Joan Stubbs' Story
by Bill Longo
I thought Joan Stubbs' story was pretty interesting ... a young British women leaving her country and family behind to build a life with her new American husband. But after opening the package I found in my mailbox Saturday morning that Joan had sent, I thought it was a great story.
Joan Stubbs' story began in the fall of 1942 when she met a young airman named Walter. The two met at Fred’s Café in the British village of Bourne End. They met again at a wedding reception. And as time went by, the couple fell in love and married on September 2, 1944.
Walter was sent back to the States a year later. And six months later Stubbs began the journey that would take her to Walter’s side. The process started when Stubbs received a letter requesting she present herself at the U.S. Embassy, where she would be interviewed and provided with documents that would get her to the United States.
A letter told her to report to Waterloo Railroad Station on January 17, 1946. But three days later she received a second letter that told her to instead report on January 22, 1946.
Stubbs spent the last day at her parents' home celebrating Walter’s birthday, fully realizing what the next day would bring.
"I decided to take a last trip around the village and visit the old church, the watercress farm, and Winkwell, where the 15th Century pub, The Three Horseshoes, (was) so beautifully located on the Grand Union Canal," she wrote. "I will miss the British countryside."
Then the day that began her journey to the United States arrived. After an early breakfast with her parents, she boarded a train with approximately 400 war brides and waved goodbye them as the train made its way to an army base at Perham Down in Andover.
The next day began a week long schedule of orientation, finger printing, luggage checks, a physical and money exchange.
"The days were busy with talks of what to expect in our new country, naturalization and so forth,” Stubbs recalled. "We were able to take showers with no water restrictions. During the war our baths were only allowed five inches of water in the tub. The trip to the PX was special and we bought things we had not seen during the war years or had been rationed, like soap and chocolate."
The brides rose early on January 26, 1946, the day they caught a train that took them to Southampton, where they would board the T.E.S. Argentina. A sense of excitement mingled with strains of sadness filled the air.
"We all lined the rail and tears were shed," Stubb recalled.
But soon, Stubbs and other war brides forged new friendships with one another. And it turned out the journey was pleasant, as they were aboard a ship that had once been a luxury liner. Stubbs and many others, that is those who were not seasick, enjoyed strolling on the deck, and socializing with one another. And keeping them company was a team from Life Magazine, producing an article and photos that would document the wives journey. Stubbs appeared in the article, which ran February 18th, 1946.
"While walking the corridors, we had to hold a handrail. The outside decks were awash with the seas that we were plowing through. The crossing was beginning to get rough, even though it was said the (Captain) had gone of course some 500 miles to avoid worst weather."
Most of the brides got seasick. But Stubbs held on and nursed others who were ill.
The following day, Stubbs and the others were told to radio their husbands and tell them not to met them in New York, as they would not be able to travel together. So although disappointed, Stubbs planned on meeting Walter in Norfolk, Virginia.
The Argentina arrived in American water on February 4, 1946.
"Up at 2:45 a.m., we had to see it all," Stubbs wrote. “We lined the rails to see the Statue of Liberty at 5 a.m. It was alight and such a wonderful sight to see in the early hours after so many years of blackout.”
After the ship docked, Stubbs was sent to the Red Cross Center, where she was told Walter awaited her. But when she arrived, she found there had been a mix-up. So she called some of Walter’s relatives, and together they saw the sights of New York and arrange for Stubbs to fly to Norfolk the next day.
But a snowstorm in Washington D.C. interfered. A disappointed Stubbs was told to take a train to Norfolk where Walter’s family lived. After hours on a crowed, over-heated train, she arrived at a ferryboat that would take her to Norfolk. But still no Walter.
She then called him, and he said he was getting ready to come meet her. And as she waited for Walter to arrive she found another surprise.
"When he arrived, he did not see me at first, and found me sitting on a bench marked ‘Colored’ in the baggage room. This was when everything was marked colored or white, and the colored people had to sit in the back of the bus, something I though very strange."
So Stubbs was joyfully reunited with Walter. After six months of separated by an ocean, nine days at sea, a terrible storm, a day in New York City, hours on a train.
But when it was all said and done, Stubbs' journey to the United States was actually the start of a journey that would take a happy couple through a wonderful lifetime together.
From Joan Stubbs
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