On February 4, 1946, the USS Argentina steamed into New York City after an absolutely brutal nine-day voyage from England. A luxury passenger liner converted into a U.S. military troop ship, she sailed into the teeth of two terrible storms on a trip that took twice as long as normal to complete.
Her passengers on this voyage were 451 British war brides, with 175 children in tow, the very first of the tens of thousands of women from various countries around the world who had married American soldiers, now coming to the U.S to be reconnected with their husbands in a strange country that would be their new home. Some of them were on their way to Monmouth County.
All told, some 300,000 war brides came to America following World War II, from Great Britain, mainland Europe, The Philippines, and Japan, those being the locations where American troops spent the greatest amount of time as an occupying force, where they intermingled with locals. Of these, approximately 50,000 women came from The Philippines, another 50,0000 from Japan, 35,000 from Great Britain, 30,000 from mainland Europe, and smaller numbers from all over the world, e.g., Australia, Luxembourg.
They had been granted a guarantee of U.S. citizenship through an act of Congress called the War Brides Act, and an Army initiative called “Operation War Bride.” Soldiers had to be gradually brought back to the U.S., discharged and mustered out of the service, to return to their former lives. Those who had married while overseas now had a path for a reunion with their new spouses, who would be brought to America to become U.S. citizens.
The Argentina was the first ship to begin the process of bringing these war brides to America, and 31 of them were headed to New Jersey; it is not known how many of this first batch of brides ended up in Monmouth County, but many others followed who did end up here. Many other repurposed luxury liners were being thus deployed at this time. One British war bride arriving in 1946, headed for Keansburg, was Elaine Careswell Gardner, who made the trip aboard the fabled HMS Queen Mary, along with her young son. Six-month-old John Richard Gardner met his father for the first time when he and his mother, along with other war brides, disembarked in New York City. Ms. Gardner’s transit was marked by calm seas and fair skies, with good food and “constant entertainment,” in marked contrast to the nightmarish experience of those aboard the Argentina. (The image above shows unidentified war brides aboard the Queen Mary, and an artist’s rendering of the Argentina).
With many women aboard that vessel being in varying stages of pregnancy, and the ship pitching and rolling in the high seas, seasickness was so pervasive the ship’s crew could not keep the decks clean, and doctors aboard feared for an outbreak of disease given the rapidly deteriorating conditions. Mothers were incapacitated such that they could not care for their children; those who could walk were organized into groups of helpers, “changing and disposing of diapers, preparing the babies’ formulae in the special diet kitchens, bathing them and doing what they could for the mothers.” A Red Cross crew provided medical attention. One woman experienced a nervous breakdown and had to be placed in a “barred ward for mental patients.”
And then, after all that, when these women arrived in America, after enduring the ravages and trauma of years of war in their homelands, with some having to survive a hellacious journey across the ocean, found themselves starting their new families in communities that were not welcoming them. American women had seen their roles in society change dramatically during the war, but now they were being asked to go back to their traditional domestic pursuits so the returning men could resume their former jobs. Single women, divorcees, war widows…a lot of American women looked forward to the return of the multitudes of young heroic U.S. soldiers, sailors and airmen, who had waged such an incredible and victorious campaign. For them to have taken wives in these faraway places left many at home with strained feelings toward the newcomers.
In many communities, including coastal New Jersey, finding themselves alienated from local communities, war brides formed social groups called “Cosmopolitan Clubs,” where they could be with others who knew firsthand the horrors of the war, and who could help one another assimilate and find happiness in their new homeland. Locally, Cosmopolitan Club chapters were set up in Monmouth County and Neptune.
Ms. C.J. Rubin said: “my Mom was one of those War Brides. She came over from England in August 1947 and was married to my Dad just a few days later, on August 13, 1947. She came over with a lot of other ladies on the Queen Mary. My Mom and her best friend (Ann Trezoglou, also English) actually founded the local chapter of the Cosmopolitans and they had quite a membership…all War Brides from Italy, Germany, Belgium, France, England and probably other countries. As a little kid, I was involved with all of their social gatherings and they were a fun bunch of people!!!”
