The American War Bride Experience

GI Brides of World War II

Feb. 10th 1946 Omaha World Herald Sunday Magazine

Diary of the Diaper Cruise

Ex-War Correspondent Rides the Stork Ship
By Tom Wolf
“This is my toughest assignment,” roared ex-war Correspondent Thomas Wolf when he was assigned to accompany the first big contingent of GI brides and babies to the United States. But Mr. Wolf, NEA-Acme European manager, nevertheless survived the voyage aboard the SS Argentina and has written an intimate diary of the “Diaper Cruise”.

Aboard SS Argentina

This is the diary of “The Diaper Cruise”
Southampton, England Jan. 26, (1946)
England’s most bombed port city is cold and windswept. City and day are symbolic of what some 626 British brides and children are putting forever behind them years of misery grayness, suffering, war.

Half the mothers and children embark before noon and I watch then eat lunch. There are nearly two hundred women and children. The kids sit on their mother’s laps or perch in highchairs made of little boxes suspended from the arms of grownup’s chairs.

The children haven’t had their toys unpacked yet and lunch is slow. They are relaxing by banging knives and spoons against the chinaware or by screaming.

An elderly steward surveys the scene and remarks (first line missing) …but I’ve never seen anything like this. And it’s going to get worse!”

Only One Heckler

We finally shove off just after 4 o=clock. Parents’ wave wet hankies from the dock. The brides, jamming the promenade decks rails for what is probably their last look at their native land show little open emotion.

Said one, “It’s hard to leave home. But then, we’ve got two homes now, haven’t we?” Very few of the brides and mothers have any very clear idea of what is ahead. Nor do they seem to have given it very much thought.

I find that a tremendous number of then, too, hope and believe that their parents will come “out here” […] to America or that they, the brides will return for a visit to England.

Steaming slowly down the harbor, the merchant crews of British ships yell words of cheer. Only one sounds a sour note; “You’ll be sorry.” He calls through cupped hands. “You’ll have to pay your way back.” The girls only laugh at that.

In the evening Lieut. Col. Floyd Lyle, Fair Lawn, N.J. transport commander, welcomes “the mothers of future Americans.” He warns that “conversion to the baby service has been done very quickly on this ship” and that “it is not a luxury liner.”

A Peek in Cabin 32

Jan. 27 – I have a first hand chance to confirm Colonel Floyd’s opinion. Cabin 32 on A deck used to be a first class cabin for two in the peaceful days when the Argentina minded her South American business and steered clear of the wintry North Atlantic. On the diaper cruise it is home, bed and bath for 10.

The cabin had three bunks of three tiers each. There are baby cribs. Sharing the cabin are: Pamela Jewell 20, and her son, Bobby T. They’re dependents of former T$ Robert M. Jewell, who is not co-owner of a bar-restaurant in Minneapolis.

Red-haired Margaret Hill, 24 with equally red-headed Sandra 2 ˝ and ash-blond Malcolm (Joey), 1. The Hills are going to Nashville, Arkansas when Ben a former staff sergeant has started a jewelry story.

Louisa Grindle and Bobby, 2 ˝ and Jeanette, 11 months. They’re going to St. Joseph, Mo. to join Ferdinand, an erstwhile corporal turned candy salesman.

Beryl Lear, 21 from Pam Jewell’s home town of Bristol. She has moved from her original cabin to help Pam and Bobby. Husband Darwin was a private and now is in Cincinnati.

Betty Dzikowski celebrates her nineteenth birthday on the day after tomorrow. Last time she heard from husband Alfred, a former Pfc. He was out on strike with fellow Bayonne (N. J. Western […] workers.

None of the girls has seen her [line hard to read] …months ago. Its 15 months for Beryl who like Betty Dzikowski has had only three days with her husband since they were married.

The girls are settling down with out too much trouble. They have one big break in that all the babies can be induced to sleep by unscrewing the light bulbs over the cribs.

Emotional Seasickness

So far, no one in Cabin 32 is seasick, though Louisa Grindle isn’t feeling too hot.

