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There is a growing interest in collecting women’s personal experience stories, in particular, those which range from the early to the mid 1900’s. We come from over the Sea: British War Brides in Newfoundland and The Women of Fogo Island: Hear them speak are two prime examples. These richly textured books give voice to women’s experiences from their time and place in history which until recently, have been either overlooked or overshadowed.
We came from over the Sea… was created specifically by the war brides of Newfoundland and Labrador to be part of their reunion celebrations for their 50th Anniversary commemorating their arrival to Canada. The essays they submitted were restricted to two hundred words and were to be about their experiences as war brides. Their experiences were in the context of the war-torn British Isles; the risky business of crossing the Atlantic, usually in convoys; and the difficult circumstances of settling into the underdeveloped country of pre-confederation Newfoundland. Despite suffering from homesickness, which was common for most war brides in Canada, the Newfoundland experience for these war brides was probably unique with respect to the other Canadian war brides. These stories are almost like primary documents; it was amazing the details these women have remembered after all these years. They remember minute details like times and dates, the number of ships, the clothes that were worn, etc. This text will leave a wonderful legacy for the families of the war brides and for Canadian society in general. The best way to look at this mosaic of seventy-six essays is to see it as a thumbnail sketch of a whole picture. In this respect, the editors have done a commendable job arranging these narratives. This book provides a list of war brides which can be utilized as a source of informants. It definitely provides a great beginning point and a readily accessible source for research.
Due to the common nature of this book as well as its brevity, it primarily deals with stories of positive outcomes, and negative things were not emphasized. To further ensure the preservation of the stories of war brides in Newfoundland in their totality, a next step would be to have researchers preform detailed interviews.
The Women of Fogo Island…, like the aforementioned text, is reader friendly and was designed for a specific purpose. It was created for the newly literate. This marvelous book gives a detailed description of what life was like in rural Newfoundland in pre-Confederation times from a woman’s viewpoint. It covers about fifteen topics including education, transportation, social life, fashions, women’s work and working women, health care, death, resettlement and volunteering. In particular, skills such as making butter, bread, soap and hooked rugs are described along with the general ability of making due with meagre resources. Also, real life examples are given of women being controlled by men. This book seems to be designed to stimulate further discussion and to be used in an instructional, or classroom situation. Each section ends with two to three questions presumably for further discussion. Any idiomatic or culturally specific terms used in the text are, for the most part, explained in the footnotes, or in the highlighted text attributed to the informants. The author provides some historical context in which to anchor these stories, especially regarding women’s increasing involvement and contributions to organizations outside the home, as well as to health care and the war effort of World War II. The way of life for women in Fogo mirrors life in any rural area in Newfoundland of that time. Therefore, this book complements the previous book because it clearly elaborates the life style that the war brides briefly refer to. Coincidentally, one such war bride, who was a nurse, was prominently featured in The Women of Fogo Island… as making a significant contribution as a nurse, volunteer and organizer.
The Women of Fogo Island… is useful for the readers but it would appeal to ethnographers as well. In the footnotes, idiomatic terms are explained but the sources were not clearly identified. The crucial information absent from most of the footnotes are whether the source came from a book, field notes, interviews or personal communications. Also, the informants are not listed in the bibliography. Indeed, both books could have been strengthened by including maps of the areas being discussed; for understanding the landscape and the geographical locations would give the reader an appreciation for what was being portrayed.
We Came from over the Sea: British War Brides in Newfoundland and The Women of Fogo Island: Hear them speak are about life in the raw and are presented from a grassroots type of approach. These texts are not only tributes to the women and their contribution but they give prominence to the informants. The informants are being valued without being overshadowed by academic interpretations. The importance of these books for future generations has been increased because the maiden names of the informants were included where possible. In addition, potential studies of the interplay of cross-cultural dynamics may be of interest to researchers in this area. This is due to the stark contrast between the women’s social backgrounds. The women in Newfoundland and Fogo behaved according to paternalistic ideals. Without a doubt the transition of the war brides into this type of culture was difficult. They were of a different mind set, for many of them had been professionals or enlists in their own country.
In conclusion, as these texts illustrate, women enjoyed and endured life, demonstrated resilience in the face of difficulty, and rose to the challenge of what needed to be done. It is refreshing to see this kind of grassroots effort to publish women’s stories; for it definitely raises the profile and the awareness of women’s personal experience narratives. These wonderful renditions of women’s experiences do not fall into the trap of glorifying the past. Instead, they are symbolic of that which is intangible, and of that which will surely fade from view if more in depth studies are not soon undertaken.