According to the Asbury Park Press, on June 6, 1959, “the inaugural meeting of the Monmouth County Chapter of the Cosmopolitan Assn, Inc., an organization of foreign-born wives, was held Wednesday at the home of Mrs. Ann Trezoglou, 221 Broadway, Long Branch.” Officers were elected, including Ms. Trezoglou as president, and plans were made for a picnic and covered dish supper social to be held in the summer. The group used American Legion Post 44 in Long Branch for their meetings.
It could not have been easy for an Englishwoman to open such a club and then give a warm welcome to women from Germany, Italy and Japan, whose countrymen had sought to annihilate Great Britain. But they did. This rapprochement represents a significant contribution made by these people in their effort to assimilate, and become Americans.
About this, CJ Rubin said, “Interestingly, my Mom (born in April 1921) had a pen pal when she was younger, she was a girl who lived in Germany (her name was Ruth) and they actually visited each other before the war. A scary thought because it was probably when Hitler was getting started and my Mom spent her summer in Germany! Decades later, Ruth and my Mom reconnected, Ruth and her husband were both very well respected surgeons in California. They and their son visited us many times in Long Branch. Mom visited them in CA, too.”
Fred Carl, founder and president of the InfoAge Science & History Museums in Wall Township, told Monmouth Timeline that “Cesly Fulton, an InfoAge docent and Wall resident, was a British war bride. She married Harold Fulton, a paratrooper. She was a wonderful guide, sharing her experiences during the London Blitz. Her apartment was destroyed by a bomb. She also told of meeting handsome soldiers, one of which she married. After her post war trip to the USA in an ocean liner, they reunited and lived in the Camp Evans worker housing on Watson Road. The twenty buildings had been converted to apartments for returning veterans. The area earned the nickname ‘Diaperville’. Eventually, they built a home on Taft Street. Harold worked at Camp Evans for the Army until he retired. They have both passed away. We have fond memories of both friends and InfoAge members.”
Human nature being what it is, it was sad but an inescapable reality that some of these marriages would not survive. The horrors of war have proven to be a burden much too great for so many relationships to withstand, for all of history. And so the experience for some war brides was one marked by domestic abuse, alienation – both in their new country as well as back home – loneliness, separation, divorce.
But many others realized their dreams, including some who landed on our shores, finding Monmouth County and America to be a dazzling place of modern wonders and plenitude, of shops and stores and gleaming white houses, amusement parks, ice cream stands, and, of course, Steinbachs department store in Asbury Park was a particular delight.
After the horrific experience of the first brides aboard the USS Argentina, an editorial in the Asbury Park Press offered this sentiment:
“Now that they are safely on our shores we hope that the British brides will find America meets their every expectation. It will be flattering to hear them say that the trip, however difficult, was worthwhile.”
Associated Press (1945). 451 British Brides Reach America After Nine-Day Nightmare Voyage. Asbury Park Press, February 4, 1946, P. 1, 12.
British War Brides Find Shore Good Place to Be. (1946). Asbury Park Press, February 12, 1946, P. 1, 3.
Epic of the Brides (1946). Asbury Park Press, February 7, 1946, P. 8.
Foreign Born Wives Form Organization. Asbury Park Press, June 6, 1959, P. 7.
Thompson, Marion. (1962). Customs Are Different, Results the Same. Asbury Park Press, March 6, 1962, P. 44.
Staff Correspondent. (1946). British Bride, Arriving on Queen Mary, Introduces Six Months Old Child. The Asbury Park Press, May 13, 1946, P. 10-11.
SS Argentina image by Boston Public Library, Fred J. Hoertz & Harry H. Baumann. The Good Neighbor liners Argentina and Brazil, operated by Moore-McCormack Lines, sailing from New York to the East Coast of South America.
M hodges says
Are there any reunions for the children of the brides posted anywhere?
I have never seen anything like that. The three women I’ve spoken with for this story did not mention reunions. Maybe someone should! It’s an interesting shared past for many.