My GI War Bride
I met the girl who would be my wife at a dance in Oxford, England, in January 1945. I was in Oxford for the first time on a week-end pass from the US Army Combat Recovery hospital about 15 miles from Oxford where I had been since early December, 1944. I was walking around with a hospital buddy, taking in all the sights. During the evening, we were passing the Town Hall (now replaced) and heard music from a band. They were playing Glenn Miller arrangements.
We entered the building and walked up to the second floor of the Town Hall. There was a 12-piece orchestra on a stage. They were playing Glenn Miller music. Jitterbug was very popular, but they played some waltzes, too. There were about 200 people at the dance; English and American military personnel were dancing with local Oxford girls.
My buddy and I stood on the sideline, just watching and enjoying the music
AND THEN SHE DANCED BY!
I was thunderstruck. I followed her and her partner around the dance floor until the music stopped. As she was leaving her partner, I asked her for the next dance. We danced together the rest of the night, and I learned her name was Hazel. When the dance was over, I asked if I could walk her home.
She said, "Yes, if you don't mind walking!"
She told me her sister, Betty, was with her, so my buddy joined me and we walked them home. She lived 3 miles from Oxford Center in Rose Hill, so it wound up being a 6 mile walk for my buddy and me.
We walked and talked. One of the things I learned about her seemed an amazing coincidence: She worked in a war factory, like everyone else who was able. Her job was welding, and what she welded were the grips to the Jerry cans I hauled to fuel our tanks.
There was a total black out, of course, because of the threat of German bombers, but Oxford was never bombed. Rumor had it that Hitler wanted to save Oxford University for when he invaded England. We didn't know that, so we used flashlights ('torches' in England) to light the way.
When we reached Hazel's home, I said good night and asked her if she went to the dances every week. She said, "Yes".
After leaving the girls at home, My buddy and I walked the 3 miles back to Rainbow Corner in Oxford, a USO "GI" hotel with cots for us to sleep on. There were Rainbow Centers in various English cities; there were two in London. Later, they had them in Paris after Paris was liberated.
From then on, Hazel and I went to all the dances together. I was in a USA military hospital 15 miles from Oxford and was able to get a pass whenever I wanted. We met at the twice weekly dances and I met and dined with her Collins family quite a few times. We also took in an occasional movie and a play.
She lived three miles from Oxford center and I walked her home after every dance in the blackout with a flashlight, then the three miles back to the USO Rainbow Corner in Oxford, where I slept on a cot.
When I was released from the hospital, I was sent to a Replacement Depot in Birmingham. From there, I was sent to Fontainebleau, near Paris, on short notice. After the transfer, I wrote and asked Hazel to marry me.
Ohhhhh, the old snail-mail of the time was painfully slow. I waited almost a month before I finally received her, "Yes".
Getting married while in the military service in a foreign country was not easy, especially when the Hazel was in England and I was in another foreign country - France and Germany. It required an OK from my commanding officer and getting a multitude of forms signed.
Hazel had to go to the American Consulate in London, 50 miles from Oxford, to sign forms. She was 19 and had never been to London. She went by train from Oxford.
Since I was stationed in Fontainebleau, France, Hazel took care of all the wedding arrangements in England, and that turned out to be a major chore. When booking the wedding at the Anglican Church in Iffley (a part of Oxford), she ran up against a church law requiring that bans be announced on three Sundays before the marriage. Due to the war, the Priest was able to forego the rule for us. He offered a date of Friday, July 13, 1945.
Hazel said, "No Way!"
She was not going to get married on a Friday the 13th! Finally, the church agreed to let us wed on Thursday, the 12th of July 1945.
Hazel bought our wedding rings, booked the church, and started handling the details necessary for her entry into the USA. She was an expert seamstress and made her own wedding dress. It was beautiful!
In July, 1945, I got leave to go to England and get married. I left Paris and went to Le Havre where I took a ferry to Portsmouth. From Portsmouth, I took a train to Oxford.
We were married in the Iffley Church of England church in Oxford on July 12, 1945. The church was built by the Romans in the 1200s. It still had a dirt floor. (When we visited in 1973, it still had a dirt floor.)
The reception, attended by family members and her neighbors, was held at her home. They had a 1/2 barrel of beer under the stairs. Four guys carried a piano across the street from a neighbors' house and I played all the songs they loved to sing such as, "Knee's Up Mother Brown", and "Hands, knees, and boomps-a-daisy". During the festivities, Hazel's father, Albert Collins, put his arm on my shoulder and said, "George, you married the best."
After the reception, we took a train to Portsmouth, where my Uncle Alfred, a retired British Marine, lived. He had rented a room for us to stay a few days before I returned to duty. While we were there, we visited my 75-year-old Reid Grandmother, who was in the hospital there.
