Between 1942 and 1952 American Servicemen brought home 100,000 brides from their overseas deployments. Women from 50 different countries – England, France, Belgium, Italy, Austria, Germany, Japan waited up to nine months for transportation to the United States to begin their life as war brides. They didn’t bring much with them and they were not always welcomed. Single American women resented them and civilians criticized the trend. Uncle Sam tried to discourage the action by imposing many restrictions. For instance a three-month waiting period was established before permission was granted to marry. Then within that time frame the soldier could be sent home and the waiting time was longer.
Some girls were considered traitors to their country for dating and then marrying American servicemen, especially in Germany and Austria. Besides falling in love, the girls were hungry for peace and safety away from hostile countries; loneliness, anxiety, yearning and just plain “live for today” were driving forces. Some knew they would never see family or their homeland again but these young women packed up their few treasures and small wedding gifts and set off across the ocean to start a life in a new country. A personal friend of mine was a war bride from Austria and lived a happy life in California for over 60 years. She brought recipes from the old country including Apple Strudel - like none other.
Another friend, Herb Guiness [1921 – 2015], former volunteer docent at Lyon Air Museum, like many airmen, fell in love with a beautiful English girl, but because he was with a secret squadron, he could not get permission to marry her in England. The atomic bomb was on everyone’s mind, and Herb was privy to information, which was protected by the U.S. government. The government was afraid he would talk in his sleep and let the information out, so they denied his request to marry. Once back in the United States, Herb sent for his fiancé and they were married. “It was a perfect marriage for three years, until she went off with another man,” Herb told me. Herb found another wife who had been confined as a young girl, in a Nazi Concentration Camp, where she was a roommate with Anne Frank. They stayed married for 51 years.
The romanticism of men in uniform was a huge draw. Girls were especially attracted to “flyboys” and officers. Excitement was in the air and short romances led to quick marriages within days or weeks in many cases. Hasty marriages were a combination of emotions. Any doubts about marrying were ignored. Some say they would not have married so young if it had not been the thing to do. The passion, the propaganda and patriotism were blinding so “you stopped thinking,” one said.
Fabrics for nice dresses were hard to find, so young brides made their wedding gowns from silk or nylon parachutes if they could find one. Alvin Shasky, a B-17 pilot brought home his parachute to his bride-to-be. Her hand-sewn dress is on display at Lyon Air Museum.
In the United States war brides followed their husbands around the country on overcrowded trains, making the most of the moment, dreading and not talking about the future. Then a young bride was left alone when her husband went off to war. The glamour of fun-filled weekends was suddenly over and she was forced to fend for herself. Barely out of her teens and having to make her own decisions – traveling alone, finding a place to live, feeding herself without ration points, she learned self-reliance very quickly. These girls grew up in a hurry.
Letter writing and phone calls kept couples together. My brother, a co-pilot on a B-17 was married 6 months before shipping overseas. Stationed in England he flew a dozen or more combat missions before his plane went down in the North Sea of January 1944 with no survivors. His young wife was a widow at 21. This sad story happened over and over again.
The social pressure to marry someone in uniform was very strong. Some girls married just because they wanted to be married without learning much about their husbands-to-be. Good times propelled the adventure of romance for the moment without considering what life would be like after the war. This impulsiveness was reflected in a divorce rate to surpass previous records. On the other hand many war bride marriages lasted a lifetime.
Article By, Nancy Robison