Memories of a war time holiday wedding

Joan LeBlanc
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Above, Sackville resident Jean MacAulay holds her wedding photo. MacAualy and her late husband David were married during World War II. The inset photos show the MacAulay's during their service in the Second World War.

SACKVILLE, NB – In spite of the ravages of war, it seems love will always find a way. And it was no different during the years of World War II.

Jean MacAulay, a young nurse who served in Europe during the war, recently recalled the unique circumstances of her wedding to a handsome Canadian soldier in Holland after the war had finally drawn to a close.

Born and raised in Meadowville, a small town in Pictou County, Nova Scotia; Jean graduated as a registered nurse in 1937 and spent some time doing private nursing duty and working with the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON) before enlisting in the Canadian army.

“I was sent to England first but it was soon after the invasion in Normandy that I was sent to France and then to Germany,” Jean recalled recently at her home in Sackville.

“The ones that were very ill were airlifted to England and if their injuries weren’t too bad they remained in the hospital and had their convalescence there.”

While in France she met a friendly army captain who was with the Canadian Intelligence Corps, a Cape Breton native and former student at Mount Allison University in Sackville.

A mutual friend introduced the pair and they went on an outing with friends. Jean explained that at that time the Allies were getting close to winning the war and it still wasn’t safe for unescorted women to go out by themselves.

‘I was on night duty and it was my day off, but there was no place to go (by herself). Mr. Wigmore (the mutual friend) wanted to go into Germany to a British hospital. There was a Canadian patient there who wanted to come back to a Canadian hospital…my roommate and I went with them…then later David asked me to go out with him,” she said.

As the days of summer moved into September, the romance began to blossom, but due to the war time situation the logistics of dating weren’t always that easy.

“You couldn’t just go in somewhere and have a cup of coffee; there were designated places where members of the army could eat. You couldn’t eat on the German economy, or the Dutch, because didn’t have any food and we weren’t allowed to take any of the food they had, even though we would pay for it,” Jean remembered.

The couple continued to see one another for another year, the war ending in May, 1945. David and Jean both remained in Europe as the continent began the huge task of picking up the pieces left behind by five devastating years of battle.

She recalled that there was a huge feeling of relief when the cessation of the war was finally announced.

“But I was in Germany then, and the German people weren’t happy about the outcome,” she said.

Months passed and in the weeks leading up to Christmas, 1945 the couple decided to marry, but that simple, precious event was plagued with problems. David and Jean tried to be married in Germany, but because the German government was not yet reorganized there was no official responsible civil government in place.

“We couldn’t get married in Germany, so we decided to go to Holland and be married there. It was in the new year by then, and when we got there we found out that, in Holland when a couple marries, at least one of them has to be a Dutch citizen. Of course David and I were both Canadian, so we didn’t know what we were going to do,” Jean recalled.

At that time Canadians were held in very high esteem by the Dutch citizens, and that honour still remains today. On January 8, 1946 the couple went to the village of Winschoten in Holland, just across the border from Germany, and asked to be married there.

The burgermeester (village mayor) agreed to marry them, but first he held a brief ceremony proclaiming Jean to be an honourary Dutch citizen. He then performed the wedding ceremony and the couple left, travelling to Paris for their honeymoon.

“I still have our marriage certificate; it’s in Dutch. And I’m still an honourary Dutch citizen too,” Jean said with a smile.

Two days later the couple was married again in a religious ceremony held in a small church in France.

She explained that in many European countries a religious ceremony does not constitute a legal marriage, so a civil ceremony must be held.

“We wanted to get married in a church, so we got married again on January 10. We’ve always had two anniversaries,” she said.

Jean recalled that during the honeymoon in Paris they again dealt with food and fuel shortages.

“Everyone was cold. I remember we went to a (live theatre) show and it was very cold in the theatre. The performers were shivering and their hands were very red,” she recalled.

The couple remained together until two weeks before they were both scheduled to return to Canada, she sailing on the Duchess of Bedford, a private ship commandeered by the British government to assist in transporting civilian and military personnel back home to Canada. David travelled with military personnel on the much faster ship, the Queen Mary.

Jean chuckled when she recalled that she set sail a week before her husband but the just outside of Halifax harbour the Queen Mary overtook the Duchess of Bedford, steaming into harbour to a jolly reception, complete with band and dignitaries.

“By the time our ship got to the dock, the seats were empty, the band had all left. There were just a few people waiting on the dock, including my mother and brother. Everyone onboard was so happy to be home in Canada that they starting calling out to my mother, as I was. My mother thought it was great, although she said she didn’t realized that that many people knew her,” Jean smiled.

Back to civilian life the couple lived in BC for many years, where they raised their sons Dan and Jim. Later moving to Sackville, David was Dean of Men and an avid football supporter at Mount Allison University. The university later named their new football field the David M. MacAulay Field in his honour. David passed away in 2000 and Jean – who will mark her 97th birthday in a few weeks, still resides in the family home with her son Dan.


Organizations: Mount Allison University, Victorian Order, Canadian Intelligence Corps British hospital

Geographic location: SACKVILLE, Germany, Holland France Europe England Meadowville Pictou County Nova Scotia Normandy Cape Breton Canada Paris Halifax BC

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