About this blog

As the author of this blog, Karen L Garner Martin Messick, I am the daughter of an American soldier, Wilbur (Bill) C. Garner, Sr. and Women's Royal English Navy service woman (British Wren) Gwendoline Rosa Wilkins, who met and married during World War II. They lived and loved for over 50 years before Mother passed in 2000. When she did I helped Dad with every day chores when I could. One day I was helping him clear things out and I lifted a plastic bag out of the seat of Mom's piano stool, asking Dad, "Whats in this bag?" to which he replied, "Just some of Mary's old letters." Mary, his older sister, was still alive at the time, residing in an assisted living facility, suffering from Alzheimer's disease. I put the letters back in the piano seat thinking he did not want me to open the letters.
When Dad passed two years later, I inherited Mary's letters.
When I began to read them, I found they were mostly letters from Dad to Mary while he was in World War II ("The War"). I could not put them down. I wished I had opened them the day I first saw them so that Dad and I could have had conversations about them, but that was not to be...so as I read through these "Letters to Mary" I began to get a glimpse into Dad's young years when he met Mom and his time as a soldier. I have researched events during World War II to enhance my understanding of what was happening in the war as each letter came to broaden my understanding of what he might have been experiencing. I knew he landed on the beaches of Normandy, France D-Day plus 1 as he recounted his memory of that day to me when he was dying from Leukemia. It was horrifying. There were also letters from a companion Mary had met while in Minneapolis, he had been deployed overseas. I have entwined them chronologically with Dad's letters as it gives a greater dimension to the war itself. I intend to editorialize as necessary to explain personal relationships and situations as the story unfolds through the "Letters to Mary." I welcome any questions, comments and feedback. As the "Greatest Generation" fades away, I felt compelled to share these letters and story in hopes of continuing the legacy they left for the world. Let us never forget the untold years and lives that were sacrificed for freedom!
If you have stumbled upon this blog I have added a blog archive at the bottom of the blog page. Continue to scroll down to access the Blog Archive. The posts are chronologically listed and to follow the story it is best to start with the first post in December 2013.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Gwendoline Rosa Wilkins Garner a "War Bride" departs England for the United States 2 February 1946

Telegram sent from Gwendoline's parents upon her departure to America on the Queen Mary.

Six months had passed since Gwen last saw Bill, when Gwen finally boarded the Queen Mary for the United States. 


Christmas passed and Bill missed his  Baby's First Christmas, but finally the day came when the US would transport thousands of British GI War Brides with their children to the United States. In Washington, D.C. the War Brides Act (Public law 271, 79th Congress) was passed and signed into law on December 28, 1945 by President Harry Truman. After passage, alien spouses of citizen members of the armed forces were officially "deemed to be non-quota immigrants" and would not need a visa. Application for admission to the country under this act had to be filed within three years of the date of it's passage. After being "medically examined," these war brides could enter the United States as soon as transportation was available. The application for transportation must have been filed by the husband.
Very soon after Christmas 1945 a conference was held in Washington, D.C. by representatives from the War Department, Public Health Service, Department of State, Justice Department, American Red Cross, Immigration and Naturalization Service, War shipping Administration and several domestic and foreign steamship lines, and a coordinated plan of operation was drawn up. Over time more than 70,000 women and children would be transported by the US Government to their new homes in the United States. The first official GI Bride ship departed on 26 January 1946 amid a blaze of publicity when the Argentina left England with 626 U.S. dependents aboard. It was soon followed by the Queen Mary carrying 2,340 passengers.

Gwen wrote about those days crossing the Atlantic in her memoirs ~ dated 1999

"The next big event in my life took place the day I walked up the gangplank of the liner R.M.S. "Queen Mary", carrying Carol in my arms, destination New York, U.S.A. By now it was February 1946. My dear mother and father journeyed to Southampton to see us depart and I have often wondered just what thoughts were going through their minds and what their feelings were as they watched their only child and grandchild on the deck of that ship and become but a memory as each successive wave from the wake of the "Queen" increased the distance between ship and shore. Thus ended a 22-year era of my life --happy, yet unhappy. happy because I was starting out on a new adventure, but unhappy in the knowledge that I was leaving behind two very dear people who had made my journey through life to that date the most pleasant experience.
And so we journeyed on across the stormy Atlantic, sharing our stateroom with three other British girls, each with one child of their own. And what a challenge that journey was!  Washing diapers and getting them dry in time for their next use; warming up bottles of milk and thin oatmeal; elbowing each other as we maneuvered in that tiny space to get our babies clean and presentable. The trip was rough-- but I have always loved the sea and I made the most of every minute of the time spent on board. 
After 5 1/2 days we docked in New York and I will never forget my first night and morning in America. It was close to midnight when I was told to get ready to  leave the ship to be taken to the 7th Regiment Armory in New York City where I was told my husband would be waiting for me. However, after waiting for several hours and watching the many joyful reunions that took place that night (but no Bill), an elderly couple who had befriended me gave me sufficient American money to enable me to place a phone call to Baltimore to find out what had gone wrong! Well, it turned out that the Red Cross organization had told Bill to stay in Baltimore and to meet me at Camden Station.......and the Red Cross in New York had told me he would be at the Armory in New York! Any rate, after eventually being taken to the American Hotel to try to get a little rest, we were put on board a train the following afternoon for Baltimore, arriving some 2 1/2 hours later --and there was Bill waiting at the station. It was sheer ecstasy to finally be with him to live what I hoped would be, and what has turned out to be to this moment in time, the rest of our lives together.  " 
Gwen and Carol on the right on board the Queen Mary.
Even the AP guys misspelled Bill's name, it's Wilbur!

The Queen Mary was the second transport ship to arrive New York, New York 8 February 1945. On board daily mimeographed newsletters were produced to keep the brides informed of daily goings on, meal times and cartoons. 

This is a reproduction of a drawing found in one of the on board newspapers.
Both the women and their babies were tagged when boarding to keep things straight.
This is another image reproduced from the daily newspapers on board the Queen Mary
while transporting it's precious cargo of War Brides and their babies to America.
Menu from the Queen Mary while transporting the War Brides and their babies.
Seems by the hand written comment, Gwen was very  happy with the menus!
After six years of war time food supplies in England.
Image from one of the daily new sheets produced on the Queen Mary February 1946

Gwendoline was interviewed as she arrived by train in Baltimore by reporters of The Sunpapers.

Arrival in Baltimore...seems the paper got Bill's name wrong again! February 1946
The British Newspapers ran headlines "The Petticoat Pilgrims."
This paper clipping was sent to Gwen in the US, in a letter by Kate Hudman Wilkins, Gwen's mother.
(Notice the TAGS on all the coats of the women and babies)

Many books have been written over the years about the War Bride phenomenon of WWII.

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