The American War Bride Experience

GI Brides of World War II

Horrors on board the
Zebulon B. Vance

by Joyce Bryan Vonstrahl

ZB Vance

My daughter and I came to the US on the Zebulon B. Vance arriving July 10th 1946. (she was 10 months old). We were supposed to be on the Queen Mary, but it became rat infested or something so bad that we were transferred to the ZBV. We left England on June 24th. from Southampton. I come from Oldham Lancashire, right on the edge of the moors.

The story of our crossing is upsetting in many ways, not the least of which were the living conditions on board (non functioning toilets, excrement covering the floors, missing railings on decks so all were more often confined below decks in dark and stink of vomit and contaminated water. ) There were profound losses too. It was not just a challenging crossing as so many war brides experienced on various ships--it was a catastrophic crossing for some of the mothers and their babies. Will never forgotten that voyage and has always given thanks for the good fortune that allowed us to survive it.

In response to your question of 'Is this the ship that some babies died?', YES, that was the ship and the voyage. It was absolutely avoidable. Most of us War Brides were green young women, used to "doing as we were told" during the War. I was perhaps a bit more fortunate, since I had a little money, and strong encouragement from my parents to listen to my inner voice. The first day of the crossing, we were told we had to turn all our baby formula over to "Them". Most did. I and a young woman I remember only as Flo, did not. I think that helped save our babies during the crossing, many went to the ship's hospital, ( which I never saw) but never returned. We were told nothing when we inquired. We slept in 3 tiered bunk beds, and since the ship was unstabilised,(It was actually a Liberty ship) many of us were sea sick, which remained in the aisles between the beds all the way. The so called bathrooms had a row of back to back toilets down the center of the room, no walls or door or anything for any kind of privacy, the toilets naturally overflowed for the entire trip,horrendous! Flo and I got up in the middle of the night to take turns showering and cleaning our babies. The food was indescribable, I lived on O'Henry Bars and Ritz crackers from the PX. I cannot stand them to this day. My hands are trembling as I type this, some of the memories have been repressed all these years.

Joyce and daughter Darlene

I live in a rural area in Spokane Co, Washington, having retired here 16 years ago. I lived in California prior to that. My daughter has a photo of our arrival in New York. She lives in Santa Clara, California. my daughter is Darlene Lesley Bryan.

We formed a War Bride's Club in 1947, late changed the name to the World Friendship Club which is still active. I now live in Cheney, Washington was a widow, remarried. Joyce Vonstrahl

from the Walter Reed Army Hospital at
By the end of World War II, however, the returning victorious soldiers soon began bringing home war brides, and with them, war babies. Joyce and MurlThe number of dependents cared for by the US Army began to increase dramatically. From the end of World War II though June 5th 1946, over ten thousand infants and children were transported from the European and Mediterranean Theatres. (Bull US Army Med Dept, 1946; VI:112-113) In 1946, on the US transport, the Zebulon B. Vance, (a ship similar to the one picture here, the USNS Chateau-Therrieu), six of the 19 infants aboard died from diarrheal disease while en route from Europe to Ft. Hamilton, New York. This incident launched an inquiry which called for the institution of greater care in the transportation of dependents to the United States. (Bull US Army Med Dept, 1946; VI:112-113).

More from Lesley
Joyce - WW2 War Bride's Experience as told by Joyce to her daughter Lesley.

"I met your Dad in Manchester, standing in line waiting for a movie, (I was complaining about the Americans taking all the space). He was in the eighth Army Air Corps, stationed at Freckleton, near Lytham St Annes. We were married on my nineteenth birthday at St. James Church, Oldham Lancs. England. I was interviewed by his Chaplain, and the commanding officer, they also visited my parents house where I lived. At the time they warned me that your Dad.s parents were living in a very different way then we were. We informed them that we were not going to live with the parents, and of course we did not.. Wedding date was 09 21 1944. You were born 08 16 1945. We left England on the 25th of June 1946, arriving in New York July 10th 1946. Your Dad met me in New York, and we came to California by train. I had tried to get private passage but was not allowed to. I had transferred some money to the First National Bank on Wall St. in New York, no problem transferring it right away to California. Off hand I can't think of anything else, except that we formed a Warbride's Club in Eureka Ca., later changing the name to The World Friendship Club, (still in existence) since other foreign born women wished to join."

Lesley as added the following:

"My mother and I were on the Zebulon B Vance. Conditions on this ship were disgusting. There were far too few toilets for the number of passengers ( and absolutely no privacy as they were in open rows) and so they were constantly overflowing and the women had to walk through the waste to get to one of the 4 showers (not curtained) for water or to wash. So many were sea sick that they could not move and so vomit too, floated on the floors was constantly having to be wiped up off the bunks--the bunks were stacked three high and all in one large room (she said she does not recall their being "cabins" unless these were for officers.

All their baby food was confiscated upon boarding but she hid some as I had a special need for a particular kind and she was afraid I might not get it. She washed my bottle and nipple in the not tea water she was given and used that boiled water to mix the formula. She says I lost four pounds in 16 days (that was how long the crossing took due to storms). She endured two "flashlight" exams for lice and VD. The humiliation and the outrage of that have never left her. There is a photo of me and my mother taken on the Vance on the day we arrived by one of the New York newspapers that was doing a follow-up story on the Vance because of the scandal on that ship that occurred in May of 1946, the voyage just before ours.

On that voyage, many babies died and the mothers and their husbands, one of them an American doctor, another an American teacher, complained that the sanitary conditions on the ship were horrific. An army inquiry followed. The army agreed conditions on board ship were "filthy" but concluded that it was the fault of the war brides and they were responsible for the death of their babies from infectious diarrhea due to their own "filthy hygiene." The headline reads: Board of Inquiry Blames Mothers for the Deaths of Babies, Calling Their Quarters on Ship "Filthy," Hygiene Improper. The war brides on that crossing of the Vance were from Belgium, France, Holland, and Poland and the ship had sailed to NY from La Havre.

Odd, that the very next voyage of that same ship brought the same complaints of over crowding, improper facilities and filth from war brides that this time were from England. My mother said she thought to protect herself from getting as sick as many of the women on her crossing by eating nothing but prewrapped food: Ritz crackers and Oh'Henry candy bars - neither of which she has ever eaten again! I doubt that many of these women had any thoughts about the crossings beyond simply getting to their destinations and being with their husbands.

All in all, I doubt few war brides had any expectations of luxury or grand comfort when they boarded those ships--they were women who had endured many hardships during the war, some of them unspeakable hardships--but they did have a right to expect that their safety and welfare (if not comfort) would not be in jeopardy. The war was over and there was no reason to think that their safety might be compromised because of greater considerations. There were no greater considerations than these women and their babies. I am humbled by the sheer courage and determination of these women and I shall never forget the women of the Vance who came across in May, just before us, who suffered such a horrible and unfair public indictment of their most terrible losses. My mother and I want to tell those women that we too, experienced the same conditions and that these women were not at fault. Thanks for letting us share."

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