LITR 5731 Seminar in Multicultural Literature:

American Immigrant: model assignments

 2012  research post 1

Sheila Morris 

War Brides and their American Dream

My mother, Winifred Fairhurst, came to the United States aboard an ocean liner in 1951. She was one of the last groups of more than 70,000 British war brides who came to this country from 1942 to 1952 seeking “happily ever after” on the U.S. government’s dime.

In December of 1945, the United States Congress passed the War Brides Act allowing foreign spouses and children of American citizens admission to the United States, which allowed almost a million military wives to come to live in the United States.

Interestingly enough, I have never thought of my mother as an immigrant. I have always thought of her as an adventurer, a dreamer, and a great exaggerator, but not of an immigrant seeking a better way of life. Now, I realize she is a true immigrant.

A 21-year-old newlywed, my mother who cannot to this day drive a car or write a check, managed to plow through the piles of paperwork, interviews and red tape to make the 6-day journey by sea to meet up with her husband who had “looked so handsome in his uniform” the day they met. She answered questions that she did not even understand, such as had she ever “committed moral turpitude?” To which she answered to the best of her knowledge, “not yet.” My mother achieved her goal because she was determined; it was her “American Dream.”

Wikipedia defines the American Dream as “a national ethos of the United States; a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility achieved through hard work.”

Unfortunately, my mother’s “dream” did not come true at first. Her first husband was not exactly Prince Charming. Neither was her second husband. Finally, in 1955, my Mom met my father and they stayed together until his death in 2008. My Mom has lived in Texas since then and has been back to her hometown of Salford, England only a handful of times. This might explain why her British accent has a bit of a Texas twang.

She once told me that growing up she had thought of America as an idyllic place where everyone was rich and happy with plenty of food to eat. Mom had been evacuated to a convent during the war at the age of 9 and did not return home until she was 12. She grew up in a time of food rations, air raids, and bombings. Once, a bomb came down their chimney and her family barely escaped before the house blew. It is natural that my mother dreamed of going to a place where everyone had enough to eat and never had to be frightened by the shrill sound of air raid sirens or bombs exploding in the middle of the night. These are stories repeated over and again in surveys and interviews of British War Brides.

In “From Liverpool to Cut Bank: The story of Montana War Bride Ruth Poore Batchen,” Jodie Foley talks about some of the hardships these young women faced when they arrived, different climates, different customs, angry relatives, etc. Rather than a warm welcome, as they disembarked some of the women were greeted by angry mobs protesting the fact that they had snatched up the eligible bachelors.

Some of the women were in for a culture shock also. My mother has long told the story of how she saw her first colored water fountain only to be disappointed when it was regular water and then to be slapped by a white man for drinking from it. From all this my mother taught me and my sisters the importance of tolerance and of loving everyone no matter where they came from or what their color. Some of the women made the long journey only to find they were unwanted by their American husbands or were so homesick they did not want to stay.

Although my mother’s American Dream was a little different from the popular concept, and consisted of marrying for a better life, she worked hard, raised three daughters, owns a home and has plenty of food in her refrigerator. When asked, she says she would not change a thing about her life and what she has done during her 82 years.

Works Cited

Kohl, Seena B. “Love, Valor, and Endurance: World War II War Brides Making a Home in Montana.” Montana: The Magazine of Western History, Vol. 56, No. 3 (Autumn, 2006). pp 22-37.

Wynn, Neil A. Review of “Good-Bye, Piccadilly: British War Brides in America by Jenel Virden.” Journal of American Studies, Vol. 31, No. 3, Part 1: Looking at America: The USA and Film. (Dec., 1997), pp 464-465.

Foley, Jodie. “From Liverpool to Cut Bank: The Story of Montana War Bride Ruth Poore Batchen.” Montana: The Magazine of Western History, Vol. 54, No 3 (Autumn, 2004) pp. 71-73.

Adams, Michael. C. “Good War Wives.” Review of “Good-Bye, Piccadilly: British War Brides in America by Jenel Virden.” Reviews in American History. Vol. 25, No. 1 (Mar., 1997) pp. 127-131.