There’s almost 80 per cent seasickness elsewhere on board, although the seas aren’t too rough. Dr. Peter V. Bisconli, Bronx, N. Y. put lots of the sickness down to emotional rather then notional reasons.

This morning Chaplain John M. Eggan, Brooklyn, N.Y. conducted a not-denominational Protestant service in the ship’s only lounge. Sickness prevented most of the brides from attending.

By afternoon, however, many are beginning to get their sea legs and are strolling in the warm sun on the promenade deck. There are children of all ages and sizes a few older ones are stepchildren of the recent American grooms romping the decks or sitting on mothers’ laps. By and large the youngsters fon’t get seasick.

Looking at the children I can’t help thinking how many life stories told 50 years from not are going to begin; “Well, I was born in England, but I left for the States when I was very young.”

Slacks Spurned

Jan. 28 - Every one is beginning to settle down but lots of the brides are still sick. Only about 20 per cent show up for breakfast this morning.

The first sitting of breakfast which is at 7:30 is hardly over before the public address system is calling. “We want the nother of a boy of about two blond heir wearing yellow overalls and a green sweater. He is lost, mother.” (next two line are impossible to read) …to write name tags and cabin numbers on adhesive tape and stick it on the (…) of toddlers’ necks.

The Red Cross passes out more than one hundred pairs of slacks, figuring they are more sensible than skirts on the sort of trip.

Ninety per cent of the brides show up wearing sweaters and skirts. Most of these brides have figures better adapted to sweaters than to slacks.

The sweaters and skirts provide the only uniformity.

There are colonels’ ladies and buck privates’ wives. Some are married to soldiers and some to sailors. Many are attractive, many are not.

The Red Cross gives knitting needles and yarn to any who want them. The rush exhausts the supply in a few minutes.

“We hadn’t enough clothing points to dress ourselves or out children it we didn’t know how to knit,” one explains. The ship Post Exchange opened after lunch today for the first time and the girls form a line extending half a deck to get their first crack at real nail polish, real lipstick and un-rationed chocolate.

I found two sad faces in line. Mrs. William Holt (Freda), Riverside, N.J. got (can’t read) …lustily and then decided she was already too nearly seasick to be tempted even by sweet milk chocolate.

Another brides was crushed to find no English Gold Flake cigarettes available. When I suggested she’d better start getting used to American brands she replied tartly, “No fear of that, I’ll pack up smoking first.”

The first two afternoon’s cocoa was served in the lounge. Today the brides got that changed this afternoon it’s tea.

Generally speaking the have been overwhelmed with the variety and quantity of the food served them.

The only complaints concerned the brides. After six years of a gravish national bread our white bread seemed much too sweet to them.

No Sanctuary

Jan. 29 – The brides are beginning to find their sea legs but every one is very [..] including this corresponded. The ship is one [… …] from early morning to late night.

[Can’t read] …first baby in your cabin for the cabins on either side of yours starts crying. They are one long discordant …phone until late at night when the last baby runs down.

In between cries there is a never ending blare of music over the ship’s public address system. The system named “WARG” is supposed to resemble a radio broadcast. But you can shut off a radio.

It wouldn’t be so bad if there were one place where one could get away from whimpering infants, whooping toddlers, wailing WARD and whooping adults. On the entire vessel there is no such sanctuary.

In the recon version of this ship troops bunks were torn out of only two public lounges. One is being used as a nursery, decked out with a dozen play pens. Unfortunately it’s forward on the promenade deck, the roughest spot on the ship.

As a result most mothers keep their children in the other lounge. It does not make for peace and quiet.

Cute Kid

This after noon, after a false start yesterday, the “Cutey Contest” brings scores of scrubbed but screaming youngsters into this lounge. The contest originally was scheduled to be a beauty contest. At the last minute, however the judges decided less jealousy would be stirred it it became a “Cute Contest”. Losing mothers then could console themselves with the thought that junior was most beautiful even if yowling his head off.

