Bev Tosh, a Canadian artist, painted One-Way Passage, a monumental portrait of her mother Dorothy as a young war bride who emigrated from her native Canada to New Zealand. The portrait includes the names of ships on which many war brides had travelled. This painting was the direct catalyst for her continuing research on war brides.
These “war brides” are women she has met and corresponded with in Canada and the United States, Britain, Holland, New Zealand and Australia. Each war bride has recounted her story to the artist – a personal story about love and family, adaptation, endurance and identity. Their stories, of finding and sometimes losing love, represent the leap of faith taken by thousands in order to build lives far from home.
War Brides: One-Way Passage
The result can be seen in War Brides: One-Way Passage, a fascinating exhibition which interweaves personal, social, historical and artistic elements. All the art is based directly on primary sources including hundreds of personal interviews, photographs, letters, personal memorabilia and period artifacts. While the experiences of women are often overshadowed in the historical record, Bev Tosh shines a spotlight on ordinary women in extraordinary times.
“Bev Tosh is truly a visual poet who enriches our understanding of the past through an artistic sensibility that transforms the cold facts of distant history into a vivid, poignant and present reality.”
Monique Westra, Curator of Art
Portraits in Sepia, Stories in Silk: Canada’s British War Brides
May 5 to June 30, 2016
Canada House (main lobby)
Trafalgar Square, London, UK
Imagine a young woman walking up a gangplank alone in the late 1940s:
When I left my home, England, I stood on the deck of the ship and watched the coastline slowly fade away. I wondered wherever am I going? Will I ever see my home again? (Vera Sanderson)
In 1946, Canada House was where travel documents were issued to enable the more than 40,000 young British women–war brides who had married Canadian servicemen–to embark on new lives in Canada.
What had been troopships throughout World War II were later nicknamed “bride ships” as they ferried tens of thousands of young women from Southampton and Liverpool to the port of Halifax, Nova Scotia and onwards to their husbands across Canada.
This exhibit of 40 full-length portraits in the Trafalgar Square Lobby of Canada House is accompanied by a length of silk that tells the personal story of each bride. Collectively, they pay tribute to the tens of thousands of war brides for whom a leap of faith meant not just a new husband, but a new country. The artist has also embroidered names of bride ships onto vintage handkerchiefs to create a translucent sculpture titled Veil of Tears.