Sunday, July 29, 2007

Feel insecure? Still unpublished? Write a letter to the editor

Damned insecurity.

I haven't had anything published for months so I thought I'd scour the local newspaper for stories I could comment on in print.

Found a honey:

War bride learned to love Newmarket

By: Patrick Mangion. Photo by Bill Roberts.

Nearly 61 years ago, Martha Cullen took her son by the hand and boarded the Queen Mary. At the time, she didn’t know anything about what would be her new home on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean — a little town called Newmarket.

With the Second World War over in the summer of 1946 and her father’s blessing to embark on a fresh start, Mrs. Cullen, a 24-year-old Glasgow native given to home sickness, would leave everything behind, like so many other war brides.

Her husband, Joe Cullen, had already returned to his hometown from his duties as an army dispatcher in England by the time his young bride crammed into a tiny cabin with five children and six adults for the Atlantic crossing.Mr. Cullen died from cancer 29 years ago.

“If I was here first, I would have left,” she said, laughing about her Newmarket home.“I hated it. I was so lonely.”

At a time when Davis Drive was still a dirt road, the community marked a sharp contrast from the urban glow of Glasgow.

She would eventually warm to her surroundings and go on to raise a family of three boys, Matthew, Mitchell and Michael, and one girl, Janet.Today, the 83-year-old still calls Newmarket home.

But her journey here would test the mettle of anyone.

When it was believed two children in her cabin became seriously ill during the voyage, all 11 were quarantined for the trip.

“The sailors had to bring us our meals. It was terrible,” she said.“It was just a tiny room with bunk beds. We snuck out at night to go to the show.

”Things didn’t get much better by the time by the time the storied ocean liner steamed into Halifax’s famed port at Pier 21 — the gateway into Canada for countless immigrants.You might think Nova Scotia, with its Maritime charm, offered abundant opportunities for adventurous new Canadians looking to explore.But for Mrs. Cullen and son Matthew, the first place they visited was a navy hospital in Halifax.

She would later say she saw more of the city during last year’s war brides ceremonies, 60 years after first touching down on Canadian soil.

Canadian health officials at the port feared a child from another family, who shared the same cabin during the journey from England, had contracted spinal meningitis.

Mrs. Cullen spent a week, confined to her hospital room while doctors conducted tests.

It turned out it was all for naught.

She was released and stayed at a hostel until her train to Toronto arrived.

By then, she was suffering from whooping cough. It might be enough to make one pine for the days of food and clothing rations, regular rolling blackouts and ear-piercing bomb sirens gripping Western Europe during the war.

Living with the hardships of war just became a fact of life, Mrs. Cullen recalled.

With government-issued coupons to ration clothing during the war, she purchased additional coupons on the black market to pay for a modest wedding dress.

War’s grip even affected what would normally be a romantic and memorable moment when Mr. Cullen proposed on bent knee at a Glasgow street car station.

“There was a blackout. I couldn’t even see him in front of me,” laughing as she recalled how they had to call out for one another in the darkness.

The two met in 1940 while Mr. Cullen was on leave from England.

He and his pals regularly turned to Scotland for revelry and a temporary reprieve from war.

“I can’t recall if we met at a dance or at a pub. We met through a friend of his and that was it,” she said.

Despite only seeing one another for one week, every three to four months, their bond grew quickly.

The following year, they married in her hometown.

As a staunch Protestant, her father, James, would eventually warm to the idea of his eldest daughter marrying a Catholic.

But he would only learn of a second, Catholic, wedding, after Mrs. Cullen had converted at her husband’s request.

“My father had lots to say about that when he finally found out. Luckily, he liked Joe,” she said.

To support his young family, Mr. Cullen bought a truck when he returned from the war, hauling loads around Newmarket to make ends meet.

Mrs. Cullen kept her husband’s meticulous accounting books, showing 50-cent transactions for hauling gravel.

It was rewarding, but unstable work.

He turned to a tire company at the corner of Main and Queen streets.Mrs. Cullen remembered one phone call that caused a few tense moments around the Cullen household.

“He was repairing a tire when one of them blew up. I had to go get him at the hospital.”

Sadly, their time together would be cut far too short after Mr. Cullen was diagnosed with cancer.It spread rapidly and he died just five weeks after being admitted to hospital in Newmarket and still shy of his 60th birthday. He left her with four children.

Looking back, Mrs. Cullen never paid much mind to her ordeal.

It wasn’t until hundreds of fellow war brides descended on Halifax at last year’s ceremonies, honouring the European women, that she could appreciate her place in Canadian history.

The women, most of whom were in their 80s, were given a rock star welcome the moment they stepped off the train.

“People would reach out and try to touch us. You had to be there to believe it,” she said

.Canadians have only recently begun to take notice of war brides and their place in Canadian history, author Melynda Jarratt said

.She has written two books on war brides.“Most war brides would have an infinitely better life than they would have in the United Kingdom. They were heralded as a great addition to Canada,” Mrs. Jarratt said.

“Despite all the suffering and tragedy of war, something good did come of it: love, marriage and children.”

And here is my comment on this article, published today:

Letters to the Editor
Jul 28, 2007 06:17 AM Re: Building life in post-war Canada, July 24.

Here I thought my own family had a monopoly on suffering and woe during and after the Second World War, but Mrs. Cullen’s tale seems to reach epic proportions. The nightmarish journey of sickness on the Queen Mary, the family religious anxieties, the string of jobs Joe Cullen had to take, the blast at the tire shop and, finally, Joe’s illness and his passing away.

Here’s to you, Martha Cullen.You are some woman and yours is an incredible family. Good on you!

Ivan Prokopchuk


Wow. Just a matter of time until I am hounded by paparazzi and people wanting my autograph.




Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

Moat excellent story you chose to add today. what a strong woman she is and her family is lucky to have her.

We all have our problems don't we Ivan, but somehow we get through, even with those scars that remind us.

thank you for sharing this

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

I meant most... my apologies said...


Ah, there is such a moat. :-)


EA Monroe said...

Ivan, I was thinking about your childhood while I was scribbling my post the other day. I thought, you sure could have used some of those Reader's Digest coupons!

Thanks for sharing the war bride's story. I often wonder if folks today could survive every hardship the folks went through back in the 30s and 40s!

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...


Not to answer for Ivan, but my daughters friends, I watch them and they are so tough or so they think. they haven't a clue. There is no way they can even understand it, never the less handle it.

the walking man said...

I had to lose my Ivan comment virginity somewhere and this post seems to be as good a one as any. I van you are a remarkable man who vaguely resembles the one poet I have a button of on my hat, Bukowski.

But that aside my grandfather went from Scotland to Canada, just in time to be wounded three times in the war to end all wars and gassed once.

Mrs. Cullens story i am sure was more of a hardship trip to Canada than grandpa Stewart's because it was 30 years later.

So now that I no longer an Ivan virgin and don't have a camera, may I at least have your autograph?

I know that I will be able to take it on the antiques roadshow and e told it is worth thousands if not hundreds of thousands but ....unfortunately you have to pass away ...but seeing as how i am younger than you, i can wait so go ahead and take all the time you want..if you survived dumpster diving in Detroit and look like JR then you must be at least as mean as Buk in his prime.


TWM said...

We could have used those coupons, though hardnly anybody in my family could read the Digest in English, let alone try for the coupons.

Seems the people before us were sort of Depresion-hardened tough-nut types.


Ivan said...


There was a song by a Canadian group, "The Pursuit of Happiness."

I believe it was called "Rebel Without a Clue."

I must confess that was more or less me when younger.

Ivan said...

The Walking Man,

It was fun to see Bukowski and Canadian poet Al Purdy match each other drink for drink to see who could be the drunkest before reading poetry at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre, a big event.

While here and there people say I'm a bit like Bukowski (certainly a drunk), I doubt if I could boast anywhere near Bukowski's or Purdy's
capacity for drink.
I beiieve it reached two 26ers and a couple of bottles of wine each.
This is Herculean drinking.
I am poor Hephaestus, the slightly lame mechanic...Couldn't hold a candle to those two champs.

As for losing your "comment virginity", I am heartened by Erik Ivan James, the sexy blogger who commented a year ago, "Ivan, you're not such a prick after all."
...So I don't think you will have been had, and thanks so much for commenting.

Yes, one day I will make a brilliant career move and die. :)


Lone Grey Squirrel said...

There are so many heores and their stories untold. These are the ordinary folk affected in any war. It is good that the war brides get their recognition. said...

p.s. to The Walking Man:

My techie has just put up my Schmoozer award, and thank you.

Ivan said...

Lone Grey Squirrel,
Amen to that.


JR's Thumbprints said...

So Ivan, this is how it's done! It beats what I'm about to do (again). Seems a local politician is proposing layoffs in the Michigan Department of Corrections. Last time I wrote him, the Warden made a brief comment to me. I had to explain that I'm a constituent and had the right to voice my opinion. How's that for recognition? said...

In my checkered career as both gigolo and The Scarlet Pimpernell, I once married into a banker's family.
Patriarch said to me, "Keep your head down. Enjoy a challenge, but don't overdo it. Don't be a target.
"Don't drive a Land Rover; drive a small Japanese compact SUV.
The Canadian way?

Oh if I'd only followed that advice.


Josie said...

Well, I'm one of the lucky ones. I actually have Ivan's autograph, heh, heh.

Great story. A lot of my friend's parents were war brides, and they all had such interesting and romantic stories to tell of how they met their husbands. I used to love listening to them. said...



benjibopper said...

ah well, it's a nice letter and a nice piece. That's what I like about local press, they'll use that much space to profile someone with an interesting story to tell.

Sometimes I think about writing letters to the editor, but I actually worry that publishing those will diminish my cred as a 'real writer'. Last night I had a dream I published an article in Now Magazine (which I did for real last year) and when I saw it in print I thought, damn, I should really get paid for this. Anyway, these few random confessions relate to that insecure feeling that my writing only matters if I get paid for it. said...

Used to write features for the SUN.
Long, long time ago. $75 a pop.

Egad, $75 X 10 is $750 today!


A said...

You're a rockstar, man! said...

In Woodstockese,


Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

::wink:: just imagine if I would have met you then...::grin:: said...

"We are star-bright
"We are golden..."

Josie said...

Well, it looks like you've been a busy boychik :-)

I'm sunburned. said...

I was doing so well until I got into conspiracy theories.
Spy vs Spy, as in the old MAD.

I got so confused, I began reading the magazine again for mental clarity.


Oh MAD, poor MAD, Something's Hung You Up and I'm Feeling So Sad.

(I think I stole that line from somebody in the Toronto newspaper business who noticed too that MAD ain't what it used to be).

Seriously, I spent much of the weekend on conspiracy theories.

I am so confused.


Josie said...

Conspiracy theories? Omigosh!

I think I was the BIGGEST fan of the old MAD magazine from years ago. I just loved it. It seems to me that a lot of things were better then. said...

Thingswere better then.
At least for us over here.
You could eat and drink in restaurants foreve and hardly be out money.
But the old EC comics were telling us about Korea...
Maybe they were telling too much and that's why they got squelched by old McCarthy and Co.
Anyway, it was so heartening to "talk" to some of the old EC folks lately.


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