The winners in the three classes turn out to be Under 1 year, Barbara Mancrief, 11 month-old daughter of former Sgt. S.E. Moncrief, Whitsburg, KY; 1-to-3 years, Robert Jewell, 1 son of Robert Jewell, Minneapolis, Minn. and over 3, Mark Olley, stepson of Richard D. Siff, Nyack, N.Y.

This evening as usual the community singing turns out to be the most popular of the day’s mass activities. The girls astound me by knowing the words to obscure western ballads. The day ends with a movie “Rhapsody in Blue”. In the middle of the “Summertime” number old faithful WARG breaks in to announce: Mrs. X of Cabin 642. Your baby needs you.”

Rough Weather

Jan. 30 – This morning it happened Capt. Thomas Simmons (himself father of six) has hoped against hope we wouldn’t hit any bad weather. The Argentina wasn’t built for it and neither it developed were the brides.

It started to blow late yesterday afternoon and by this morning we’re in the teeth of a full gale reaching at times gusts of 75 miles an hour. The sea is described officially as “very rough” the sixth worst of seven categories in marine jargon.

The wind blows the hard-won sea legs right our from under 85 per cent of the passenger and the lineup outside the dispensary extends well down B deck’s starboard companionway.

There is nothing stirring but the sea and your stomach this morning. Every one feels terrible.

We’ve made only 160 knots in the past 24 hours. That almost certainly pushes our arrival a day later. Surprisingly there are a number of girls, going to the western United States, who are pleased at the prospect of arriving Monday rather than Sunday. They hope to shop in New York before entraining and thereby to have some clothing “off points” in which to dazzle their husbands.

Otherwise the only consolation is that we’re riding out a storm sufficiently severe to force the huge Queen Elizabeth, one hundred miles behind us to heave to and head into the wind.

Babies Make News

Babies figure prominently in the morning news, one sadly, one humorously. About 6 a.m. the rough seas pitched young Francis Hardiman, 2, son of Lieut. Francis Hardiman USNR, New York City out of his crib - giving him a 12 inch slit over his eye. Fortunately it is [can’t read] …stitches being a precaution against a future scar.

The humor was provided by a makeshift bassinettes. Because the cribs provided proved too big for some children, early in the voyage bassinettes were rigged up by lining small wooden boxes with pillows and GI blankets.

The stormy morning one mother awoke to find her cabin flooded. Junior safe in his box “crib” was merrily riding the waves back and forth across the cabin. He was sound asleep.

The storm effectively cancels all community activity for the day, including a party, schedules for this afternoon for all whose birthdays come this week.

Back to Cabin 32

Jan. 31 – It’s still pretty rough, but we’re past the storm and everyone is spent in recovering.

The peace of the early afternoon is shattered by the youngsters postponed party. The kids have their pep unabated by the storm.

Late in the afternoon I drop in to see how things are going with my friends in Cabin 32. all 10 have come through the storm with flying colors.

Beryl (Mrs. Darwin) Lear is knitting, oblivious to the noise. Cabinmate Betty (Mrs. Alfred) Djikowski is writing a letter to the folks back home. Louisa (Mrs. Ferdinard) Grindle is getting Jeanette, 11 months ready for supper.

Suddenly Bobby Grindle, who is 2 ˝ and full of beans, dart out the cabin door. His mother pops Jeanette into a crib and runs after him. Jeanette, left alone starts to blubber. So now all three infants are crying.

Perhaps the reason no tempers flare in Cabin 32 is that al these women have suffered far greater hardship during the war. Pam was bombed out on her fifteenth birthday. Both Louisa and Beryl were in the WAAF. There’s another reason for this patience. All of these girls are now fulfilling a dream that for some started with separations 15 months ago. They are on their way to join husbands.

This evening’s movie is preceded by a very long “short” showing the Army-Navy football game in slow motion. A woman sitting next to me asked: Is that baseball?

The Brides Are Gayer

February 1 – The sea is still rough. But for the first time a majority of the brides are on ciably gayer. New York is less than a thousand miles away.

