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The American Dream - tales of Bletchley's GI brides

Given the continuing austerity of a Britain ravaged by war, it was perhaps not surprising that many young British women found not only the charms and affluence of the American servicemen enticing, but also the prospect of beginning a new life in a country which, to many, must have seemed like stepping into a Hollywood film set.

In fact, perhaps tempted by this vision, several Bletchley girls would find romance, and, for better or worse, gladly embrace their chance to become a part of the 'American Dream'.

As part of the 33rd India Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Montague Stopford, on their journey to Rangoon between April 3 and May 27 the Royal Bucks Yeomanry, in which many Bletchley men served, had covered some 1,127 miles, and liberated 50,000 square miles of territory from the Japanese.

With the war finally at an end, preparations were made to bring the men home, but during the journey they were entertained at Bombay with a showing of the film Objective Burma, in which it seemed that Errol Flynn, assisted by a few American paratroopers, had been solely responsible for the task that the British and Indian troops had just accomplished. Not surprisingly, in view of their recent experiences and this gross distortion, the real heroes became so incensed that they tore down the screen.

While serving overseas, several Bletchley men had kept romance alive by regular correspondence with their girlfriends, and among them was Sergeant Lewis Waller, the eldest son of Mr and Mrs Waller, of Railway Terrace. Indeed, it had been while on active service in Burma that the bride's brother, Leslie Litchfield, had promised to act as best man, and thus in due course, Eileen Litchfield, of Bedford, and Lewis were married.

With Lewis now employed at the London Road garage, Loughton, the couple settled down to married life, but for other girls their vision of domestic bliss lay further afield - and not least through having made the acquaintance of many American servicemen, who often frequented the local dances. In fact that several Bletchley girls had succumbed to American charms was perhaps not surprising for, according to one source "The Yanks were the most joyful thing that ever happened to British womanhood."

Indeed, as one aircraft factory worker recalled: "A British soldier would take a girl for a drink, bore her to death talking about cars or sport, etc. Then if he saw any of his mates, he abandoned the girl except to buy her a drink now and then until it was time to go home.
"With a GI it was very different. He would buy me a drink and entertain me as if I was the only person in the room. I know that when my back was turned he would probably make a date with another girl, but this didn't really seem to matter."

Fortunately, this had not been a problem for Celia Saunders, the daughter of Major and Mrs J Saunders, of 135 Bletchley Road, for on Wednesday, April 18 1945, at the Catholic church she married Staff Sergeant Howard Buis, of Greencastle, Indiana. He had been stationed with an American bomber squadron.

The reception for 80 guests was held at the home of the bride and amongst those attending were Brigadier and Mrs Gambier Parry. The presents included a canteen of cutlery from the officers and staff of Special Communications Unit 1 and afterwards the couple left for a honeymoon at Ilfracombe.

By late January 1946, for the several wives now waiting to join their husbands in America, the arrangements for free travel had been made "down to the last safety pin", and among those about to sail was the now pregnant Celia, who would subsequently join her husband in Indiana, where he was employed as a bank teller.

Already in America was the former Miss Burbury, of Bletchley Road. She was now Mrs E Slusser, the wife of Major Robert Slusser of the US army, and had flown to America with her daughter, Virginia, as a private passenger with Pan American airways in November 1945.

As for those now travelling to join their husbands, "We sure had a boom welcome," would be the comment of Mrs Joan Glace, the only child of Mr and Mrs Harding, of Cottingham Grove, who arrived in New York with her eight-month-old son, Alan, on February 10 1946. Ironically, her voyage had been aboard the Queen Mary, the same vessel which during the war had brought her husband to Britain!

Having been stationed with the 8th USAAF at Cheddington, he had returned to America by air in August 1945, but now in the company of his parents, two sisters and a brother, he would welcome his wife and son to their new life.

The ensemble duly drove to Philadelphia, where, due to a housing shortage, Mrs Glace would live with the family for a while and, under the auspices of the Red Cross, she would give a broadcast of her experiences on a Philadelphia radio station.

