The American War Bride Experience

GI Brides of World War II

Rita Anderson,
War brides from London

The night Rita met Pvt. Joe Anderson, she was determined to marry him. There was just one problem: The year was 1943, and she was living in the midst of bombings, nightly air raids, and food rations as World War II raged in her homeland of London. Rita Anderson, mother of Paul Anderson of Franklin, was among the thousands of courageous “war brides” who left their families to start all over again in the United States with their new husbands.

One may wonder if the parents of a young girl leaving home to marry someone from another country would frown upon such arrangements, but to Rita’s family, it was an opportunity for her to leave dismal circumstances for the hope of a brighter future.

In those days, people lived differently, she said. Her home was located next to an air raid shelter and a balloon barrage post, where a huge balloon would be inflated to deflect enemy dive bombers.

Air raids were a common occurrence, forcing the family to take immediate shelter in the tiny, cramped quarters where they often stayed overnight with no beds or windows. Everyone in her family was also issued a gas mask, which they fortunately never needed to use.

“You didn’t know from day to day whether you were going to live or not,” said Rita. “Our parents thought we should have some happiness.”

The two married October 21, 1944. Clothing was scarce during the war, so Rita wore a suit purchased from clothing coupons. It was more practical than a wedding dress and could be worn again, she said.

After the 1945 Victory in Europe Day, Joe was sent back to the United States. It wasn’t until a year later that Rita finally boarded the ship that would reunite her with her sweetheart.

The week-long voyage, crowded with 900 other war brides and their babies, was far from a luxury cruise, she said. Her first son, Keith, was only 3- months-old at the time.

Between 1944 and 1950, roughly 150,000 to 200,000 European women like Rita arrived in the states by ship. “There were a lot of hardships for all of them,” said Erin Craig, secretary of the WWII Brides Association, a national organization based in San Diego, Calif. As the daughter of an Australian native who married a U.S. soldier, Craig has a special connection to war brides and attends monthly meetings to unite with other wives and children of veterans who married overseas.

The organization currently has over 300 members representing 19 different countries, the majority being England and Germany. Several have published books recounting their adventures and the hardships they endured during the journey over, which could sometimes take months.

Listening to these stories is “like being in the middle of a history book,” Craig said. Craig added that many of the testimonies have brought her to tears and have made her realize that her mother was one of the lucky ones.

Iris Craig (formerly Adams) met her husband, James Robert Craig, at a Red Cross dance supporting the war effort in Sydney, Australia. After they were married, she applied for an American passport for Erin, who was 10- months-old at the time of their trip to the U.S.

“They had a list of all the war brides, and I was notified when it was my turn,” Iris said. It would be about a year before she would be reunited with her husband, a military harbor master stationed in Sydney. It was a difficult transition for most of the women, who were used to their native language and customs. Today, the WWII Brides Association serves as a way to reunite women like Iris with others from their homeland. “It’s a connection, and that’s what a lot of these women have needed throughout the years,” said Erin Craig. Others like Rita may no longer have close contact with fellow war brides, but this Memorial Day, they will quietly remember the sacrifices made by men and women throughout history. Those sacrifices include the service of her husband, brother and two of her sons. Her brother, Roy Stacey, was a member of the British Air Force and one of the few survivors of the Batton Death March. He also spent at least two years as a Japanese prisoner of war and was fondly remembered after his death last week. Rita also thinks often of her “G.I. Joe,” who died in 2001 after 57 years of marriage. Their three sons are Keith, 59, Paul, 58, and Joseph, 54.

Keith served in the Army, and Paul is a Vietnam Air Force veteran. For Paul, Memorial Day is a time to remember those who weren’t as lucky as him and never returned from the fighting. It’s also a time to mark the beginning of summer, which he celebrates with a motorcycle trip to West Virginia with the Gold Wing Road Riders Association.

For Rita, the peaceful life she now leads at home with her dog, Freddy, is something she will never take for granted. “I often think people don’t realize, when they live a peaceful life, what it’s like to go through [war],” Rita said. “It was very frightening.”

Mary Alice Dalton also contributed to this report. 5/30/2005 Middletown Journal News, Middletown, Ohio

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