One of the girls to suggest a special ceremony for international marriages in which the prospective bride must reply “yes” when asked if willing to “love, honor, obey and cross the North Atlantic in winter.”

Every morning at 9:30 there has been an orientation movie and/or lecture aimed at telling brides something about conditions they may find in their new communities.

After the talk girl ask questions. Few of the brides have any clear idea of what’s ahead of them.

The brides are concerned with small problems. Barbara Lincoln, senior of the three American Red Cross workers on board, says the girls have asked her: “Do I have to cook corn the way my husband says they cook it in North Carolina?” “How cold does it get in Minnesota?” “How much should I tip?”

But no one has asked how much hostility she is likely to get from American women because she a foreigner married the boy from back home.

I asked several of the brides how they felt on this. Most of them say they haven’t given it any thought. I get the feeling that they are a little afraid of potential trouble and do not like to think about it.

Pamela Jewell, not quite 21 tell me that she doesn’t think she’ll have a harder time adjusting herself to Minneapolis than she would moving from her native Bristol to another English city.

She says: “In both places you’re bound to meet the resentment all old inhabitants have for newcomers. If you take the resentment to heart you have a difficult time. If you understand it things go all right. I don’t think the adjustment will be any harder then I [can’t read] …

That sounds like sense. I make a date with Pam for tomorrow morning to talk over other matters.

Pam’s Life Story

February 2 – It’s very cold outside, but this is the first morning it’s been dry enough to sit on deck. So Pam and I get well wrapped up in GI blankets, corner a couple of deck chairs and I listen to her life story.

Pam was born and raised in Bristol studied shorthand and typing was 14 when the war started. She is an only child. For many years her father managed restaurants in Bristol. But he saved his money and now owns a small hotel and bar in Bristol.

On her fifteenth birthday Pam’s house burned down in the incendiary raid.

When she was old enough to register for national service she got a job as switchboard operator in an American Red Cross club in Bristol. Evenings she also volunteered as a dance hostess there. She’s an ardent rug cutter.

One evening three years ago to the day – a date she never forgets in walked a tall, dark and handsome sergeant. He asked Pam if she’d play ping-pong.

They were married a year later. When Pam told her family about Sergeant Jewell, they weren’t so sure. They thought she was too young. Finally they were convinced.

Bob’s parents wrote: “We knew you were going to get married, but didn’t think it would be so soon.” The elder Jewells and Pam correspond regularly so Pam isn’t too nervous about meeting them for the first time.

Pam last saw Bob last Easter Sunday. A veteran of the Second Armored Division, wearer of the Purple Heart; Bob went home on furlough and immediately got out on points. He’s now co-owner of a bar-restaurant in Minneapolis. A bungalow on “some lake” is in the building for Bob, Pam and 1 year-old Bobby.

Pam hasn’t many preconceived notions about the States.

I’ve heard a lot about how perfect America is, but I hardly expect it to be that good,” said Pam. “After all, everyone likes to boast about his own country when he’s away from it.”

What’s the first thing she wants to do in the States? It used to be to taste a chocolate malted. She has never tasted a real one. Now the malted takes second place to a new pair of shoes. It is freezing cold on deck, so we decide to call it a day.

The Next to Last Day

February 3 – The first official announcement about our arrival is made over the irrepressible WARG, ship loud-speaker system, at 7:30 a.m. We’ll pass the Statue of Liberty about 5 tomorrow morning.

Every one is in fine spirits. Church services are better attended than on the stormy Sunday a week ago.

Right after lunch the biggest crowd of the trip gathers in the lounge to witness the much advertised show “Argentina Antics” It was supposed to have been presented last night, but the pianist was seasick.

The show is pretty much what you’d expect, including a Hawaiian hula chorus (grass skirts being unraveled from ship mops, a Carmen Miranda number, a tap routine, a contortionist, a couple of singers and a pianist.