When my leave was up, I was assigned to a War Crimes Investigating unit in Germany and did not see Hazel again until December 1945 when I had a "Delay En Route" pass, which gave us a few days together on my way back to the U. S.
The Red Tape
Hazel was one of hundreds of English War Brides. The process for bringing them to America was very involved.
A War Department regulation required overseas troops to obtain official permission to wed, on threat of court-martial. The process was remarkably complex, involving up to 15 forms, and it could take up to a year before permission was granted or denied. An application had to be approved by a soldier's commanding officer, who often tried to persuade him to change his mind.
In spite of the complexity, more than 70,000 women married their American boyfriends, and as the war came to an end, they looked forward to beginning their lives in the United States. They created a logistical challenge, though, because there were thousands of GIs awaiting passage home. In June 1945, they were warned that ships might not be available for 10 to 12 months.
The situation was so dire that the United Press ran this report on Tuesday, August 28, 1945:
SOLDIER BRIDES FACING DELAY IN U. S. VOYAGE.
Washington, August 27,
The matrimonial entanglements of American soldiers overseas are proving another transportation headache for the War Department, which is committed to bringing foreign brides and children of servicemen to this country.
Lt. Col. DeWitt Sapp of the adjutant general's office, who is handling the problem of dependents said yesterday no exact figure of the number of overseas war brides were available. It has been estimated that up to 50,000 in Great Britain and 10,000 to 20,000 in Australia are awaiting passage to the US.
With the return home of soldiers coming first, the brides and offspring may have a long wait probably until next spring or summer, at the earliest.
SOME WON'T WAIT!
"It is just a question of the boys being patient," Sapp told the United Press. Many wives, particularly those of servicemen already returned to this country for discharge, do not like the delay and some are threatening divorce unless their husbands get action here.
But as long as there is a ban on bringing dependents here when soldiers were displaced, there nothing a serviceman can do after making the necessary Applications, Sapp explained. When shipping is available the brides will be brought here at the government's expense and priorities from each theatre will be based on the date their husbands returned to this country.
SOME EXCEPTIONS MADE
Sapp said ... that some exceptions may be made by theater commanders in case of hardship, particularly for disabled veterans.
Fiances are in the less fortunate position, because the War Department is not authorized to supply their transportation and they must find their own means of getting here and pay their own expenses.
The State Department and Immigration Service are co-operating, however, to facilitate the entry of prospective brides by arranging visitor's visas.
Only those in Australia, New Zealand and Greece whose immigration quotas are oversubscribed are affected, U.P. said.
In December 1945, Congress passed the War Brides Act which gave non-quota immigration status to the wives of U.S. servicemen. Now, they could enter the country freely and without a visa. Even so, some people harbored a negative sentiment about GIs who married 'foreign' girls and English girls who married Americans.
Hazel never said much about what she went through before she finally boarded a ship for New York. I know she had to go through the Tidwell Processing Camp, and I've since learned that the conditions she experienced there were poor, but I didn't learn it from her. Hazel didn't complain. As her children say, she was a strong woman. She endured what she had to endure, whether the stringent conditions of war-torn England or the adverse conditions of a processing camp.
After my brief "Delay En Route" pass in December 1945, I did not see Hazel again until April 2, 1946, when she arrived in New York. The U. S. government arranged and paid for her 12-day ocean trip, on D Deck, on a ship with dozens of other GI Brides.
The Unbearable Loss
Hazel and I were married for almost 50 years. We had 3 children, 6 grandchildren and 3 greatgrandchildren when she passed away in 1992 after fighting cancer for 4 years. We did everything our doctors prescribed: a major operation, several bouts of chemotherapy, radiation treatments, all kinds of medications and extended periods in the hospital, but all to avail.
The four years of her illness and her passing was the worst time of my entire life. After she died, I wrote the following:
"You Are Lonely"
No matter how you lose your spouse
An emptiness will fill your house.
Remembering you walk each room,
Your happiness replaced with gloom.
You Are Lonely.
You keep her pictures on the wall,
They hurt, they help, but do recall.
They make you cry but you don't need,
A catalyst to make you grieve.
You Are Lonely
When will you learn to say goodbye?
What do you do? You have to try.
You leave the house to get a life,
Will ANYTHING replace your wife?
You Are Lonely
Fall in love with someone new?
Would that be love? A love that's true?
Too soon to know, too soon to tell,
This Grieving BULL is raising hell.
You Are Lonely
Moderation was HER word!
I never learned she'd have a bird.
I try to say goodbye, GOODBYE,
But it's too soon, I only lie.
I AM LONELY !