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- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 17 July 2004
The great exodus of G. I. Wives after the end of World War Two is well documented and Warrington was especially involved with the large Burtonwood American Airbase on the edge of town. Little is known about the brides who came the other way. I was one of those.
I met my husband at the English Speaking Union, Rockefeller Plaza in New York. He was born in Warrington and I was born in California.
He had been in a reserved occupation and the Special Constabulary for a while and eventually was called up. During Officer training he had hopes of assignment to a destroyer upon completion, but it turned out that at 31 he was too old for the excitement of destroyer operations; so he was assigned to Minesweeping duty. The good news was that he had to pick up the Lease Lend Minesweeper in the port of New York. Even more good news, he sailed there on the Queen Elizabeth. She was being built when the war started but no one knew whether she had been completed or commissioned. She was bringing G. I.s to Glasgow in quick dashes, unescorted and using the “hot bunk” system—three men assigned to a bunk for eight hours each—and returning with a few Brits in luxurious cabins full of empty bunks.
While waiting for his BYMS (British Yard Mine Sweeper) to be built, he was billeted at the Barbizon Plaza Hotel in Manhattan where every day the society ladies of New York served afternoon tea. There was also a recreation committee that offered him a chance to meet Americans. This was a social evening at the English Speaking Union organized by the junior society ladies for officers of the various armed forces in town. I was there but I wasn’t a New York society girl.
I grew up in Pasadena, California and I was working in the office of an Aircraft Factory when I heard that the U.S. Navy was recruiting women. I volunteered and was one of the first to be assigned to the training course in Northampton, Massachussetts. When I was commissioned I stayed on in New England for a while on instruction duty and then was transferred to the U.S. Naval Training Station in the Bronx, New York. Within a few days of my arrival, I was offered a social evening at the English Speaking Union, Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan.
On a warm June evening a group of us from the Training Station went down to Manhattan on the subway. There were a number of nice young men that night, but the one that made me laugh so much was the one I married, eventually.
Of course, nothing would have come of it, I guess, if it were not for the fact that it took all summer to get that ship finished and ready to sail. It had a lot of unusual problems.
So, we were doing the town, getting into the latest shows and everything else that had reductions and freebies for members of the armed forces.
After all the delays, the little minesweeper finally set sail but they only got as far as Newfoundland where it was necessary to stop for a very cold month and sweep the harbour at St. Johns. By now the North Atlantic was so stormy their course was set for the Azores. Most of the crew bought a big bunch of bananas hoping to get them home for Christmas. Bananas had disappeared from wartime Britain. Alas, the bananas got ripe too fast but the crew had brought back some other Christmas presents—nylons. So the war went on, they swept mines in the North Sea, they were involved in D Day, they swept mines off French and Belgium coasts and the ship was damaged by a German shell, sadly, one of the crew was killed. So, back to England and more coastal minesweeping, and then there was VE Day. During this time letters flew back and forth. In the spring of 1944 I was transferred to San Francisco and the Pacific War, and after VE Day he volunteered for a minesweeper being built in British Columbia preparing to sweep the mines in Tokyo Bay. British Columbia was, after all, on the west coast of North America along with San Francisco.
VJ Day came along and upon his arrival in Montreal, he was ordered back to England. However, he was allowed leave and he made his way to San Francisco where we were married. Our trip to England was long. It took three days by train to New York where we found that our ship, the Queen Mary, was being used for the prisoners of war returning from Japanese Camps, so we were delayed for a week at the Barbizon Plaza. Eventually we were assigned to a converted merchant ship—aircraft carrier, he in officers quarters and I in a cabin somewhere in the hold with five war brides and two babies. They got the bunks, I got a pipe cot at the third level up. Eleven days of rough Atlantic storms and many adventures, we arrived at Greenock and the next day, Guy Fawkes Day, we traveled south by train and my 59 years in Warrington began. There was food rationing and petrol rationing and clothes rationing and worst of all, heat rationing; and fog and soot.
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