Lots of American servicemen entered matrimony while overseas during World War II. More than 70,000 wed foreign women, mostly British, including my half first cousin twice removed, Gilbert Hartkopf.
The military put up roadblocks for soldiers wanting to marry foreign women. Obtaining permission was a lengthy process. Both bride and groom had to submit to interviews to gain his commanding officer’s permission. The bride needed character references. The groom was checked out to determine if he could support a wife.
Women were suspected of marrying for a more prosperous life in America. Some women were eager for American boyfriends. Most of the men in Britain were away at war when the Americans came over, and they knew how to have a good time.
Others sought to avoid them. Their brothers didn’t like the Americans because they were “overpaid, oversexed, and over here,” and warned them to stay away from the “Yanks.”
When the war ended and the men were shipped back to the states, their new wives, and sometimes their children, could not travel with them. They were not a priority for transportation. Protests were staged outside the U.S. embassy in London by impatient wives. On December 28, 1945, Public Law 241 passed. The War Brides Act granted non-quota immigration status to wives of servicemen. They could enter the U.S. freely and without a visa. A trans-Atlantic fleet began bringing the women to their new home.
The women received notice to travel at short notice. Their first stop was a transit camp, where they found dorm huts, sixteen to a room, inadequate coal fires, freezing temperatures, and fleas in their beds. Sounds like they stayed on their husbands’ former bases.
Before they could board a ship, they went through a process including injections, blood tests, X-rays, fingerprinting, and a physical. For the physical, a line of robed women walked on stage where a doctor ordered each woman to open her robe. He then shone a flashlight between her legs to inspect her.
After finally boarding a ship, some women changed their minds and stayed behind.
Some couples had not seen each other since before D-Day. The wives left everything familiar to be reunited with a stranger. Many had to live with in-laws while the husband searched for work. American customs had to be learned, like the “bizarre ritual” of a baby shower, or making their tea with a cup of hot water and a tea bag.
Most were hit by homesickness. They found friends and support through war bride associations. Some left their husbands and returned home.
I never knew Cousin Gil or his wife Evelyn, even though I lived in the same town as she for over ten years. Now I wish I could talk with her.
Recommended Reading: GI Brides: The Wartime Girls Who Crossed the Atlantic for Love by Duncan Barrett & Nuala Calvi