Grandma’s story went like this: Despite the terror of nightly bombing raids and fears of invasion, romance still blossomed in war torn England. Some young British women and the allied American soldiers stationed in Europe met – and fell in love. Love often led to marriage. At wartime weddings, soldier grooms typically donned their uniforms while brides might wear a borrowed dress or a gown stitched from parachute silk.
At war’s end, great ships transported thousands of European war brides of American servicemen – and the babies born to these couples – to awaiting husbands in the U.S. Although not a war bride herself, my grandmother undoubtedly felt a kinship with these women who gathered their courage and a few possessions, said tearful goodbyes, and sailed for a new life in the U.S., just as she had.
Years later, I began researching this historical event, known as the 1946 “Bride and Baby Voyages,” for a children’s book. I also spoke with war brides from Europe and Australia.
How touching to learn that today, more than 60 years since those voyages, some of these war brides still get together. Now in their 80s and 90s, they meet to chat and reminisce. They laugh, too, recalling the challenges of adjusting to American culture. One national organization, the WWII War Brides Association, holds annual reunions with last year’s event in New Orleans.
These women gained much from their time-honored sisterhood. Gathering with other women to share advice, experiences and laughter can be heartening – in any era. True, we ourselves might not set sail from our homeland, as the courageous war brides did. Yet when we connect with women who face similar challenges, we tap into a source of wisdom and support that can sustain us on our own amazing journeys and adventures.
Catherine Stier is an award-winning author of several children’s books. Her recent WWII historical fiction picture book, Welcome to America, Champ! was named a 2014 Best Book of the Year for Children by the Bank Street College of Education. Born in Michigan, Stier now lives in San Antonio, Texas. She supports the vision of A Beautiful Me of promoting a positive self-image for all girls.