Another Bletchley girl now crossing to America was Mrs June Watkins, formerly June Howe, of Brooklands Road, who would be travelling with her seven-month-old son, Russell, to Scranton, Pennsylvania, where her husband, Alf, was a mechanic.

As for Mrs Nick Garza, formerly Nancy Sears, of 'Ernbay', Osborne Street, she would be setting up home in San Antonio, Texas, where her husband Nick, who had been stationed in England with the USAAF, was a YMCA PT instructor. The couple had been married on Friday, March 30 1945, at the church of St Thomas Aquinas, in Church Street, but unfortunately the bride's father, Captain Sears, could not attend the wedding since he was serving with the Pacific force.

During the war, a contingent of Americans had been working at Bletchley Park and billeted at The Manor, Little Brickhill, they would often cycle en masse to the County Cinema, parking their bikes outside.

As this caused an inconvenient obstruction however, Peggy Sears, the girlfriend of one of the personnel, arranged an alternative location in the garden of the family home across the road, although this quite perplexed her grandmother, to whom the American English spoken by the riders seemed almost a foreign language!

It had been while awaiting her mother at Bletchley railway station that Peggy, the daughter of Mr and Mrs W Sear, of the High Street, had met her future husband, Eugene Griffiths, and in due course they were married. On Wednesday, March 13 1946, in the company of her mother, father and brother, Peggy travelled to Waterloo, to be taken by a special train to Tidworth, prior to sailing to America. Now discharged from the Army, her husband was already back in the United States, and had been busy setting up their home in South Carolina.

On Monday, November 6 1945, at St Mary's Church, Frances Mattinson, ATS, had married Sergeant Harry Huebner, of the American Medical Corps. She was the only daughter of Mr and Mrs Mattinson of Manor Farm, Old Bletchley, and the groom was the only son of Mr and Mrs Henry Huebner of Maplewood, New Jersey. The bride's only brother, who was currently undergoing aircrew training with the RAF in South Africa, sent a telegram of congratulations and, following a reception at Manor Farm attended by several US personnel, the couple left for a honeymoon in Scotland. Then in early 1946 the destination for herself and her baby son, William, would be Maplewood, New Jersey, where her husband was now employed by Chase National Bank, New York.

Yet in 1947 Mrs Huebner returned with her small son, Bill, to visit her parents at Manor Farm, where she was welcomed on Monday, December 15. It had perhaps been to provide more playing room for their grandson that Mr and Mrs Mattinson had decided to sell a 6ft l0in by 4ft billiard table, "in good condition", complete with cues, marker and balls! Their daughter, and Billy, would then return by air to their New Jersey home the following February.

In time another Bletchley bride would also be paying a return visit. From her home at 325 Hudson Street, West Columbia, South Carolina, Peggy Griffin came back to England to visit her ailing father. Despite all the labour saving devices of America, she found she still preferred England, saying: "All I do now is stand and look at Brickhill Woods and the wonderful view."

Also of the same opinion was one of her three children, Debbie. She did not want to go back, but sadly the situation would be resolved when, following her husband's death in a tragic accident, Peggy returned to Britain for good.

While Bletchley brides had been leaving for America, one bride was destined to make a new life in England - although, because members of the Forces serving in Germany had initially to abide by a 'no fraternising' order which forbade any familiarity with German civilians, the relationship had at first been a little distant.

Yet this could not quell the romance which developed between Albert Wesley, a private in the Essex Regiment, and Melanie Stechert. She was the only daughter of Herr and Frau A Stechert, of Berlin, and it had been outside a Berlin cinema that Albert, the only son of Mr and Mrs S Wesley of 102, Western Road, had made the family's acquaintance. An ongoing friendship developed and, following Albert's 'demob', Melanie was allowed to travel to Bletchley where, on Saturday, September 6 1947, the couple were married at St Martin's Church.