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

Hampshire Hogs and Hambone’s successor

Here’s a happy sow and her piglets at Manor Farm near Bursledon. During our tour of the farm animals, Little Minnow loved throwing pig nuts into their concrete sty. We discovered that this wouldn’t have been an option during WWII, because animal feeding stuffs were redirected for human consumption. Instead, ‘Pig Clubs’ were started: the members would pool their money to buy a piglet, share the labour to care for it, supply the kitchen scraps to be cooked up into pig swill to feed it, then share the meat when it was slaughtered. But it takes a lot of kitchen scraps to feed a pig and under wartime rationing, there wasn’t a lot to spare.

One enterprising Hampshire resident found a novel way to keep his hogs fed. Les Harness, of Grange Park Northington, was a regular visitor to the various U.S. camps around Alresford collecting their kitchen leftovers.  A mess meal for a GI looked like almost a week’s worth of rations to the British and I’ve read that people were horrified when they saw the Americans stub out their cigarettes on leftover food on their plates. But Hambone Junior’s comrades were generous, even helping Les with his petrol ration when they spent three weeks away from Alresford training under canvas, so that he could carry on collecting all the waste food for his pigs. Les repaid their generosity when the men were upset by Hambone Junior’s death in a road accident a few weeks before D-Day. He gave them a puppy from a litter which had recently been born at Northington Grange. They named their new pet ‘Spider’ and it was young Spider who departed for Southampton and Normandy with the 47th Regiment in June 1944.

Iris Crowfoot

Sources:

Wartime Farm: rediscovering the skills of World War II, P. Ginn, R. Goodnam and A. Langlands

About Alresford THE 47TH U.S. INFANTRY IN ALRESFORD, H.C. and F.M. Kent