Alresford’s GI Brides

The air-conditioned reading room of the Hampshire Record Office was an inviting place yesterday afternoon. I had a good excuse to go in there out of the boiling sun, too – I could check the Hampshire marriage registers for the 1940s to see whether any of Hambone Junior’s comrades married their sweethearts.

Scrolling through the microfilms of the Alresford parish registers was a moving experience. I could see the dairymen, farm labourers and watercressers who were the grooms of 1939, become the Royal Marines, Commandos and RAF of the early 1940s. The brides’ records changed too – previously empty spinster’s occupation columns  now were filled with ‘WAAF’ or ‘WRNS’. From May 1945, there was a surge in soldiers, sailors and airmen getting wed as peace was celebrated in Europe. I was pleased to find that Captain Walter Olton Kraft (24) of the 47th Regiment married spinster Audrey Elisabeth Tope (27) of ‘The Lawns’ Alresford at St Johns Church on May 5th 1945. Walter had won the Silver Star for gallantary in action against the enemy in Germany in November 1944 – he must have been feted as a hero when he returned. Audrey and Walter settled in California.

On December 22nd 1945, Ambrose Speer (24), Staff Sergeant US Air Force, married Alresford farmer’s daughter Lillian Margaret Thatcher (19) at St Johns Church. Ambrose went on to serve in Korea and Vietnam. The couple settled in California, had three children and I found a record of Lillian’s funeral in Hollywood Hills which showed she lived to be 96.

I scanned the marriage registers of the surrounding villages, too. There seems to have been a shotgun wedding at St. Nicholas Church, Bishops Sutton on 6th May 1944 (D-Day!) Soldier Elvin James Martin (28) married Phyllis Mary Butcher (18). Their son, Brian Martin, was born in October 1944, whilst his Dad would still have been fighting in Germany. After the war, the family settled in Minersville, Pennsylvania and little Brian grew up to be a Lance Corporal in the US Marine Corps.

By 1946, the parish records show that the spinsters of Alresford were marrying bachelor fruit salesmen, butchers and tractor drivers – the American soldiers had left, taking dreams of glamour with them, and the girls were settling for a quiet life in a rural market town again.

Sources:

Hampshire Record Office

Ambrose Speer

Brian Martin

Elvin Martin

Lillian Speer (nee Thatcher) obituary

Walter Kraft Silver Star

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