Thursday, March 26, 2015

GI Brides: The Wartime Girls Who Crossed the Atlantic for Love by Duncan Barrett & Nuala Calvi

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Library
Read: January 2, 2015

For readers enchanted by the bestsellers The Astronaut Wives Club, The Girls of Atomic City, and Summer at Tiffany’s, an absorbing tale of romance and resilience—the true story of four British women who crossed the Atlantic for love, coming to America at the end of World War II to make a new life with the American servicemen they married. The “friendly invasion” of Britain by over a million American G.I.s bewitched a generation of young women deprived of male company during the Second World War. With their exotic accents, smart uniforms, and aura of Hollywood glamour, the G.I.s easily conquered their hearts, leaving British boys fighting abroad green with envy. But for girls like Sylvia, Margaret, Gwendolyn, and even the skeptical Rae, American soldiers offered something even more tantalizing than chocolate, chewing gum, and nylon stockings: an escape route from Blitz-ravaged Britain, an opportunity for a new life in affluent, modern America. Through the stories of these four women, G.I. Brides illuminates the experiences of war brides who found themselves in a foreign culture thousands of miles away from family and friends, with men they hardly knew. Some struggled with the isolation of life in rural America, or found their soldier less than heroic in civilian life. But most persevered, determined to turn their wartime romance into a lifelong love affair, and prove to those back home that a Hollywood ending of their own was possible.

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A newly-engaged couple examine an engagement ring in a jeweller's shop
in London. War Bride- Everyday Life in Wartime London, March 1943
My interest in GI Brides: The Wartime Girls Who Crossed the Atlantic for Love by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi was inspired by my paternal grandmother. She passed away while I was very young and while I've no memory her, I've often pondered her situation and the strength it must have taken to come to the United States with a child in one hand and a marriage certificate in the other. Her personal story is lost to me, but I'd hoped Barrett and Calvi's work might offer a degree of insight to her experience and I'm happy to say I wasn't disappointed.

Individually, I found Sylvia, Rae, Margaret and Lynn incredibly interesting and I feel these women very brave to have shared their stories. Their relationships were challenging in many ways and I love that the authors took pains to illustrate both the highs and lows of their marriages. More than seventy thousand woman followed GIs home after WWII and it would be a crime to assume that journey was easy, that distance meant little, that life in a foreign country came naturally or that a wedding band meant lasting happiness.

I wasn't particularly fond of the writing itself, but the scope of subject matter that appears between these pages is nothing short of extraordinary. It is a snapshot of living memory, four firsthand accounts of a time and circumstance that are still romanticized today. Hval chronicled dozens of couples in War Bonds, but of the two I think GI Brides more informative, authentic and engaging.

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Her time in America hadn't been easy, but with her husband at her side she felt truly happy.
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