75 Years: Victory in the Pacific Day Digital Stories and Oral Histories – War Bride

Jackie McLaughlin, 97 years old, is one of thousands of immigrant women who came to Australia for a specific reason following the historic announcement of Victory in the Pacific; to join their Australian military husbands in their homeland. Women who migrated to Australia under such circumstances are commonly called ‘War Brides’.

But Jackie’s story did not begin with her husband, Queensland RAAF serviceman Douglas McLaughlin, 425883. During the war Douglas was part of the air crew in Lancaster bombers, and Jackie recalls him telling stories of repatriating some of the first British and Australian prisoners of war from German camps.  

As Jackie discusses in her Digital Story and Oral History, now available through the State Library of Queensland, she enlisted in the British Women’s Auxiliary Air Force without her parents’ prior permission. Whilst her mother refused to sign the documentation allowing her to join, her father, a World War One veteran, was willing.

He said "You know what you're getting into, don't you?" and I said, "Yes," and he said, "Right, give me the form, I will sign it." And he signed it like that. And he said, pushed it across the table and said to me, "This will be the making of you, my girl." And I said, "What do you exactly mean by that?" He said, "Well, you will grow up," which I did in a hurry.

Jackie McLaughlin

She celebrated her eighteenth birthday on the train to her induction into the air force. It was during her service that she acquired the name ‘Jackie’, as her birth name (Daphne) was deemed too feminine and proper for her.

The girls helped me choose it, she laughs.

Jackie McLaughlin

Jackie McLaughlin holding a photograph of herself when she enlisted in the British Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. 

Photograph from the War bride Jackie McLaughlin digital story and oral history, Jaina Kalifa, 2020, 75 Years: Victory in the Pacific digital stories and oral histories, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

She and her husband met whilst walking back to base one evening from the local pub – she discusses how they knew the tricks to sneak back into camp without receiving punishment for tardiness.

It was raining the day that they were married, and a local photographer got terribly wet on the front steps of the church waiting to take a picture of her.

Her recollections of the day the war ended in Britain are vivid. Her parents opened up their entire house to visitors, and people poured in and out of the rooms as they drank and sang in revelry.

But Jackie was most eager to begin her new life in Queensland, and she describes the journey across the world with a fleet of other War Brides in magnificent detail.

The ship that would be her home for 40 days at sea, the Atlantis, was a cruise ship that had been repurposed as a hospital ship during World War Two.

Jackie McLaughlin holding a postcard of the ship Atlantis, the ship that took her to her new life in Queensland as a War Bride.

Photograph from the War bride Jackie McLaughlin digital story and oral history, Jaina Kalifa, 2020, 75 Years: Victory in the Pacific digital stories and oral histories, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

You could still see where all the old cabin partitions were, when it was a hospital ship they had ripped them all out to accommodate as many beds as possible.

Jackie McLaughlin

Life aboard the ship was cheerful, for the most part, with young British women eager to discover the realities of their new lives. Though this was not the case for everyone, and tragedy could not be entirely escaped aboard the ship. Jackie shared the story of another war bride, whose newborn had succumbed to illness while aboard the ship and required a burial at sea. She was so distraught and terrified of facing the grief and potential anger of her new husband that they had to call ahead to the port. The husband was then allowed to come aboard the ship and comfort her, eventually convincing her not to return to Britain.

She disembarked the Atlantis in Melbourne and caught the train North to Sydney then Brisbane. Jackie smiles as she discusses the experience of arriving.

I can remember pulling into the station in Brisbane, and I was looking out the window of the carriage and I couldn't see my husband at all. And so I got out of the train and I was walking up and down the platform in and out of people and husbands and wives and embracing and all that sort of thing and couldn't find him. And he was in the train looking for me. So neither of us, you know... Finally we met up and yeah, he just hugged me and said, "I thought you hadn't come. I thought you'd missed the boat or something.

Jackie McLaughlin

You can watch Jackie’s tale unfold here:

War bride Jackie McLaughlin digital story, 75 Years: Victory in the Pacific digital stories and oral histories, Jaina Kalifa, 2020, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. 

This activity was funded under the Commonwealth Government’s Saluting Their Service Commemorative Grants Program. Proudly supported by the Queensland Government.

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