From Liverpool to Cut Bank:
By Jodie Foley
The Story of Montana War Bride Ruth Poore Batchen
The experiences of Montana war brides represent an important and largely unexplored part of the state's World War H-era history. To address that oversight, the Montana Historical Society initiated the Montana War Brides Oral History Project in March 2000 in cooperation with Dr. Seena Kohl, an anthropology professor at Webster University. The resulting interviews document the women's experiences of wartime deprivation, courtship and marriage, immigration, and adaptation to American life. The recollections of Ruth Poore Batchen, a British war bride, provide a sampling of those experiences. Born in Liverpool, England, in 1921, Ruth Monica
Boileau was one of ten children. She attended a convent school until the age of fourteen, when compulsory education ended for British students. From the late 1930s through the 1940s, Ruth and her family faced the deprivations arid uncertainties endemic to wartime Europe. "We were [allowed] two ounces of butter a week per person and two ounces of meat per person to eat," Ruth said in a spring 2002 interview. "It was hard on my mother trying to eke out the meals for the four of us. . . . It was difficult. . . . You think you can't get by, but you can."
Another hardship the family faced was the threat of German bombs. "Originally the Germans weren't able to get as far as Liverpool, but once France fell, they could. . . . So much changed after that," Ruth recalled. When the air-raid sirens went off, "I grabbed all my blankets, . . . found my sisters . . . mother and father, and we sat around the dining room table. We didn't know what was going to happen. We were supposed to go into the air-raid shelter, but we didn't. . . . I can't tell you why. Finally, the 'all-clear' sounded, and we looked at one another and started to cry."
Like many young British women, Ruth was conscripted into military service, a measure that helped free-up men for combat duty. She went to boot camp in 1942 and served at the AntiAircraft Command in London. Quickly adapting to her new life, Ruth made friends, explored the city, and eventually found romance. During a weekend outing to Windsor Castle, Ruth met Wenclell Poore, a U.S. Army Air Corps staff sergeant. "On a bus going to Oxbridge . . . this fellow started talking to us. . . . One girl was taking-pictures, and Wenclell asked for her address so he could get copies. She gave it to him and that was that. I didn't think too much of it, until the officer of the day called and said, 'You have a young man wanting to see you tonight.' That was how it started."
After several months of dating, Ruth and Wendell's relationship deepened. The courtship was not without challenges, however. The estimated sixteen million young American soldiers serving overseas between 1939 and 1945 took a toll on communities near duty stations.3 Increased rates of venereal disease and illegitimate births fed stereotypes and misconceptions. As a result, family members on both sides of the Atlantic often discouraged couples from marrying. Ruth's and Wendell's families were no exception. Weridell's sister warned him in a letter, "Watch out for those girls. They are only after your money."
Brushing aside his family's concerns, Wendell proposed marriage, using a picture of a "keepsake diamond" torn from the pages of Life Magazine in lieu of the gold band he could not afford. The betrothed couple began making plans for a wedding and for the move to Cut Bank, Montana, Wendell's hometown. For Ruth and Wendell, preparations involved rigorous interviews with military personnel, medical and psychological examinations, and plenty of paperwork.
Wenclell and Ruth were married in Liverpool on May 19, 1945. Shortly after the wedding, Wendell was transferred to Germany to complete his tour of service. In October he demobilized and returned to Montana. Ruth, meanwhile, remained in England awaiting her paperwork and an assignment to a transport ship. In March 1946, after nearly six months of waiting, Ruth reported to the orientation held at camps near Tidworth, England, infamous for their poor conditions.4 Two weeks later she boarded the Edmund B. Alexander, a converted ocean liner, and sailed for New York.
Ruth shared the six-day journey with nearly a thousand other war brides and their children. Seasick and weary, the women gratefully disembarked in New York, only to be delayed for two days by protestors angry that American soldiers had married foreign women.5 When they arrived in New York, "it was sultry, hot," Ruth remembered, "and we weren't expecting that. I was wearing a tweed suit. We had to be in New York for two days before we got to the train station. . . . They had to lock the buses we were held in because we were being picketed by women who were mad at us."
Ruth's reception in Montana was much wanner. "I was met in Great Falls, with flowers and a corsage, by my husband and [his family]. . . . There was also someone from the Great Falls Tribune who came and took pictures and did a story. We ended up on the front page!"
The couple remained in Great Falls for two days before making the journey to Cut Bank and their new home, located in a converted grain elevator. After the guests left, the work of settling in began in earnest. "I went into a grocery store arid tried to order. . . . The butcher said, 'Ma'am, I don't know what you are saying.' This went back and forth for a while until he asked me to write it down. He read it and said, Oh, you must be from back East.' I said, 'Well, . . . yes.' 'Boston?' he guessed. I said, Oh no, much further east than Boston.' He then said, 'There is nothing further east than Boston.' Oh yes, there is!' I finally told him I was from England!"
Among the more difficult aspects of Ruth's new life was homesickness, especially for her parents, but the women of Cut Bank helped make her transition to Montana life easier. Ruth felt deep gratitude to those who took her around and showed her the ropes.
Ruth and Wendell remained in Cut Bank until 1949, when his employer, the Union oil Company, transferred him to Billings. In Billings Ruth met a dozen other war brides-from England, Ireland, France, and Australia-with whom she built strong friendships.
The Poores lived in Billings for the rest of their lives, raising six children. Wendell passed away in 1976. Ruth, who later married William Batchen, lived for nearly twenty more years surrounded by her children and grandchildren. She died on February 7, 2004.
While Ruth Batchen's story parallels the experiences of other Montana war brides, each woman faced unique challenges-language barriers, conflicting approaches to child rearing, isolation, and even maltreatment. The women interviewed for the Montana War Brides Oral History Project immigrated from France, England, Wales, Poland, and Australia. They were raised in urban settings and in small villages. They graduated from college or ended their formal education as teenagers. Whatever their background, the war brides faced challenges with determination and strength. Their personal struggles in turn strengthened their families and the communities they came to call home.
In addition to providing a unique perspective on wartime Montana, the war bride interviews complement the Montana Historical Society's military history collections, which include soldiers' records elating back to the 18705, soldiers'journals and letters home, reminiscences, and a series of interviews titled Twentieth-Century Montana Veterans.
The Montana War Brides Oral History Project interviews are available in the Montana Historical Society Archives in audiotape and transcript form. Researchers can also purchase copies for personal use. Contact Jodie Foley at firstname.lastname@example.org or (406) 444-6779 for more information.
Listing of Interviews
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