The World Friendship Club
Saga of War Brides
(Marrying GIs, they found a new home in a new country)
by Heather Shelton
The Times-Standard, Eureka, CA
Nov. 2, 1997
EUREKA – In 1945, World War II came to a close and United States servicemen started to return home after fighting in lands afar.
Many weren’t alone.
“There were more than a million marriages that occurred during that time,” said Lou Butler, an England native who wed her husband, Phil McCornack, a Eurekan serving in the U.S. Army, in 1945
The “war brides” – as they are commonly called – included foreign-born women who married American members of the armed forces; American civilians in a foreign country as a result of U.S. mobilization for World War II; or as a result of the subsequent military occupations, according to the book, “War Brides of World War II” by Elfrieda Berthiaume Shukert and Barbara Smith Scibetta.
At war’s end, the brides left their homelands, traveling to the U.S. to start a new life with their new husbands.
Humboldt County, too, had its fair share of war brides. In 1947, these young women – to ease their homesickness and make new friends – got together to form the World Friendship Club, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
Through the years, members have gathered regularly, offering each other companionship and support. They’ve also done a lot of charity work, Butler notes, donating money to many local organization.
“We were just like international sisters,” said Butler. “We helped each other transition into womanhood.”
Butler was just 19 when she married her American husband in England on Aug. 24, 1945.
“Most of our husbands were of the same nature, sort of quiet men, easy going. That’s why they were attracted to these vivacious, strong-well women with winds of our own. I mean we’d survived air raids, bombings,” she said.
While her husband returned home soon after the war ended, Butler – like many war brides – had to wait nearly a year in England before traveling via cruise ship to finally reunite with her spouse. She remembers the trip well.
“There were lots of war brides. It was loaded,” said Butler, who was at sea for over a week crossing the Atlantic.
“I was eight days seasick,” said Butler, who arrived in New York, then went onto Chicago, then San Francisco, where she was met by her husband. After a night in the city, they drove back to Eureka.
Here, homesickness hit hard. “I wrote my mother,” she said, “It’s very nice, but this must be the end of the world because the railroad ends here. It doesn’t go anywhere further. The ocean goes off to Japan and there’s no theater, no ballet.
“My mother wrote me back and said, ‘Oh, dear, you have made your bed, you must learn to lay in it. You’re on your own dear.’ ”
In 1947, Butler met another English war bride, Elsie Young, who was also living in Eureka. In 1944, at 19 years of age, Elsie Alderton was working in a factory just outside London when she met her husband-to-be, Ben Young of the Ninth Army Air Corps.
It was love at first sight.
“We met in April and married in September,” said Young, whose spouse returned to Eureka in 1945. She joined him over a year later.
Butler and Young became friends and decided to look for other war brides in the area.
“We were lonesome, and we thought there must be other women like us who were lonesome, too,” Butler said.
At first they went door-to-door, then – with help of then City Clerk Fred Moore – they were able to contact other war brides, she said.
“From there,” Butler said, “It was word of mouth.”
“At first, meetings were held at the YWCA. Later, as the club grew, the women began meeting – sans husbands – at members’ houses. And while the club was originally war brides, soon it opened up to any women foreign born.
“A lot of people came over afterward but weren’t necessarily what you’d call war brides,” said Jeannette Zerlang, a war bride from France who married her husband, Army sergeant William Zerlang, on May 17, 1945.
Through the years, the World Friendship Club has had between 100 and 125 members pass through. They have included women of all nationalities; María Bascom of Belgium, Ella McEnery of Scotland, Johnnie Olsen of England, Luci Roberts of Italy, Nellie Barthelemy of Russia, Evalina Bonner of Guam, Beth Cotton of New Zealand, Edythe Neely of Ireland, Fran Wells of Canada, Connie Van Pelt of El Salvador, Emiko Miranda of Japan, Rowena Williams of India, Colleen Lytle of Australia, Maria Burns of Mexico and many others.
Today, there are about 15 active members, Zerlang said, including the group’s newest member, Martha Balasch of Germany, who joined the club in 1993.
“We’re like an extended family,” Zerlang said.
Like family, she notes, they have always been there for each other.
“We’ve cried on each other’s shoulders and we had support,” said Ursula Ostrander, a war bride from Germany who married husband, Kermit, on Dec. 19, 1948.
Through the years, they also had a lot of fun, hosting many parties and social get-togethers.
“We had a lot of joie de vivre,” Zerlang said.
This includes festive Halloween costume parties, beach parties at Samoa, dinners for their husbands and the annual Christmas party.
“We thought let’s get together and have champagne and celebrate Christmas together,” Zerlang recalled. “We’s have a potluck and sing Christmas carols to all the languages... We sang all night.”
For many years, members also did a lot of serious work for the community, she notes, raising funds to benefit a bevy of community organizations.
“We had rummage sales, spaghetti dinners, turkey dinners,” Zerlang said.
Proceeds went to the American Cancer Society, the Humane Society, the Eureka Rescue Mission, March of Dimes, elementary schools and, in 1965, to the Flood Relief Fund.
Club members also once raised money to send to a nun in India to help the poor; sent care packages to families in need overseas; adopted a local family to help out during the holidays and much more, Zerlang said.
“We did a tremendous lot of stuff with charities,” she said.
As the years passed, Zerlang said, members became busy raising children and with that, the charity work subsided. Still, they met regularly to keep up-to-date about children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Today, the World Friendship Club comes together once a month except in the summers. Gatherings are strictly social; to laugh about life’s joy, and offer support during the hard times.
“We have what most women don’t have today and that’s a support system,” said Butler. “We’ve always believed women should support one another.”
The World Friendship Club will host a 50th anniversary party at 6 p.m. Nov. 25 at O-H’s Townhouse in Eureka. All present and former members are invited...
Several war brides will also be guest speakers at the next meeting of the Humboldt County Historical Society. The meeting – featuring a Veterans Day program – will be held at 7 p.m. Nov. 11 at the Eureka Veterans Memorial Building.