign of the White Bear Hotel, a two storey wood frame building, located at the end of the street. I parked in front and got out to investigate. A sweaty man in a smudge white T-shirt answered the door.
“Do you have any accommodation?” I asked.
“Sure, we got a room,” he said, “are you the new Agent for the Pioneer Grain Company?”
I nodded and went to get Mari and the man introduced us to his wife and she led us upstairs to a room. It was reasonably clean but sparsely furnished, an old fashioned washstand with a basin and water jug and two bedside floors mats, were the only amenities accompanying the double bed. The room was also very hot, no air conditioning or fans. “No dogs.” said the landlady, so I told Laddy he would have to bunk in the car for the night.
We didn't get much sleep, because of the heat, and the next morning when I went to get the pup out of the car I found the beautifully upholstered back seat in shreds. Fortunately he had not touched the front seat, for which I was very grateful. After breakfast I made my way to the grain elevator to meet the agent, who had been instructed to stay on the job for a few days to show me around. He was a very nice man and when he learned that we were staying at the White Bear Hotel waiting for our furniture to arrive, he called his wife and they invited us to stay at their house for the interval. We stayed with them for four days and they refused to take my offer of compensation, which was a prime example of true western hospitality.
Our house was a two bedroom bungalow, no electricity or running water, but clean and recently painted. After settling in, with the arrival of our furniture, we decided to tour the town. What a disappointment, two small grocery stores, a hardware store, machine shop, a garage and a post office were the only buildings on the main street, other than the hotel, with about a dozen houses scattered around it. Several houses had a small hedge in front but no lawn or trees, in fact there wasn't a tree in sight. We certainly were on the bald prairie and Mari must have thought that I had brought her to the end of the earth. There was no sign of a doctors office either and were concerned with the baby coming as to where we would have to go for Mari's care. When we asked about it we were told that the nearest medical facilities were at Eston a town some forty miles distant. To say the least we were both very disappointed with the situation, and wondered if we would stay, but with a baby due to arrive in several weeks and no where else to go we had no option.
We made a few friends, at White Bear, but there was no social life whatever, no library, no movie theatre and no dances. I knew that Mari was unhappy, but she busied herself caring for our new baby son and honing up her culinary skills and she seldom complained. One day in late autumn of the second year we were watching the snow fall from our kitchen window and suddenly, we looked at each other and almost in unison said, “lets get out of here.”
We decided to move to my home town and found a two bedroom upstairs apartment with electricity but no running water. A slight improvement. I found a job the day after we arrived in a grocery store and despite the cold weather Mari seemed to be a lot happier in her new environment. We lived in the apartment until Spring and then we had the opportunity to buy my parents small farm, on the edge of town, and I talked Mari into moving there.
A whole series of new experiences awaited my bride, who had never been on a farm in her life, and she relishes relating them to her grand children. She will tell you about the time she harvested and shelled a whole pail full of green peas, only to have them ruined by our young son, who poured coal oil on them when Mari turned away to do something else. And about the time that she tried to bring in our cow, a long horned Ayshire, that she claims charged her and she had to run for her life. And about the horses that she stabled and tried to harness only to have them trap her in the stall and she was obliged to climb into the manger to escape. She will also tell you about the rude little pigs who would knock the pail of food out of her hand before she could pour into their trough, and spill the contents all over their pen, and then squeal at her until she went to get more. Her best story, though, is about the coyote and the young turkeys that she was so proud of. For several days she had watched a coyote inch closer and closer to her turkey coop, and then one day he came close enough to grab one and run away with it. She was beside herself when I came home from work, so I suggested that she guard the rest of them with a small caliber rifle my dad had left on the farm. The next day Mari and our young son set up a look out post and waited for the predator armed with the weapon. The coyote arrived and our young son said, “shoot him Mum,” but she couldn't pull the trigger and one by one the coyote stole all her lovely little turkey poults. It was a sad day in our house.
We lived on the farm for over two years and then with a new baby due to arrive we decided to sell it and move back into town where we bought a two bedroom house. Not long after our baby arrived, a beautiful daughter, I heard that the Armed Forces were looking for World War 2 Veterans to help with the training of troops for the Korean Conflict, so I rejoined the Army and we left Saskatchewan .
Different assignments during my service provided the opportunity for us to live in a variety of new environments, we enjoyed them all, and on retirement we settled in a friendly village near the City of Ottawa.
I am happy to report that my beautiful bride is still with me after nearly sixty-two years and that we still live in the friendly village, in our own home. This one has electricity and running water.
We are proud parents of four, grandparents of ten and great grandparents of five --- at last count.
Biography of Mari Helen Whiting
Mari Helen Whiting (nee Whike) was born on the 26 of September 1925 at Amersham, Buckingamshire England. She is the second of three daughters of Leonard and Mabel Whike.
She attended Black Horse Bridge School at Amersham, until she was nine years old, and then her family moved to Ruislip Manor Middlesex where they bought a home at 6 Dawlish Drive . She attended Lady Banks School , on arrival, and later attended Pinner Road High School .
After graduation she worked for a short time in a local library, and then found a job in the heart of London at a Tea Clearing House.
In May 1944 she joined the WRNS and served initially at a Fleet Air Arm Base at Arbroath Scotland , as an Electrical Technician, and she transferred to the Naval Secret Service and served at a Base near Eastcote, Middlesex. She was released from the Service in October 1945.
Her father Leonard Whike, served with a Royal Engineer Battalion throughout the war on bases in England . He was a bricklayer by trade.
This story was added to the War Brides website on June 6, 2007.
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