I have the unique privilege of meeting hospice patients for the purpose of writing their life story, so I’ve heard some pretty amazing tales! I’ve learned about lives well lived, about accomplishments and regrets, and about the way certain events can shape a person’s life forever. It’s been awhile since I last shared a hospice story, so here’s one about a woman who grew up in London during the bombing blitz of WWII. At 18, she became a war bride, but when I met her at the age of 90, she was quick to point out that’s not all she was!
She was born in London in 1928. Her father was a letterpress operator for a London newspaper, the Daily Herald, and her mother was a teacher at a school for girls. She was 12 years old when German warplanes began bombing the city every night for 57 consecutive nights in attacks that continued until May 1941. During the bombings her family took shelter in the basement of a nearby warehouse. She recalls how very loud it was, even underground, and how they tried to drown out the noise by singing and dancing to Glen Miller while bombs were being dropped above them. She remembers the strange color of the sky and the smell of smoke as they walked home each morning through the war-torn city. When the Blitz ended, much of London was destroyed or damaged and 375,000 citizens were left homeless.
She had two sisters and one brother. They, along with her parents, survived the bombings but their home did not. She was 15 before they found a permanent home, having moved from place to place for several years. The best part about having their own home again was being able to take a bath, but she remembers the day her mother drew a 5-inch line around the inside of the bath tub because that’s all the water they were allowed to use due to government restrictions. There were also rations on food, clothing and shoes. She, her sisters and her mother all shared the only five dresses they owned.
When she was 17, dancing was still a favorite pastime just as it had been in that warehouse basement, so one night her sisters snuck her into a dance hall where American GI’s often spent their free time and money. She met her future husband there, dancing the Jitterbug and drinking “bitters”. She soon found out that marrying her young soldier was not going to be easy. American servicemen were met with numerous obstacles if they wanted to marry while overseas. After finally being granted permission from his Commanding Officer (and her parents), they were married in 1946. They enjoyed a two-week honeymoon before he was sent to Paris. Once he knew when he could return to the States, he applied for her to be sent to America as a War Bride. She was summoned to the American Embassy in London for an interview, then put on a waiting list with thousands of other English brides.
Eleven months later, it was finally time to say goodbye to her family and her home. Until then, life in London was all she had ever known. It took over two weeks to sail from Southampton to New York. She remembers being impressed by the skyscrapers, never having seen such tall buildings before. She also remembers when she got off the ship there was no one to greet her. She was to have been met by her husband’s parents, but her ship, The S.S. Argentina, was several days late. She lived in Boston with her new in-laws, who were strangers to her, for three months while she waited for her husband to come home.
The American GI and his War Bride were married for 32 years and had three sons. He became a car salesman after his discharge from the Army and she was a cook in an elementary school for 14 years. They moved to the Mid-West and opened their own restaurant in 1968. Ten years later, he passed away. She sold the restaurant and opened a pastry shop in a small suburb where her pies and cakes were in high demand. The boys were busy and popular. Her two oldest sons graduated from college and the youngest one joined the Army, like his father.
She was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2015 and was placed on hospice services in 2017. I met her because her family wanted me to document her life story in a journal. They provided me with decades of photos, and I collected memories from her to include in the book. The first time she and I talked, I told her I heard she was a War Bride. “Well, I was more than that!” she said, so I decided not to talk about it further unless she brought it up. I let her tell me she was a wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She was an avid reader, a school board member, a devout Christian, and a bird watcher. She loved to travel, to cook and to watch old movies. She and her husband danced together for nearly 30 years. It didn’t take long, however, before she was telling me about the air-raids in London and what it was like to leave home all by herself. Was she brought to America as a War Bride? Yes, she was! But she was SO much more than that!
Here are more of my hospice stories, if you care to read them:
Photo credit: Bing search