The afternoon is taken up with hair-doing, washing, ironing and general sprucing up for the great day ahead tomorrow. Clothes washing has been something of a problem the entire voyage because on the first day out a number of seasick ladies got only as far as the wash tubs. After that no one was keen on suing them for washing.

And there are only two irons aboard. All afternoon there has been a long line outside the sergeant major’s office waiting to borrow one of them.

Almost every one is going to bed early tonight because all want to see the Statue of Liberty in the dawn’s early light. Colonel Lyle is sending a radiogram to New York to see if it’s possible to get Lady Liberty lit up for the brides.

By mid-afternoon the Army finishes its inventory of the PX which closed for the voyage yesterday. Figures show that the sales store has attracted rationed Britons to the tune of some 412 lipstick, 589 nail polis sets, and 3,321 candy bars – the firs un-rationed chocolate the brides have seen for six years.

I looked up Dr. Peter Bisconti, ship surgeon for a recapitulation on sickness. Dr. Bisconti cites 2,988 seasick pills dispensed. Some 360 patients have been sufficiently sick for nausea or other causes to be records in hospital records.

In theory no women have been allowed to sail if six months or more pregnant. Actually a couple of brides got aboard in their eighth month. Dr. Bisconti heaves a sign of relief, as it now is apparent that no little Argentine will be born en route.

As I go to bed, I try to summarize the trip in my mind.

Crowded 10 to 12 into cabins meant for two mothers, non-mothers and children have ridden out one of the worst crossing in the [can’t read]. Infant have yowled from early morning to late night. Brides are mothers have been seasick in cabins, in lounges, in corridors, in beds. Yet throughout the cruise there hasn’t been a single serious hair-pull or serious accident.

Somehow the mothers have managed infants in their arms to manipulate the rolling corridors often flooded and slippery. Somehow no infant has broken his neck down one of the ship’s myriad stairways. None has wandered overboard.

Lady Liberty at Last

Monday, Feb. 4 – They promised to awaken us in time to see the Statue o Libety but most of the ship is up and about by 4 a.m. an hour early.

When I reach the promenade deck, I found we’re well down the outer channel. It is a frosty, crystal clear morning with a bitterly cold wind blowing [can’t read] … shore. Few brides are on deck because it’s too cold for more than a quick look-see before retreating to the warm interior.

Most of the girls already are dressed. It’s the first time in nine days the majorities have been out of slacks. (Last night a notice was posted warning girls against the impropriety of disembarking in slacks.) It’s a big improvement.

The Statue of Liberty is flooded with light. It’s only 4:30 but WARG starts announcing our progress, hurrying girls dressed and on deck to see the famous symbol of American freedom.

As we pass the Statue the loud speakers blare forth “God Bless America.” There are sporadic “oh’s” and “ah’s” from the girls who are now lining the rail all of them wrapped in blankets.

By 6:30 Army tugs (call out because of the tugboat strike) are warping the Argentina into an ice-filled berth at Pier 54.

The diaper cruise ends on a day as inescapable symbolic as the gray, windswept, misty one on which it began at Southampton. As the gangplank starts up from the pier, a brilliant crimson glow of a bright new day dawning flushes the horizon behind the stately silhouette of the mid-Manhattan skyline.

Pictures in articles.

1. Three-year old Mark W. M. Olley walked off with top honors as the “cutest baby” aboard ship… His mother, Mrs. Isabel Evelyn Siff, wife of a Navy lieutenant is beautiful too.
2. Bobby Jewell, winner of ship’s “Cutey” contest in the “under three” age group, shows how he won as mother bathes him.
3. Mrs. Louisa Brindle, St. Joseph, Mo. with Jeannette on her arm and Bobby in tow, leans in sailor fashion at the ship rocks.
4. Mrs. John P. Hardiman carries daughter, Angela, 7 months, and holds by the hand 19 month-old Francis … Navy Lieutenant Hardiman resides in New York.
5. Former Army Lieut. John F. Farnsworth of Washington, D.C. with his wife and son, Robert S. Farnsworth, 14 months old.

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