‘She had a baby by one of the soldiers. Mum followed up, but they shuffled the chap away somewhere else.’
That’s a line I’ve heard several times whilst researching ‘Hambone Junior and Company’. It would have been a familiar tale near any American Army base during WW2. The US Army did not want its soldiers distracted by romance, and particularly discouraged marriage. ‘Don’t Promise Her Anything – Marriage Outside the U.S. Is Out’, ran a headline in the armed forces magazine Yank in July 1942.
It’s a testament to the love and determination of the three Alresford GI Brides (Audrey Kraft, Lillian Speer and Phyllis Martin) and their husbands, that they managed to get married at all. To get permission to wed, the prospective bride had to allow the American Red Cross to visit her home, interview her relatives and compile a character report. Meanwhile, in the USA, they would seek the approval of the groom’s father and check the groom’s bank savings to ensure that he would be able to support a wife. After this, the groom’s commanding officer had to approve the application and often did his best to persuade the soldier to change his mind.
Even after their weddings – and the groom surviving the battles in Normandy, Germany, Belgium and Central Europe which followed – the couples had a long wait and more hurdles to overcome before they were reunited. Audrey travelled independently to New York by plane in February 1946, but Lillian and Phyllis (and their babies) travelled as Army dependents in ‘Operation War Bride’ later that year. They went to the Tidworth processing camp on Salisbury Plain. There they slept in large dormitories, were fed by disgruntled German and Italian prisoners of war and subjected to humiliating medical exams. ‘You may not like the conditions here,’ one group was told, ‘but remember, no one asked you to come.’ Lillian and Phyllis toughed out the processing and went on to Southampton to board the nursery ships which would take them across the Atlantic. Lillian and baby Angela sailed on SS Marine Flasher, a former troop ship. Phyllis and baby Brian sailed on the US Army Transport Henry Gibbins, pictured above.
Imagine the hugs in New York, when the husbands met their wives and children five days later! But the passenger manifests show that although Angela and Brian were received as USA nationals, their mothers were not. I’ve found Lillian’s Petition for Naturalization in 1957. By then, she had lived in Long Beach California, Honolulu Hawaii, San Antonio Texas and returned to California – and had five more children. Audrey’s Petition for Naturalization makes interesting reading, too. It was filed in Kodiak, Alaska, where she was living in 1952. Who would have guessed these intrepid Alresford girls would travel so far, when their families waved them off in 1946?